Ashdown Forest is an ancient area of open heathland and is an area of outstanding natural beauty. The poor condition of Ashdown Forest however has led to concerns regarding air quality and traffic generation which are starting to impact upon the planning processes of Local Authorities close to the forest.
After three years of monitoring the area Wealden Council has expressed concerns about damage from nitrogen emissions from motor vehicles and other sources. This has led to concerns that additional housing in the area will increase nitrogen deposition alongside roads close to the Ashdown Forest special area of conservation. We therefore explore the evolving position as we understand it from surrounding Local Authority areas.
What does this mean for you?
The nitrogen deposition in Ashdown Forest is of considerable concern to the delivery of housing. This article will update and advise you on issues affecting a number of boroughs and how this will impact decisions on potential new sites.
The following planning documents are relevant to Wealden’s position:
• Wealden Local Plan Draft Submission dated 14th March 2017 Read document here
• Draft Proposed Submission Document – 15th March 2017 Read document here
Following the adoption of the Core Strategy (19th February 2013), the Council are now obliged to consider developments which would increase the use of the Ashdown Forest for recreational purposes. Having spoken to the Policy Team at Wealden, we were advised that any scheme put forward would need to mitigate its impact on the area and each application will be dealt with on a case by case basis.
Pages 14 to 54 of the emerging Local Plan make specific reference to Nitrogen Deposition. Paragraph 5.16 is of particular relevance – the Plan states that alternatives and mitigation have been considered so as to accommodate growth in the area despite harm taking place.
The Council have highlighted that compensation will be required for sites that have potential to create or improve Heathland. Compensation will need to be secured with a management strategy in place before any development commences.
The Plans states as follows:
“…This means our commitments of over 5000 homes can be built but we will need to get compensation into place before we can allow the further growth in the plan to be delivered. This need to protect the Ashdown Forest from further harm means that only growth outlined in this plan can take place”.
The Draft Proposed Document 2017 states:
“The nitrogen deposition levels are affected by traffic movements originating from across the whole District and beyond so there is no specific zone. Taking into account existing levels of traffic and development commitments that are in place there is already an unacceptable level of impact from nitrogen deposition in the areas close to the forest roads. As a result, any new planning applications within the District will need to show that they will not generate any additional vehicle movements in order to be considered for approval. This applies to development in the south of the District as well as the north. As a planning authority, we cannot guarantee that new vehicle movement, resulting from a development in the District, will not involve routes near or through the Ashdown Forest and lead to consequent environmental damage. Once appropriate compensation measures are in place, new development will be possible up to the level set out in the Plan.”
Any applications made after March 2017 will be placed on hold. The Council were unable to advise how long the applications will be on hold for. The position will be monitored over the preceding months.
For applications that have been allowed, permission will not be affected.
If development is being considered in the area and harm is identified then it is likely that mitigation measures will need to be in place and a contribution will also have to be made to the Council. It is not yet clear about the sum which is required. We will cover this in an updated blog post once the information is to hand.
In addition, we are of the understanding that Wealden are currently refusing to validate planning applications – which is currently of great concern.
Wealden District Council – visit website
The High Court decision dated 20th March 2017, Jay Jl quashed parts the Core Strategy belonging to Lewes and South Downs National Park as it was considered that the Joint Core Strategy would have a significant effect on the SAC in combination with the Wealden Core Strategy.
It was ruled that Wealden were out-of-time in challenging Lewes’s adoption of the Joint Core Strategy, however could dispute the park authority’s adoption of it. He noted that the plans were flawed as the Habitats Regulations Assessment that relied on “advice from Natural England that was plainly incorrect”. Download the document here.
Lewes have provided a brief update and have stated that the Joint Core strategy (JCS) for Lewes District Council remains intact as an Adopted Plan as Wealden were held to be out of time to challenge it. It is understood that any applications coming forward in Lewes District which are outside of the National Park are in line with the Spatial Policies in the JCS will therefore be considered appropriate in accordance with the policies.
Any proposals that fall outside of the scope of the JCS will need to consider whether they will adversely impact any European protected site, either alone or in combination with other plans and projects. If harm is identified, this may necessitate an Appropriate Assessment as required by the Habitat Regulations.
Lewes District Council – visit website
Tunbridge Wells Council have advised that no formal statements have been made in respect of the same as they are currently reviewing their position and the implications for planning decisions within the Authority.
Once Tunbridge Well’s position has been made clear, we will provide further updates.
Tunbridge Wells District Council – visit website
Mid Sussex Council
Mid Sussex Council have confirmed that they are currently seeking legal advice in respect of the issue and their position. A formal statement is yet to be published. Once we have reviewed the statement, we can reappraise the situation and the impacts.
HBF & Summary
The HBF have advised that on behalf of the house building industry they will be entering discussions with Natural England to determine how this matter will be addressed through the planning system. It is anticipated that resolution will be like the SANGS mitigation required for the Thames Basin.
The Government published on the 5th May, consultation of the Air Quality Plan (consultation ends 15th June) which affects Lewes and South Down Joint Core Strategy challenge. The consultation specifically relates to nitrogen dioxide pollution exceeding legal limits along specific roads in urban areas.
A list of English Local Authorities with one or more road consistently exceeding legal limits including the GLA, Basildon, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Derby, Guildford, Fareham, Leicester, New Forest, Reading and Surrey Heath and Walsall.
The matter however is of considerable concern to the delivery of housing and as such, whilst currently no solution has been agreed between all the affected parties, a solution will need to be found, however it will be necessary to keep under careful review the activities of Tunbridge Wells, Mid Sussex and Lewes, to ensure that they do not follow a similar pattern to Wealden.
We’ll be monitoring the position and will keep you updated on progress.
This is something to be mindful of in any land bids in the affected areas.