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National park society gives cautious welcome to new park plan

The text of the Society’s submitted comments on the “South Downs Local Plan: Preferred Options” is already on our website, but for information, here is the text of our press release issued today:

 

The South Downs Society, the Friends group for the national park, has submitted a 5,000 word set of comments on the draft plan for the national park drawn up by the South Downs National Park Authority in a consultation which ran until the end of October.

The Society has participated regularly during the preparation of the plan and has not found too many major surprises amongst the 59 draft policies and sites proposed for development.

Said Robert Cheesman, chairman of the Society, “We welcome the way the plan places its emphasis on the national park purposes of conservation and enjoyment taking precedence over development – while recognising the need for appropriate levels of new “affordable” housing on brownfield sites, suitably located and designed.  We have added our own commentary and suggestions for new and amended policies which would help to protect the park’s special qualities.”

The Society has challenged some of the housing target figures in the plan and has repeated its strong objections to the use of farmland at Old Malling Farm on the outskirts of Lewes for a new housing estate.

The plan will, once it has gone through its various stages of consultation and examination, become a key document in conserving and enhancing the landscape and townscapes of the park and guiding development. It is anticipated that the plan will be formally adopted around June 2017.

 

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National park society gives cautious welcome to new park plan

The South Downs Society has submitted its comments on the draft plan for the national park drawn up by the South Downs National Park Authority in a consultation running from 2 September to 28 October.

The Society has been fully engaged in the preparation of the plan and has not found too many major surprises amongst the 59 draft policies and sites proposed for development. We have welcomed the structure of the plan with its emphasis on the national park purposes of conservation and enjoyment taking precedence over development – while recognising the need for appropriate levels of new “affordable” housing, suitably located and designed.  We have where necessary added our own detailed commentary and suggestions for new or amended policies aimed at achieving the purposes for which the park was designated.

The plan will, once it has gone through its various stages of consultation and examination, become a key document in conserving and enhancing the special qualities of the park and guiding development. It is anticipated that it will be adopted around June 2017. Click Here for the text of the Society’s full response.

 

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Hands off Old Malling Farm!

Hands off Old Malling Farm!

“80 new houses in Lewes at Southdowns Road behind Tesco and 400 more at North Street – we have no problem with either of those in principle, both on brownfield sites, provided the mix of uses is right and the design and layout are good enough for Lewes and the national park,” says Robert Cheesman, chairman of Friends of Lewes, “but turning good quality farmland into 200 more homes is simply unacceptable.”

The Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society – the “Friends” group for the national park — have joined forces to fight a proposal to build 200 new houses on a greenfield site in the heart of the Ouse Valley between Landport and Malling.

This is a site already considered for development, and rejected, by the South Downs National Park Authority but its future is back in the melting pot following a public examination of the draft local plan for Lewes (covering land both in the national park and outside) last January. The planning inspector concluded that the plan would yield insufficient new dwellings to meet local need and suggested that land at Old Malling Farm could be developed to make up some of the shortfall.

Steve Ankers, Policy Officer for the South Downs Society, says, “We are in total agreement with the Friends of Lewes on this. The national park was designated to ensure the protection of its special qualities and there’s nowhere in the park more special than Lewes and its setting. Both societies want to see affordable housing available in and around Lewes on brownfield sites but development at Old Malling Farm would be a very worrying precedent for building on other greenfield sites on the edge of town or anywhere else in the national park.”

A further round of consultation on possible changes to the plan is taking place until 2 October, with a likely reopening of the public inquiry in December to consider comments on this site. The Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society have submitted a joint response strongly objecting to the proposal to develop Old Malling Farm and highlighting the impact on landscape quality, views across and into the site, tranquillity and dark night skies, archaeology and the vital green finger of land reaching into the heart of the town.

Details of the proposals are available on Lewes District Council website:

http://www.lewes.gov.uk/planning/22277.asp

And the joint submission from the Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society is available on their own websites:

 http://friends-of-lewes.org.uk/2015/09/27/fol-and-south-downs-society-joint-response-to-sdnpa-and-ldcs-joint-core-strategy-proposal-for-old-malling-farm-development/

https://friendsofthesouthdowns.org.ukwp-content/uploads/2015/09/Modification-MM05-Spatial-Policy-4-%E2%80%93-Old-Malling-Farm-Lewes.pdf

 

 

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Equestrian development

Horse riding is a welcome recreational activity in the South Downs National Park, allowing many to enjoy the park’s special qualities. But one person’s enjoyment can be another’s “bad neighbour” and the Society receives many approaches from members of the public concerned about existing or proposed equestrian development. To guide the Society’s response to such developments, we have drawn up our own set of guidelines:

 

OUR POSITION

The South Downs National Park provides an ideal location for recreational horse riding.

