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Society pledges public support for the National Park Authority

National Park Friends Group pledges support for Park Authority in controversial move.

At its meeting on 3 July the South Downs National Park Authority was promised the full and continuing support of its “Friends” organisation, the South Downs Society.

Addressing the meeting, the Society’s policy officer Steve Ankers, said “The Authority has taken a controversial step in seeking judicial review of the process by which Highways England identified its preferred option for the A27 Arundel bypass. This may not have gone down well with everyone but this Society unhesitatingly supports the Authority. Along with many other organisations, we campaigned for many years for a powerful, well-resourced body dedicated to conserving and enhancing the very special qualities of the South Downs and we are delighted to see it make this stand.” READ MORE…

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National Park Society gives two and a half cheers for South Downs Local Plan

The South Downs Society has actively engaged at each stage of preparation of the new local plan for the South Downs National Park. We have met with park authority staff at each stage, submitted comments on its general principles as well as specific land use allocations and development management policies, and believe our voice has been heard.

While most local plans are dominated by the need to find locations for new housing, this plan is “landscape led”. It seeks to ensure that, while sites can be found for affordable housing to meet local needs, strong limits are placed on housing numbers.

The draft plan contains 96 policies. We have looked carefully at every one, commented on most and suggested some that aren’t there. We believe the overall approach deserves our support — there will undoubtedly be those who will lobby against it — and we have commented robustly where we feel the plan needs improvement.

To read our full response CLICK HERE.

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The Road to Rural Oblivion: A27 Arundel Bypass

Guardian columnist Patrick Barkham recently visited the Arundel area to explore the environmental issues associated with options for a new Arundel bypass. His piece, The Road to Rural Oblivion, appeared in the paper on Tuesday 14 November. Our Policy Officer Steve Ankers took the opportunity to write in response. We’ll let you know if it gets published, text below:

 

Three cheers for Patrick Barkham’s analysis (Notebook, Guardian 14 November) of Highways England’s discredited approach to the trunk road network.

Its public consultation on Arundel bypass ignored the role of public transport and other “greener” transport in providing access to jobs, education, services and the South Downs National Park. Arundel hardly features in the exercise. We were asked to choose which of three bypass options would best take traffic off the existing bypass — with each option ploughing through ancient woodland, wildlife habitats, splendid views, historic settlements, close-knit communities and our newest national park.

The National Park Authority rejected all three options and listed the environmental evidence for their objections. Highways England was honest enough to identify as “adverse/major adverse” the impact of each option on cultural heritage, landscape, nature conservation, geology, soils, road drainage, water resources, people, communities, farming and recreational businesses — and that’s from the organisation charged with building the bypass.

Extensive research into the impact of major new highways is consistent — they lead to increased traffic, contribute nothing to the local economy and do lasting, significant environmental damage.

Arundel residents and national and local organisations like ours have offered real solutions —  junction improvements and a modest, single carriageway road which would reduce congestion, facilitate greener transport and minimise the damage. We cannot afford the waste of cash and the environmental destruction that are integral elements of major highway schemes. Arundel, the South Downs National Park and the country deserve better.

 

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National Park Authority objects to Arundel bypass schemes: press release

At its meeting on 19 October the South Downs National Park Authority resolved to object to Highways England’s three options for a new Arundel bypass because of their significant adverse impact on the national park. The following press release has subsequently been issued jointly by Arundel SCATE (South Coast Alliance on Transport and the Environment) and ABNC (Arundel Bypass Neighbourhood Committee). It quotes the South Downs Society and other organisations.

 

National Park objects to A27 Bypass – Campaigners slam Highways ‘narrow focus’ 

The South Downs National Park Authority has voted to object to all three options for the Arundel A27 Improvements Scheme. All options go through the National Park.  The Authority wants Highways England to do more work on assessing, mitigating and compensating the impacts, as well as alternatives, before it will even rank the options.

Local community and environmental organisation representatives spoke at the full Authority meeting.  Nick Herbert MP claimed that an offline bypass at Arundel should be seen as a “National Park Relief Road”, but other speakers disagreed. “Any traffic diverted from other parts of the Park would still be travelling through the National Park, but faster, more noisily and on a high embankment”, countered Mike Tristram, a member of the Park Partnership and Binsted campaigner.

