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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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A celebration of the South Downs National Park's 5th birthday

Owen Plunkett, publicity officer for Hampshire Ramblers and South Downs Society member organised a celebratory fifth anniversary event at the Park Centre in Midhurst on Saturday 4th April.

The meeting began with an address from Margaret Paren, chairman of the National Park Authority, who said that she preferred to look to the future rather than dwell on the past. She spoke of an aim to produce an innovative local plan based on ecosystem services, initiate  a ‘shared identity for the park’ and for the park to become part of an International Dark Skies Reserve.

Kate Ashbrook, president of the Ramblers and general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, also addressed the meeting. She congratulating the park on its five years of achievement, and that it was wonderful to see 98-year-old Len Clark who had arrived by bus from his home in Godalming. Len had been present at the second reading of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Bill in 1949 and had been a major voice in the campaigne for the South Downs National Park.

Kate went on to say;  The National Park is close to many population centres which is both a problem and an opportunity. There are numerous pressures for development close to its boundaries, threatening its grand landscape and its dark skies, and  it is a vital place for refreshment and reinvigoration, especially for urban dwellers”.

She commented on the need for more open spaces on the downs and links between the scattered and inaccessible mapped areas and later congratulated the South Downs Society in doing a splendid job devising walks which take in access land and link up the sites.

Some 30 or so of the audience were then conducted on a 7 miles circular walk across the Cowdray Estate which proved very enjoyable. This was followed back at the Centre by drinks and cake including a toast to the national park.

The Society took the occasion to publically launch its new series of 10 Open Access Land map leaflets with their associated guided walks. These fitted in well with one of the themes in Kate Ashbrook’s talk and were well received by those present. The maps can be found HERE.

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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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National park hosts MP fact finding visit

Group PhotoT

The Society has today, 2 March, issued the following press release:

 

National park “Friends” group, the South Downs Society, has hosted a visit from shadow minister Barry Gardiner MP at Seven Sisters Country Park. The MP was responding to receipt of  “National Parks in the 21st Century: a manifesto for the next Westminster Government”, produced by the Campaign for National Parks (CNP).

 Each national park has its own supportive society, raising funds and campaigning to conserve the special park landscape. CNP is the national umbrella organisation for the national park societies.

 Says South Downs Society chairman, Robert Cheesman, “The manifesto aims to highlight to politicians the vital role the national parks play in the local economy as well as in people’s recreation and enjoyment, and their need for strong planning protection and secure funding. We will be sending it out to prospective parliamentary candidates locally and CNP has circulated it to national politicians of all parties in advance of the general election. Barry Gardiner wanted to hear more and to share his thoughts on possible future legislation and funding for the national parks and our Society was very happy to host his meeting with CNP and local environmental groups in the South Downs.”

 Poor weather and the MP’s tight timetable rather put a dampener on plans to explore the country park and its iconic river meanders but those attending found the meeting very helpful.

 Says Robert Cheesman, “These irreplaceable national assets need friends in high places as well as local support. Whichever party or parties may be in power after the election, it is essential that the national parks are safeguarded and that all sectors of the community are able to appreciate and enjoy them. I believe Mr. Gardiner was taking careful note of what we all had to say.”

 

 

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National Park Friends Group Defends the Borders

The Society has submitted a strong objection to a planning application for 140 dwellings just within the national park boundary on the western edge of Liphook in East Hants. We have issued a press release on this, full text below.

 

The South Downs Society, a 2,000 strong pressure group whose aim is to conserve and improve the landscape of the South Downs National Park for the public’s quiet enjoyment, has put its weight behind local residents resisting a scheme to build 140 houses on the western edge of Liphook and just inside the national park.

 

Says the Society’s Policy Officer, Steve Ankers, “We were invited to scrutinise the outline planning application by the Bohunt Manor Community Action Group, who were worried about the potential impact of the scheme on the setting of Liphook, the national park landscape and local wildlife. We agree with their concerns and have submitted our own strong objection. There are better places in and around Liphook to meet any proven housing need.”

 

Government planning policy states that major developments should only take place in the national park if all alternatives have been examined and demonstrated to be unsuitable. Says Steve Ankers, “That test hasn’t been passed here, and we’ve been through a lengthy public inquiry to establish a proper boundary for the park. The developers will need to look elsewhere.”

 

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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.'”

 

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SDS asks for more stopping trains for national park

The South Downs Society, in responding to a timetable consultation by GTR (Govia Thameslink Railway) Southern, has pressed for more frequent stopping trains at  Amberley, Cooksbridge and Southease for the benefit of local residents and visitors to the national park. The text of our submission is below:

“These are the comments of the South Downs Society in response to the above consultation. The Society has nearly 2,000 members and its focus is campaigning and fund raising for the conservation of the landscape of the South Downs National Park and its quiet enjoyment. Our comments will reflect this focus.

The Society supports and encourages access to the national park by more sustainable means, including by train, and therefore wishes to see the GTR timetable adequately reflect this objective. We are keen to support existing services close to and within the national park, especially those connected to the park through the rights of way network and including the South Downs Way. We also seek improvements to those services where they will encourage greater use of the train to access the national park. Although it may mean some slight increases in journey times, we believe that increased stopping frequencies at selected stations will greatly benefit those wishing to enjoy the special qualities of the national park and thus provide encouragement to use the train for recreational and other purposes.
In particular we would respond to certain questions posed in the consultation as follows:
Qu. 7: Mainline West via Horsham: Irrespective of the issue posed in relation to Redhill station, this Society would urge an increased frequency of trains stopping at Amberley from hourly to half-hourly to match the frequency at other stops on this line, like Pulborough.
Qu. 9: Mainline East: We would urge an increase in stopping frequency at Cooksbridge to hourly off-peak, seven days a week, to match services at Plumpton.
Qu. 13: Coastway East: We would support an increased stopping frequency at Southease to half-hourly in line with other stations on this route.
The Society believes that, along with other social and economic justifications for these improvements, they would serve to promote increased use of these services to provide access to the delights of the national park.” 
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The Society presses case for rail infrastructure

In response to a recent consultation by Network Rail on its Sussex Area Route Study, the Society submitted the following comments:

“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 and fund raising for the conservation and enhancement of the landscape of the national park and its quiet enjoyment.

 
The Society is committed to the promotion of improved access to, and enjoyment of, the park’s special qualities by more sustainable means of transport, including the train. We are also conscious that there is a statutory duty on public bodies and utilities to have regard to the park’s designation and the social and economic wellbeing of its local communities.
 
To these ends the Society supports measures which will facilitate recreational and other access to, within and across the national park by rail as a more environmentally sustainable from of transport than the private car.

 
In particular, in terms of the current consultation, the Society supports calls for the reinstatement of a Lewes to Uckfield line and the construction of an Arundel chord. We believe that these measures will not only provide much needed relief and diversion capacity for the London to Brighton line but serve to facilitate a range of additional trips serving the national park.”
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The Society’s annual report on the National Park Planning Committee

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