£5 million fund to protect the Forest

news_AshdownForestbench298714_6538.jpgWealden District Council have approved proposals to establish a £5 million fund to allow development to resume in Crowborough and elsewhere within 7km of the Ashdown Forest.

The Council is to create a revolving infrastructure fund to support the creation of alternative natural green spaces which will allow new development to take place within the mitigation area around the Ashdown Forest without damaging its wildlife.

A key requirement of these SANGS – Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space – will be the creation of circular walks in a natural landscape with adequate car parking.  They will be particularly suitable for dog owners.

The planning application from Rydon Homes for 160 houses off Walshes Road in Crowborough include provision for recreational space to divert people away from the Ashdown Forest.

In the past bosses of some businesses in the area have been critical of the policy saying it has was a negative impact on the local economy.

Councillor Ann Newton, Cabinet member for Planning and Development at Wealden District Council (WDC) said:

These SANGS will be additional green spaces, similar to a country park, for the benefit of all Wealden residents.  To be successful they must make best use of the existing landscape to excite the feeling of wild, open spaces and woodland.

We are already working with private developers in Crowborough and Uckfield on suitable SANGS arrangements, but we will still need to consider investment in the early delivery of SANGS.  These provisions will safeguard the outstanding ecology that is part of our growing District. They will help ensure that economic growth, and the benefits it brings, continue.

The Council is providing up to £5 million to set up a revolving infrastructure fund which will be replenished by contributions from the Community Infrastructure Levy and New Homes Bonus, paid as developments outlined in the District’s Local Plan take place.

The Council is working with the Conservators of Ashdown Forest and neighbouring local authorities on agreeing access management and monitoring measures, known as SAMMs (Strategic Access Management Measures), to help alleviate visitor pressure on the Forest.  The monitoring of nitrogen levels has already begun and a full year of air quality monitoring data is expected next year.

In approving the measures, Cabinet made it clear that they would not result in an increase of the housing allocation in the Local Plan. Developers will continue to be required to demonstrate that any developments not included in the Local Plan will not increase the amount of nitrogen deposits within the Ashdown Forest.

Responding to the news of the fund, Jeremy Woolger, President and Chairman of the Crowborough & District Chamber of Commerce said:

Although the announcement by WDC to provide funding towards the provision of SANGS is welcomed by the Chamber as a positive step in resolving the issues caused by the Ashdown Forest Habits Directive, it is disappointing that it has taken 2½ years since the Chamber first suggested that this is the route the Council should take before they reached the same conclusion.

Had they listened to the concerns of Chamber Members at the time and gone down this route then perhaps some of the damage done to businesses in the area over the intervening period could have been avoided.

We still have concerns that even when the SANGS finally become available that developments outside of the allocated sites within the Core Plan will be prevented from moving forward because of the need to mitigate against the perceived threat to Ashdown Forest by Nitrogen deposits.  

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