Despite Wealden having to scrap the 7km protection zone, Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment, has now written to Mid-Sussex District Council to support the way they are using a 7km zone around Ashdown Forest.
A recent Court of Appeal decision overturned Wealden District Council’s planning policy on the 7km zone because the Court concluded that there had been insufficient consideration of alternative strategies to protect the Forest from visitor disturbance.
Following the judgement, Wealden decided to drop the 7km zone and remove the requirement for alternative recreational areas (known as SANGS Suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces) from its Local Plan.
However Natural England has now written to Mid-Sussex District Council to support the way they are using a 7km zone around Ashdown Forest to determine current planning applications and recommends its inclusion as a policy in the Mid-Sussex District Plan.
Ashdown Forest is internationally recognised for its special environment of habitats and bird life. It is designated as a Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area as well as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Although Ashdown Forest lies outside the Mid-Sussex, it is extremely close to the border and any housing development on nearby land in Mid-Sussex could have an impact on the forest.
Mid-Sussex District Council has taken a slightly different approach. Since 1st January they have been asking developers to make a financial contribution for every house built within a 7km zone around Ashdown Forest. This money will go towards new recreational space (SANGS) at East Court and Ashplats Wood in East Grinstead, as well as visitor management projects.
Councillor Andrew MacNaughton, Cabinet Member for Planning at Mid-Sussex District Council, commented
I know some people have been confused by the implications of the Court of Appeal decision so we are really grateful to Natural England, as the experts on these matters, for making it clear that it continues to support the 7km zone.
We have considered different ways of protecting Ashdown Forest from increased visitor numbers and agree with Natural England that a 7km protection zone is the right strategy. Our planning officers continue to work on this issue, so that we further strengthen our evidence base on the alternative strategies and ensure that our District Plan is legally robust