“This is not a plan for reduced congestion,” added Tony Whitbread of the Sussex Wildlife Trust. “It is a plan for increased traffic, which will spread throughout the National Park. Imagine Midhurst, Petworth, Pulborough and Storrington all with 20 per cent more traffic.”

Steve Ankers spoke for the South Downs Society, the Campaign for National Parks and CPRE Sussex. “Highways England’s recent consultation was fundamentally flawed by its narrow focus on a bypass to take traffic off the existing bypass.  Our focus is on the impact on the National Park, its statutory Purposes and Special Qualities.  We also don’t believe that the options presented will solve Arundel’s traffic and access issues.  We strongly object to all three options on the table.  Our heaviest criticisms are of options 3 and 5A, and we have asked for the ‘New Purple’ variations on option 1 to be taken seriously.”

Mike Tristram agreed.  “Highways England has failed to properly analyse impacts on the Park’s Special Qualities.  Having ‘regard to the Park’s Purposes’ is a legal requirement, but they won’t have this unless they assess the impacts of all options thoroughly before choosing a preferred route. The next stage is too late.”

Kay Wagland, an elected Arundel Town Councillor but speaking as chair of local group Arundel Scate, agreed. “We wholly oppose the offline options 3 and 5A.  Both are highly destructive of communities, irreplaceable species, habitats and features.  They are a huge waste of money, and unlikely to ease congestion in the long run.   We object to Option 1’s dualling, but support its alignment, which matches our preferred single carriageway ‘New Purple’ route.

“We are also concerned about Highways England’s narrow focus and poor quality data, including unreliable traffic figures  and large gaps in environmental data.  The public has not been sufficiently informed. The Department for Transport should allow work on more integrated transport solutions. The A27 needs to be better not bigger.”

Dr Mike Davis from Walberton, a regular walker in Binsted and Tortington, said,  “I cannot accept that option 5A on a high embankment, visible night and day, in such a beautiful setting, pays any regard at all to the Special Qualities of the South Downs National Park. The few minutes saved by option 5A cost over twice as much as those saved by option 1 and cause far worse damage. This degrading of the National Park is not justified.”

Highways England will now be looking at the consultation responses. They have to decide in the light of what they have been told, whether or not they can now recommend a preferred option through the National Park.

 

www.a27arundel.org

www.facebook.com/ArundelSCATE

www.arundelbypass.co.uk

www.facebook.com/arundelbypass

www.twitter.com/arundelbypass

www.arundela27forum.org.uk

For more online information about affected areas see:

www.binsted.org                     www.maves.org.uk              www.facebook.com/mavesarundel

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“A place to fly in peace”?

Concerned walkers have approached the Society on finding that their quiet walks through the Balsdean valley near Woodingdean have been disturbed by drones flying. The Society took up their complaints with the national park authority which has taken enforcement action. Despite this the activity has continued. The Society has written to the Sussex Express as follows:

It is for good reason that the Balsdean valley between Kingston, Woodingdean and Saltdean has been referred to as the “hidden” or “secret” valley. Those who follow the public footpaths to this special place discover a surprisingly tranquil haven, a rarity so close to centres of population in this precious part of the national park.

Until recently, that is. 
Visit www.hidden-valley.org — “a place to fly in peace” (we’re talking drones here) — and you will find that not everybody has the same ideas about tranquillity. The activities taking place do not have planning permission and those involved have been instructed by the national park authority to cease. The park planners would appreciate any first hand information from walkers, horse riders. cyclists and others who may have experienced the drones in order to take matters forward.

 

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Seven Sisters Country Park: South Downs Society’s plea for safeguarding

East Sussex County Council has carried out extensive public consultations on the future management of its rights of way and countryside sites, including the famous Seven Sisters Country Park. Decisions on their future are scheduled to be made by the Council at a meeting of its Cabinet at the end of June.  In the light of recent moves by both Eastbourne and Brighton and Hove Councils to sell off land in their ownership, the Society has written to each member of the East Sussex Cabinet urging them to guarantee “benign” ownership, ensuring the protection and improvement of the landscape, wildlife, cultural heritage and public enjoyment.