The South Downs Way was the first long distance bridleway to be established by the former Countryside Commission, and activities such as racing, eventing, showjumping, dressage, driving, endurance riding and polo, including for the disabled, may prove acceptable in planning terms as well as enjoyable activities.

Looking after horses supports local businesses such as saddlers, carriage makers, farriers, vets, equine dentists, retailers of horse and rider equipment, and tourism.  Farmers may let their land to horse owners for grazing, so supplementing their agricultural income, and owners of stables provide livery for other owners of horses and ponies.

While the keeping, training and riding of horses gives pleasure and income to many, there is no doubt that some associated activity – such as the construction and operation of indoor and outdoor facilities, traffic, lighting – can cause problems for neighbours and have adverse environmental impact.  Each planning application, or unauthorised activity, needs to be considered on its merits. The proposed activity should be seen to contribute to the conservation and enhancement of the landscape of the South Downs National Park and its quiet enjoyment – that is, the statutory purposes of national park designation.

 

HOW WILL WE HELP TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN?

With the aim that provision for equestrian activity in the national park is properly planned and managed we will:

  1. Seek to influence the local plan for the national park, the local plans for adjoining areas and neighbourhood plans with a view to ensuring that provision is made for horse riding in the park, subject to adequate and appropriate safeguards to protect its special qualities.
  2. Respond to planning applications for equestrian development, recognising the contribution that may be made to quiet enjoyment of the national park and to the economic and social wellbeing of the park communities, while seeking to protect the park’s special qualities and their quiet enjoyment by residents, visitors and other recreational users.
  3. Query possible unauthorised development and support appropriate enforcement.

 

 

In carrying out 1 to 3 above the following considerations may apply:

 

  • Buildings and equipment

 

Stables are best established as a block, near the dwelling, to improve security and keep the “footprint” compact.  The materials used should be in keeping with local buildings. If a metal roof is proposed, attention should be paid to reducing its “shine” in the sun. Floodlights, security and roof lights may contribute to light pollution, reducing “dark skies” and tranquillity.

 

Stable effluent may be disposed of through a cesspit or septic tank which will need regular emptying and this may put strain on the rural highway network.

Field boundaries: division by electric tape fences into “pony paddocks” may help the owner to control equine diet but it can be unsightly, and if this sub-division can be avoided it may help to promote lower grazing densities and so maintain the biodiversity of the grassland.

 

Screening of buildings and equipment with native hedging and trees may reduce the impact on the landscape.

 

  • Bridleways

 

Horses can be legally ridden on bridleways and byways so proximity to them may be an advantage for an equestrian development, especially if there is direct access other than along roads. Horses cannot be ridden on footpaths, unless with the landowner’s permission.  If there is high equine population density in the area the pressure may be  high on some routes, contributing to erosion and possibly extensive degradation. If a part of the bridleway network is already subject to high usage from existing equestrian establishments, it may be appropriate to resist further developments of this type in the area.

 

  • Highways and traffic

 

Equestrian facilities generate vehicular activity – both cars (owners, staff, riders, parents) and large vehicles such as feed and bedding supply lorries — which may lead to difficulties on the local road network. Single track roads require passing places for lorries to reduce the need for reversing; vehicles may access and damage highway verges and vegetation when passing.

 

If manure is not being composted and spread on site, its removal by skip may take place, with potential impact on the local route network.

 

Livery yards may offer lorry and trailer parking as well as car parking to the horse owners. A large area of hardstanding may prove an eyesore.

 

 

  • Amenity value and conservation

 

Riding tuition may impact on local tranquillity and the quiet enjoyment of the national park by others. Noise, traffic and the visual impact of equestrian development may affect users of local rights of way.

Change from agricultural to equestrian use may damage biodiversity or landscape character.

 

Archaeological and historical features may be compromised.

