One of our correspondents writes again:
Another thing the Talaton appeal has thrown a spotlight on is the lack of progress EDDC has made turning a strategy into an action plan. In this case it concerns EDDC’s failure in the draft Local Plan to meet obligatory requirements to demonstrate that it has a plan to mitigate the pressure increased population will place on three very sensitive wildlife habitats: Dawlish Warren; the Exe estuary and the Pebblebed Heaths.
This is something that EDDC, Teignbridge and Exeter have been working on since around 2012/2013 when they commissioned the “South-east Devon European Mitigation Strategy” report. This study concluded that, without appropriate mitigation measures, further development within 10Km of these sites would have adverse effects.
One of the central mitigation measures is the identification and creation of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) to replace specialised habitat and to provide additional recreation space to draw people away from these sites. Unfortunately, having identified one particular SANG, EDDC promptly granted planning permission for it, even before the report was published (see para 7.19 of the report)!
Since the beginning of August 2014, EDDC have been trousering between £749 and £626 per dwelling from developers to “make it easier for developers to ‘deliver’ such mitigation” but in the words of Natural England (submission to the Local Plan examination dated 11 June 2015):
“We are becoming increasingly concerned regarding the lack of progress on the delivery of mitigation measures which have not yet been implemented. We are aware that the Authority has been collecting funds for mitigation but delivery of such measures has not kept pace with its collection….. We are also concerned that recent planning applications and permissions may inhibit the delivery of proposed mitigation and that that mitigation may require modification to be delivered.”
Furthermore this letter from Natural England makes it clear that EDDC failed, prior to submitting the revised local plan for inspection, to update or consult further on the Habitat Regulation assessment section which Natural England, the statutory consultee, had stated in 2013: “does not meet the legal requirements as set out in Section 102 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) nor National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 166.”
The Talaton appeal gives us an up to date view of Planning Inspectorate thinking on this which looks unequivocal to me:
“60. No clear mechanism has been put forward that would ensure the delivery of the SANGs that form an essential element in the Council’s Mitigation Strategy. In the absence of appropriate mitigation, in line with the Mitigation Strategy, the effect of the proposed residential development, in combination with other planned development, is likely to give rise to adverse effects on the integrity of the SAC/SPA as a result of additional recreational pressure.
61. Regulation 61(5) of the Habitats Regulations identifies that the competent authority may only agree to a plan or project after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of a European site, subject to regulation 62, regarding considerations of over-riding public interest. That approach is reflected in paragraph 118 of the Framework which advises that planning permission should be refused where significant harm resulting from a development cannot be avoided (through locating on an alternative site with less harmful impacts), adequately mitigated, or compensated for.
62. In this case, there is little information before me to determine whether the proposed level of residential accommodation could be provided in another location, outside of the 10km zone surrounding the SPA. However, even if no alternative solution exists, the proposals are not put forward on the basis of any imperative reasons of over-riding public interest, of a social or economic nature, that would outweigh the harm to the SAC/SPA, having regard to Regulation 62 of the Habitat Regulations. As such, to grant planning permission for the proposed developments would be contrary to the aims of The Habitats Regulations and paragraph 118 of the Framework, both of which dictate that planning permission should be refused.”
Without resolution this matter looks like a showstopper for the Local Plan. But how easy is it going to be to agree a mitigation plan with a local authority that sets aside “Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace” one day then grants planning permission on it the next?