The text of our letter is as follows:

The Society recognises the achievement of the County Council over the years in acquiring and maintaining land for the purposes of countryside recreation over and above its statutory duties with regard to rights of way. We also fully recognise the financial pressures facing the authority which render increasingly difficult the achievement of the highest standards which you would wish to meet.
In the circumstances we have responded positively to your consultation on options for future management and we await with great interest the report due to be considered at your June meeting. As set out in our written response to the consultation, the Society would urge the County Council to:
1. Ensure that the rights of way function is adequately resourced in terms of staff and finance to meet not only its statutory obligations but also the reasonable expectations of its users and other stakeholders
2. Either deploy sufficient resources on a continuing basis on the management of its countryside estate or agree to dispose of its assets to one or more benign owners committed to maintaining and enhancing their landscape, wildlife, cultural heritage and quiet enjoyment. In our response we made particular positive reference to the National Park Authority and National Trust as potential new owners.
The Society, which owes its origins to the benevolent and protective acquisition of coastal downland close to Seven Sisters Country Park, looks forward with great interest to your deliberations and offers its continuing support towards the achievement of the national park objectives of conservation, understanding and enjoyment.
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Stanmer Park

On 8 December the Planning Committee for the national park approved a scheme submitted by the owners of Stanmer, Brighton and Hove City Council, for restoring elements of the park landscape and rearranging the car parking. The Society had welcomed the thrust of the proposals but objected to the large increase in car parking associated with the project.

The Society frequently takes the opportunity to address the committee on proposals on which it has particular concerns or which it wishes to support. In this case we were unsuccessful.

Here is the text of our oral comments to the meeting, from the Society’s Policy Officer:

SDNPA Planning Committee 8 December: Stanmer Park

I’m speaking this morning on behalf of both the South Downs Society and CPRE Sussex.

We believe there is much to welcome in the proposals. Stanmer is a major source of enjoyment and access to the national park. Indeed, living only a few minutes away, I have been a regular visitor to the park, the house and tearoom for many years and know the site well. The city council is to be commended on its efforts to reinvigorate the estate and secure external funding to that end.

We welcome the removal of parking from the access roads and its relocation to the perimeter of the park, provided this can be adequately screened. We agree that the provision of access to the area round the walled garden, the house and the church from any direction other than the entrance gates would be unacceptable.

We acknowledge the need for existing residents and businesses to have vehicle access to their properties, both for themselves and for their customers, and that there will therefore be some continuing traffic through the park. But, and it is a big but, we very much oppose the plan to increase significantly (a net gain of more than 200 spaces) the parking in the very heart of the estate in order to encourage substantial business growth in this inappropriate location – for a third refreshment outlet and for a commercial garden centre. Business growth like this should not be at the expense of conservation and quiet enjoyment.

References in the application to differential pricing between the car parks is misleading: if it were genuinely anticipated that motorists would be discouraged from parking in the centre of the park, there would be no need for such a large increase in numbers of parking spaces and the inevitably associated increase in traffic through the park, in fundamental contradiction to the stated aims of the scheme. It follows that we do not support the new access road between the church and the house or the tree felling programme required for the parking provision.

We would urge you to reject this element of the proposals and seek a more sensitive solution to the issues of traffic and access at Stanmer. The Park has good public transport links and the city council should do more to promote these.

Thank you.

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The Shale Wealth Fund: compensating local communities

Government is consulting on the creation of a fund to ensure that local communities where shale gas is being extracted (“fracking”) benefit from that activity. The Society has responded to the consultation as follows:

 

These are the comments of the South Downs Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park.

The Society has nearly 2,000 members and its focus is campaigning for the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities of the national park and their quiet enjoyment. Our comments will reflect this focus.

We note an emphasis in the consultation on the role of shale gas in regional development and the wish (para 1.19) to “rebalance growth across the regions”. The need for such a rebalancing is clearly less in evidence in the south east, unless it is intended to suggest that this region be accordingly afforded lower priority in pressures for exploitation.