 

 

NB

The draft “Preferred Options” Local Plan for the national park currently (August 2015) contains the draft policy below. This will be subject to public consultation as one element of the draft Local Plan during September and October 2015:

“Development Management Policy: SD50 Equestrian Uses

  1. Development proposals for equestrian development will be permitted provided that they comply with other relevant policies and they: a) have a scale and/or an intensity of equestrian use which would be compatible with the landscape and its special qualities; b) demonstrate good design which responds to local character and distinctiveness including location and siting, any subdivision of field(s) and earthworks; c) have a location which satisfactorily relates to existing infrastructure, where necessary, which includes vehicular and field accesses, tracks and bridleways; d) re-use existing buildings wherever practicable and viable; e) locate new buildings, stables, yard areas and facilities adjacent to existing buildings provided they respect the amenities of surrounding properties and uses; f) provide new or supplementary planting, hard landscape features and boundary treatments consistent with local character, where appropriate; and g) are compatible with other users of the countryside.
  2. Development proposals for equestrian development that would have an unacceptable adverse impact on the special qualities of the National Park will be refused.”

 

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STOP THE CUTS: Campaign for National Parks and 38 Degrees join forces for South Downs walk to highlight the effects of the Government cuts on National Park services

The South Downs Society has organised a special walk at Queen Elizabeth country park, Hampshire, for environmental pressure group 38 Degrees in support of its campaign, with CNP, against government budget cuts for the country’s national parks.  CNP has issued a press release as follows:

National Parks will welcome hundreds of people this weekend as part of a unique partnership between the Campaign for National Parks and pressure group 38 Degrees to highlight our Stop the Cuts campaign.

Walks have been set up in all ten of the English National Parks to enable people to meet together to learn more about the challenges facing our precious landscapes and to enjoy the glorious countryside.

The South Downs 5km walk has been set up by our sister organisation, the South Downs Society. It starts in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and includes a fairly steep uphill climb to the top of Butser Hill, which at 270m is the highest point on the South Downs chalk ridge and the second highest within the National Park.

National Park Authorities have had their Government budgets cut by up to 40% in real terms over the past five years and there is real concern that Defra – the lead Department for National Parks – will have to make huge cuts to meet the Government’s £20bn savings plan over the lifetime of this parliament.

Fiona Howie, Campaign for National Parks Chief Executive, said she was delighted that so many people were taking part in the walks to help promote the huge challenges facing National Park Authorities.

“National Parks are among the most beautiful and valued landscapes in the British Isles, containing some of our most breath-taking scenery, rare wildlife and cultural heritage. Ninety million visits are made to them every year, with people eager to enjoy their iconic landscapes, uninterrupted views and tranquillity.

“Our Parks are living landscapes, home to diverse communities, and must be conserved for the benefit of all – both now and in the future. That is why we are leading a campaign calling on the Government to stop cutting funding for the English National Parks and to make sure National Park Authorities have enough money to protect our most iconic landscapes for future generations.

“To deal with the huge funding cuts National Park Authorities have been forced to cut back on the maintenance of footpaths, close visitor centre and reduce funding for flood protection, forestry, climate change, education and ranger services.”

Robert Cheesman, South Downs Society chair, said: “As the Friends group for the South Downs National Park, we campaigned vigorously for the creation of the National Park and we believe the new Park Authority needs the resources to do its job of caring for this precious landscape.

“We are wholly behind the efforts of the Campaign for National Park and 38 Degrees in calling on government to protect the National Parks from damaging budget cuts, and we are delighted to arrange a special walk for their supporters. A well cared for National Park is good for the local economy and vital for local communities.”

The walk comes a fortnight after the annual National Parks Week when the Minister Rory Stewart MP, described National Parks as the soul of Britain and as areas which brought together the environment, traditional farming communities, tourists and elements of our history, poetry and literature.

“I would like to work very closely with National Parks and the British public to make sure everybody in Britain has the unique experience of going to one of our National Parks,” he said in a You Tube video.

Ms Howie welcomed the Minister’s words but said warm words were not enough: “We recognise that National Parks need to continue to evolve and we know they are being proactive about accessing new sources of funding. But National parks are national assets and the Government needs to give them sufficient resources to make sure they continue to deliver important environmental, social, economic and cultural benefits to the nation,” she stressed.

 

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Save Our Green Fields

The Society and Friends of Lewes have jointly issued the following press release under the above title on 12 August 2015:

Two local environmental campaigning groups, Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society, are joining forces to fight a proposal to build 200 new homes on a greenfield site in the heart of the Ouse Valley between Landport and Malling.

