Following the recent Court of Appeal decision in relation to the protection of Ashdown Forest, Wealden District Council will now have to take into account a wider area up to around 15km from the Forest to assess for possible effects of recreational pressure resulting from new development.
This change is a direct result of the challenge mounted by land owners to the Council’s protection policy which has meant the Council has had to remove a 7km protection area and mention of SANGS and SAMMS on a legal technicality. Visitor surveys used to gauge the recreational pressure on Ashdown Forest have shown that Wealden residents visiting the Forest come from around 15km of the Ashdown Forest Special Protection Area.
However significant progress made by the Council, in bringing forward mitigation measures to counter potential habitat harm, will now mean the green light for appropriate development within the wider area.
Such proposals will still be relying on the SANGS (Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space), SAMMS (Strategic Assessment Monitoring and Management Schemes), and other mitigation schemes which Wealden District Council has been pursuing in order to support communities and businesses in the north of the District.
Cllr Ann Newton, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Planning said:
The progress we have now made is an opportunity to move forward with a range of smaller sustainable developments which are not reliant on building on greenfield sites close to the Forest.
To support this, Wealden Planning Officers have produced guidance to help applicants submitting suitable development in the wider Ashdown Forest area subject to either the SANGS/SAMMS or alternative mitigation.
The guidance will be available on the Council’s website. Agents will also be circulated with the guidance and encouraged to use our pre-application surgeries and planning officer duty phone services to keep their clients informed.
Whilst I am happy to see that we are now in a position to see certain development with the mitigation take place, it is not open season for unsustainable speculative development in Ashdown Forest and surrounding areas.
Many people have been justifiably disappointed with the outcome of the Steel Cross housing site appeal in Crowborough. The Planning Inspector’s decision grants planning permission in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the house numbers exceed any development targets set out in our adopted and sound Core Strategy Local Plan. The Council will be robustly challenging the Planning Inspector’s decision, and taking it to the High Court if necessary.
As a forward-thinking Council, we appreciate the need to allocate land in appropriate areas for housing growth. This should be undertaken in a planned and sustainable way that does not impact upon our environment and not be wholly developer led.
This will form part of the 2015 Review of the Local Plan which we are currently undertaking in line with our original Core Strategy.
The new planning guidance Ashdown Forest Special Protection Area – Habitats Regulations Assessment Guidelines can be found on the Wealden District Council website.