We query what is intended by the expression (para 3.3) “shale sites themselves are small, with a lesser visual impact than many other forms of development.”  It is our understanding that the visual impact – as well as aural, disturbance, aerial and subterranean impacts – will be considerable, and significantly greater than for conventional fossil fuel exploitation, owing in part to an increased number and frequency of wellheads.

We address below the consultation questions on which we wish to express a view.

Consultation Question 1: Do you think that providing opportunities for both local and regional investments are the right priorities for the Shale Wealth Fund?

Yes. While residents and others may be affected locally by visual and other impacts and traffic, there may be regional impacts such as effects on aquifers (notwithstanding government assurances) and the tourist economy.

Consultation Question 2: Do you agree that a more local level should receive revenues before a more regional level (establishing the ‘trickle up’ principle)?

No. This may provide an undesirable incentive to some local communities to seek to outweigh any genuine planning and environmental concerns with money or investment. Planning decisions should not be made on those lines. This seems less likely to happen at regional level.

Consultation Question 4: Should the government retain flexibility regarding the proportion of funding between delivering benefits at local and regional levels, to enable learning from the industry pilot schemes and once the magnitude of shale revenues becomes clearer?

Yes.

Consultation Question 5: Do you have views on how the “local community” to a shale site should be defined for the purposes of the Shale Wealth Fund?

The community should be defined to include those likely to be affected by activities associated with extraction, such as lorry movements, as well as those directly affected by a drilling site by living close by.

Consultation Question 6: Do you agree that the “local community” should be defined on a case-by case basis?

Yes.

Consultation Question 7: Do you think a set of principles should be developed to ensure consistency of approach for different shale developments?

Yes.

Consultation Question 9: Do you agree that at a local level, it should be for local people to determine how the Shale Wealth Fund is spent?

While local people should be involved in the decision making, there should be objectives or criteria set for the funding to ensure it is used to compensate for the full range of impacts from fracking, including allocating to projects which improve the natural environment under threat.

Consultation Question 11: At the local level, should expenditure from the Shale Wealth Fund be subject to any ring-fences for a specific purpose? If so, should these be locally or centrally determined, and do you have views on what they should be?

A significant part of any extraction could take place beneath the South Downs National Park despite robust arguments having been made against that. If so, given the national park statutory purposes of conservation, understanding and enjoyment, it would be appropriate not only to compensate local communities but also recreational users of those parts of the park affected by fracking related activities, either beneath, within or close to the park. This would indicate a need for part of the fund within a national park to be ring-fenced to provide environmental enhancements and improved access, preferably to be allocated by the national park authority.

Consultation Question 12: At the local level, would an appropriate use of the Shale Wealth Fund be to make direct payments to households?

No. Other than, say, compensation for subsidence, other physical damage or blight – which should presumably be handled separately – it would be inappropriate for individual householders to be incentivised to overcome any legitimate concerns they may have about the proposed activity in order to unbalance the consideration of proper planning issues.

Consultation Question 14: How can the government ensure that decisions are as directly influenced by local residents as possible?

By affording more scope for local planning authorities (the traditional and democratically accountable mechanism) to consider the full range of potential effects of any proposal including aerial and subterranean impacts; and by discouraging ministers and planning inspectors from overruling the planning decisions made.

Consultation Question 16: What kind of investments do you think should be made from a regional level of the Shale Wealth Fund?

It would be appropriate to include investment in the natural environment and reductions in carbon emissions to compensate for the negative impacts of fracking including climate change.

Consultation Question 17: Do you think a regional level of the Shale Wealth Fund should be administered by direct grants to specific organisations, or through an open bidding process? How can the views of residents across the regions be best taken into account?

We would support an open bidding process, enabling environmental organisations like ourselves, as well as community groups, to apply for funding. If it were decided to allocate funds direct to specific organisations, that should include the national park authorities where they have planning responsibilities for any areas affected by fracking and associated activity.

Consultation Question 18: Do you have views on how a regional level of the Shale Wealth Fund should be governed? Are there existing regional organisations, or local or national governance structures that would be particularly suited to oversight of such a fund?