The independent planning inspector, who conducted a public inquiry in January into the latest stage of the local plan covering the whole of Lewes district including that part in the National Park, concluded that the plan would yield insufficient new dwellings to meet local need. He suggested that land at Old Malling Farm in Lewes could be developed to provide more houses. But this is a site already considered – and previously rejected – by the South Downs National Park Authority.

Said Chairman of the Friends of Lewes, Robert Cheesman, “This must be resisted. The designation of the National Park, and the decision to include the town of Lewes within it, was to ensure the protection of our precious landscape, the downland setting of Lewes and its cultural heritage. All of these are seriously threatened by the proposal to build 200 houses on quality farmland at Old Malling Farm which is highly visible as well as having historic associations and archaeological significance.”

Says Steve Ankers, Policy Officer for the South Downs Society, “Both societies want to see more affordable housing available in and around Lewes on brownfield sites but, as the official Friends group for the National Park, we very much share this opposition to any new housing estate at Old Malling Farm. Development there would be a worrying precedent for building on other greenfield sites on the edge of town or elsewhere in the National Park.”

 A further round of consultation is taking place between 7 August and 2 October, with a possible reopening of the public inquiry in the autumn to consider comments on this site. While the Societies will be putting forward a strong objection to the 200 houses proposed for Old Malling Farm, it is vital that members of the public make their views known.  Details of the proposals are available on Lewes District Council website:

http://www.lewes.gov.uk/planning/22277.asp

Send in your comments by emailing ldf@lewes.gov.uk or by post to Lewes Planning Department at Southover House, Lewes.

 

 

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United we stand!

In our efforts to protect the South Downs landscape for this and future generations we never lose sight of being one of a network of national park societies across the country, each fighting the good fight– ever conscious that a threat to any one of the parks may be a threat to all. If a planning decision is made which favours “growth” over conservation in one national park, a dangerous precedent may be set for future decisions elsewhere.

The North York Moors national park is facing a major threat from proposals to work “polyhalite” — known as the “potash mine”. The submitted scheme includes underground tunneling, a mineshaft, ventilation shafts, the spreading of spoil, erection of buildings, access roads, parking and a helicopter landing site, with potentially major impact on the landscape of the national park and its quiet enjoyment. The park’s Planning Committee is meeting on 30 June to consider the application.

Co-ordinated by the Campaign for National Parks (CNP), the national park societies around the country — and many other environmental organisations — have campaigned vigorously against this threat, and the South Downs Society has been a committed partner in these efforts.

Steve Ankers, Policy Officer

 

Click HERE for the report from its Planning Officer which will be considered by the Committee.

Click HERE for the letter submitted to the Committee on our behalf by CNP, with this Society as a co-signatory.

See the CNP website and its media release HERE.

http://www.cnp.org.uk/news/say-no-worlds-largest-potash-mine-29-environment-and-amenity-groups-urge-members-north-york

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The National Park Five Years On

It is just five years since the South Downs National Park came into being and, to mark this anniversary, the first (and hitherto the only) chair of the National Park Authority, Margret Paren, has set out on the park’s online forum her summary of key achievements over those first five years together with her view of the key challenges over the next five.

Click here:

http://southdownsforum.ning.com/forum/topics/south-downs-national-parks-5th-birthday?xg_source=msg_mes_network

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Monitoring the National Park Planning Committee

At the end of 2013 the Society reviewed the decisions reached by the National Park Authority’s Planning Committee at its more or less monthly meetings through the year. We posted our report on the Society website and shared it with senior national park staff. We have just repeated the exercise for 2014. The results are below. We will again share the report with the park authority.

Of the four thousand or so planning applications received each year in the national park, approximately 450 are likely to be determined by the NPA itself, the remainder being delegated to the councils which have an agency agreement with the park authority. During 2014 the NPA’s Planning Committee determined 68 applications in addition to responding to consultations from neighbouring planning authorities and emerging planning policies at park, county, district and neighbourhood level. The 68 applications determined by the Planning Committee comprised applications either called in for determination from the “agency” councils on the grounds of “significance” or, within the “recovered service” authorities (Arun, Brighton and Hove, Wealden, Eastbourne and WSCC), because for various reasons they were not delegated for officer decision. Around 400 applications, therefore, were determined by NPA officers acting under delegated powers, the great majority of which were located in the “recovered service” areas. Reasons for applications to be reported to members for decision, rather than being determined by officers, include: an objection by the parish council, a minimum of five representations from third parties, or a request by a member of the NPA.

