“Un-Natural England! Industrial Development on Woodbury Common Agreed”

Reactions to the decision:

Yesterday at East Devon District Council the Planning Committee agreed to an area on Woodbury Common to be allowed to become an extension to an Engineering works. The application will allow the engineering plant to become twice as large.

Tony Bennett chair of “Wild Woodbury” responded to the news

“Area 12” Factory Development for Heavy Industry on Woodbury Common – I would like to thank everyone who campaigned to get this proposal thrown out. Sadly, the council voted to accept the submission.

There was a fantastic turnout for the meeting and I think it is fair to say everyone left feeling let down, angry, and betrayed. The floodgates are now open. This will probably be biggest development (apart from mineral extraction) to have taken place on Woodbury Common since the Doomsday book was written! A golden opportunity has been missed.”

The site known as area 12 was the processing and offices area for a large gravel and sand quarry which originally had been agreed back in 2003 to be returned to heathlands after a payment of £6.4M was paid to the landowners and operators in compensation for stopping mineral extraction and processing of materials due to the special status of the Pebblebed Heaths. However, following further temporary planning changes, it was later agreed that consideration would be allowed for Area 12 to be used for another purpose.

Most of the Existing Engineering buildings next to area 12 had been granted “stand alone” planning permission by the previous planning Authority in the early 1960s and 1970s, which preceded the area being designated an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”

The Application yesterday was submitted by the landowners Clinton Devon Estates to allow the expansion of the Engineering plant because of the “exceptional justification” and “economic importance” of allowing their tenant to expand the operational facilities at their site.

The Councillors that voted for the proposal where, Colin Brown, Brain Bailey, Paul Carter, David Key, Jim Night, and Helen Parr (all Conservative Councillors)

The Councillors that voted against the development where Ben Ingram, Susie Bond, Geoff Jung, and David Barratt (all Independent Councillors) and Bruce de Saram (Conservative.)

In a bizarre twist to the debate Councillor Paul Carter seemed to be against the proposal saying it was against the Planning Authorities planning policy and approval to this application may allow developments in inappropriate locations be approved in the future, but then voted for the proposal!

The Committee was advised by officers that although the application was against local policy two important consultees, the RSPB and Natural England both supported the Application.

Natural England said in their written response:

“It is not likely to have a significant effect on the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Special Area of Conservation (SAC), East Devon Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA) or East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).”

RSPB said in their response:

“Therefore, we feel that the alternative proposals proposed in the Ecological Appraisal Addendum (Richard Green Ecology, April 2018) are adequate to address the lost opportunity to restore the Blackhill Quarry application site.”

Further in Natural England’s response they requested an additional condition if the application was approved to “personalize” the application so the industrial site could only be used by the Blackhill Engineering or their parent company.

“However, given that the need is specific to Blackhill Engineering/Super Cat and is not a general need for development of industrial space in an otherwise un-spoilt and iconic part of the AONB Natural England recommend that, if you are minded to grant permission, you include a condition or planning obligation which ties the permission to occupancy by this company and requires decommissioning and restoration, as per the original minerals planning permission, should they vacate the site in the future.”

Therefore, this Outline Application which was approved yesterday allows Clinton Devon to submit a “Full Planning Application” for all the details of the Industrial expansion, but with a number of stringent conditions.

A substantial area (larger than Area 12) of managed woodland close to the development site will need to be cut down and returned to heathlands.

Also, that permission is specifically for the occupancy of Blackhill Engineering, if ever they vacated the site the area would be required to be decommissioned and restored as originally agreed by the mineral extraction license agreement.

However, this condition could not be applied to the existing Engineering units on the existing site.

Local residents are very disappointed with the decision taken yesterday by the Planning Committee and by the lack of support from Natural England and the RSPB, which seemed to have swayed the committee.

The Pebblebed Heaths are considered the “Crown Jewels” of this part of East Devon and over the years there have been many battles to preserve these heathlands. The use by the military, creating golf courses, new roads, quarrying, and intensive farming and forestry have all been a threat. It had been hoped with the changing attitudes and better environmental knowledge, National bodies such as Natural England and the RSPB would have supported local people in their endeavours to restrain the Industrial area from expanding on one of the most heavily protected locations in Europe.}

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