National park authorities should be responsible for, or at least involved in, the governance of any fund disbursed in a national park.

 

Click on this link for the consultation paper and full list of questions:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/544241/shale_wealth_fund_final_pdf-a.pdf

 

 

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Lewes farmland in the national park lost to housing

The Society has issued the following press release on 30 March:

 

Lewes farmland in the national park to be lost for housing

 Despite the best efforts of local environmental groups and concerned residents, a government appointed planning inspector has ruled that quality agricultural land at Old Malling Farm in the Ouse valley in Lewes can be developed for housing.

Says the policy officer for the South Downs Society, Steve Ankers, “This is a real kick in the stomach. Initially neither the South Downs National Park Authority nor Lewes District Council wanted to see the Old Malling Farm site developed but the planning inspector firstly told them that this site should be considered, then, after listening to our arguments decided that he’d been right all along! And this despite a report that he requested from Lewes District and the Park Authority that showed sufficient land was already in the planning pipeline to meet short term housing needs.”

After considering evidence at a reopened public inquiry last December, in his report dated 22 March the inspector appointed to examine the “Lewes District Local Plan Joint Core Strategy” has concluded that:

‘The need to deliver additional housing over the plan period, particularly to help meet local needs in Lewes, notably for affordable housing, has led the Councils to allocate an additional strategic site. A 10 hectare greenfield site at Old Malling Farm on the northern edge of the town, between the Malling estate to the east, the Malling Deanery Conservation Area to the south and the River Ouse, railway and Landport estate to the west, has accordingly been selected. Although it is mainly of grade 2 agricultural land quality, with some ecological and potential archaeological interest, the location is a sustainable one with reasonably good access and proximity to the town centre. Moreover, its development would not materially extend the built up area of the settlement further into open countryside than the existing housing to the east and west.’

 Organisations like the South Downs Society and Friends of Lewes are fully aware that, with the town firmly embedded in the national park, its pressing need for new houses must be met partly within the park boundaries but believe that this is best done by recycling previously developed “brownfield” sites.

Says chairman of the Friends of Lewes, Robert Cheesman, “This is a hugely disappointing decision. We must make sure that it doesn’t set a very dangerous precedent for building on other open countryside in the national park. Both the Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society will carefully consider any detailed plans put forward for Old Malling Farm to ensure that the design is appropriate and there are adequate measures to landscape the development in what is a prominent position in the National Park. We won’t be letting up in our efforts!”

 

 

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No need for Lewes housing site?

The Society has just issued the press release below concerning pressure for new housing around Lewes:

No need for Lewes housing site?

Newly produced papers reveal that pressure may be off for releasing a greenfield site in Lewes for new housing.

The public inquiry into the “core strategy” jointly prepared by Lewes District Council and South Downs National Park was reopened in December to hear evidence on whether a site in the Ouse valley on the north side of Lewes should be allocated for development.

The site, known as Old Malling Farm, lies between Landport and Malling and had been suggested as a possible location for 200 houses earlier in the inquiry. But the two local planning authorities, Lewes District and the National Park, have submitted an eight page statement to the inquiry inspector demonstrating that house building rates in recent years and the prospect of more in the pipeline mean that the Old Malling Farm site will not be needed in the near future.

This evidence has been warmly welcomed by both the South Downs Society and the Friends of Lewes who have campaigned against developing this highly sensitive site in the National Park.

Says South Downs Society Policy Officer, Steve Ankers, “The planners are obliged to show there is a five year supply of land available for housing, without which permission is more likely to be granted on unsuitable sites like this one. Happily, the work that Lewes and the National Park have just carried out demonstrates that –counting planning permissions granted recently, including North Street and Southdowns Road in Lewes, and the progress being made on the national park plan and neighbourhood plans —  the housing targets for Lewes are being met without the need for the Old Malling Farm site.”

Chairman of the Friends of Lewes, Robert Cheesman, agrees. “The evidence shows that the planners have been doing their job. We all recognise the need for some new, affordable housing but we don’t want to see development on this scale on greenfield sites. The town of Lewes and the South Downs National Park are very special places and we will continue to work to protect them. This new evidence is very positive news.”