Within the 68, perhaps 33 might be regarded by the Society as particularly significant, involving, say, at least half a dozen dwellings, a commercial operation including equestrian or holiday accommodation, travellers, nursing home, agricultural silos, oil or gas exploration or extraction, recreation facility or a newbuild or conversion proposal affecting a particularly sensitive listed building or conservation area. Of the remaining 35 applications determined by the Committee, no fewer than 27 were located in the “recovered service” areas of Arun and Wealden. This report focuses on the 33 “key” applications.

Of these 33 the Society commented on 20, out of a total of 96 comments submitted altogether by our District Officers (DOs, the Society’s planning volunteers) in 2014, compared with a 2013 total of 80. Some, though not all, of the key applications on which the Society did not submit comments fell in areas of Hampshire with no current DO cover.

22 of these 33 key applications were recommended for approval in the officer report and were approved by members, while the remaining 11 were recommended for refusal by officers and were refused by the members. (There was one instance during the year of an application being recommended for approval but then deferred by members at the October meeting – an application to demolish the former magistrates’ courts in Lewes and replace with a three storey newbuild for Premier Inn and retail/commercial units – but this has not been included in the 33 decisions made as it was neither approved nor refused. A revised scheme was approved at the December meeting in line with the officer recommendation).

Of the 20 applications on which the Society submitted comments, 14 decisions were made broadly in line with our comments including, notably, in relation to an application for oil and gas exploration at Fernhurst. On five applications the Society had submitted an objection or had expressed caution and the need for improvements or conditions but was in effect overruled by the Planning Committee, in respect of: ground based satellite dish antennae near Winchester; insensitive conversion of farm buildings in Greatham conservation area; an amended scheme for housing at Drewitts Farm, Amberley; the Premier Inn, Lewes; and affordable housing at Coldwaltham (on design grounds and the accuracy of the case made for local housing need). In one instance – the construction of a water storage reservoir for a golf club – the Society expressed conditional support but the application was refused.

On a number of occasions the Society chose to address the Committee meeting to underline its views, having in some instances been invited to do so by local residents or other organisations seeking support or a more strategic perspective. In 2014, as in previous years, the Society has chosen to address the Committee on more occasions than any other body and our contributions do appear to be influential, frequently being picked up by local media.

The issue of the impact of the NPA on the decision making on the thousands of applications determined each year by the “agency” councils is a harder one to monitor. The NPA has been developing methods of measuring this “added value” and the Society has indicated to the NPA its keen interest in the methodology and the outcome.

 

Steve Ankers, Policy Officer

January 2015

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National Park Society Welcomes Fracking Ban

During debate in parliament on the Infrastructure Bill, the Energy Minister has made it clear this week that the process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to extract shale oil and gas has the government’s support but, in response to growing concerns, no licence would be issued in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty or sites of special scientific interest. The Society has issued a press release welcoming the government’s commitment to safeguarding the national park, while reiterating its concern about possible implications for the wider countryside and climate change. The full text of the press release is as follows:

 

“The official ‘Friends’ organisation for the South Downs National Park, the South Downs Society, today welcomed a government commitment to keep fracking out of the country’s national parks.

 

In Monday’s parliamentary debate on the Infrastructure Bill, Energy Minister Amber Rudd told MPs that an existing loophole allowing “unconventional” drilling for shale oil and gas in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest in “exceptional circumstances” would be closed. The announcement follows widespread opposition to fracking from both national environmental organisations and local communities.

 

Says South Downs Society Policy Officer Steve Ankers, ‘This is good news for our most treasured landscapes and follows a lot of hard work by groups like ours across the country. Politicians have listened to the justified concerns of their constituents and this shows what can be achieved when people speak out. The South Downs National Park Authority took a strong line last year in refusing planning permission for oil and gas exploration before it could even get to the extraction stage. We and others warmly welcomed that decision at the time and it looks like MPs took notice. There are a lot of environmental unknowns with fracking, in addition to its inevitable contribution to climate change, and government needs to think very hard about its unquestioning support in the rest of the countryside – but at least the ban in national parks announced on Monday is a positive step.'”