“Rewild a quarter of UK to fight climate crisis, campaigners urge”

Rewilding would (according to the Environment Secretary) focus on:

Native woodlands
Salt marshes
Peat bogs
Ponds and lakes
Meadows and grasslands

all of which we have in abundance in East Devon.

Perhaps it is now time to revive the idea of a Jurassic Coast National Park (West Dorset would be an already-enthusiastic partner) which was squashed by the previous council because they feared losing their cosy relationship with housing developers …

And, as part of our climate emergency, make rewilding an integral part of all future neighbourhood, district and Greater Exeter development plans.

Nominate ‘Say No to Sidford Fields Industrial Park” campaign for award says lical

Letter in Sidmouth Herald:

“Sir/Madam,

In light of the recent call for recommendations for the welcome, annual Acland Awards (for those conserving/enhancing our local Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or AONB) – can I make a recommendation?

Someone please put forward the Say No to the Sidford Fields Industrial Park Campaign since they are doing more than anyone I know to protect East Devon AONB (I put them forward last year).

Their earnest activities to save this crucial part of Sidvale from unnecessary ruination is, in my opinion, exactly what Brigadier Acland had in mind during the process of setting up our precious and it seems, eternally threatened AONB. And they need all the encouragement they can get.

Peter Naysmith, Sidmouth”

Dorset campaigners crowdfund legal challenge to 760 home AONB development near Bridport

“Campaigners against a greenfield development in Dorset have raised £5,000 with a view to taking the planning decision involved to judicial review.

West Dorset District Council last November gave permission for the Vearse Farm project, which includes 760 homes – 35% of them affordable – and space for employment uses.

But campaign group Advearse said the decision to allow development on the site near Bridport contravened regulation on areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and should be given ‘the highest possible protection’ from development.

A judicial review will cost around £34,000 and, thanks to donations and match-funding, Advearse has £19,000 left to raise.

Its chair Barry Bates said: “Bridport has shown that it is clearly united against this development which, despite its gross scale, will not deliver truly-affordable homes for local people and we will do our utmost to represent them.”

Advearse’s fundraising will be doubled due to a match-funding grant from the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Jean Marshall, West Dorset’s head of planning development management and building control, said: “We’re aware of the ongoing objections and campaign from Advearse, but remain confident in the decision given by [the] planning committee to grant permission subject to the necessary planning obligation and planning conditions.”

Ian Gardner, portfolio holder for planning, said when permission was granted: “We’re satisfied that we have been able to work with the applicant and reach agreement on plans for the site.

“Once completed, the scheme will provide significant off-site highway improvements to the Miles Cross junction, a good range of open market and affordable housing as well as community facilities and employment land.”

https://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/planning/401-planning-news/40128-campaigners-crowd-fund-legal-challenge-over-grant-of-planning-permission-for-760-home-scheme

Environment watchdog ‘Natural England’ in crisis

“Thousands of environmentally important sites across England are coming under threat as the government body charged with their care struggles with understaffing, slashed budgets and an increasing workload.

Natural England has wide-ranging responsibilities protecting and monitoring sensitive sites, including sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) and nature reserves, and advising on the environmental impact of new homes and other developments in the planning stages. Its work includes overseeing national parks, paying farmers to protect biodiversity, and areas of huge public concern such as air quality and marine plastic waste.

But these activities are being impaired by severe budget cuts and understaffing, Natural England employees and other interested parties have told the Guardian. “These are fantastically passionate staff who are worried that the environment is being affected so badly by these cuts,” one frontline staff member said. “There will be no turning back the clock” if we allow sensitive sites to be degraded.

The agency’s budget has been cut by more than half in the past decade, from £242m in 2009-10 to £100m for 2017-18. Staff numbers have been slashed from 2,500 to an estimated 1,500.

Conservation work on sites of special scientific interest is being cut, while farmers are finding it harder to access expert help on countryside stewardship. Work on areas such as air pollution and marine plastics has been cut and many nature reserves are being neglected as vital volunteers cannot be safely trained.

One 11-year veteran of the agency reported low morale and increasing difficulty in managing workloads, with sites left unmonitored for years. They said: “Our work brings economic benefits, environmental benefits, it helps communities. We have suffered disproportionately from the cuts to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs budget. It is such a shame as we have done some amazing and incredible work.”

The Prospect union has investigated the agency and concluded it is “at crisis point”, with staff overstretched and under stress after eight years of a 1% pay cap. The union will launch a report on Tuesday with a call on ministers to increase funding and remove the agency from the pay cap.

“Cuts have left Natural England at the point where its workers are saying they don’t have enough people or resources to do the things they need to do,” said Garry Graham, the deputy general secretary of Prospect. “If we are to be able to regulate our own environment properly after Brexit, it is vital that we cultivate and maintain the skills to do so domestically. We will no longer be able to rely on the EU to do bits of it for us. Once biodiversity is lost, it cannot easily be regained. Now is the time for the government to act.”

One senior manager told Prospect: “[Work on protected sites] is what many of us joined to work on and has been the central focus of much of our conservation work. There are currently no government targets for this work [so] cuts have fallen on work that is not protected, the largest area being SSSI work. That’s the stark reality.”

There have been widespread complaints from farmers over the agency’s failure to make timely payments for the countryside stewardship scheme, under which farmers undertake measures such as improving habitats for wildlife, wildflowers and pollinators. Payments have not been made on time, or fallen short, and many farmers complained of being unable to access the expert advice they need. This has discouraged farmers from applying to the scheme or continuing with it.

Guy Smith, the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “We have thousands of members expecting payment from agri-environment schemes completely in the dark over when these already late payments will be made. It is imperative that Defra and its agencies give this priority.”

The Woodland Trust has called on Natural England to update a vital registry of trees, currently looked after by only one staff member. The registry helps campaigners to protect woodland resources that may be threatened by development and can help save money for developers at the planning stages. Updating it would cost about £1.5m over five years.

Abi Bunker, the trust’s director of conservation, said: “We recognise the pressures Natural England are under. It is frustrating when adequate progress cannot be made on updating the ancient woodland inventory, resulting in our rarest habitat being put at unnecessary risk.”

Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP who has asked a series of parliamentary questions on Natural England’s plight, said: “Behind the veil of Michael Gove’s fluffy rhetoric about caring for the environment, ministers have systematically gutted the agency that looks after irreplaceable habitats and beautiful landscapes. The result is plummeting morale as staff simply don’t have the resources to monitor thousands of protected sites across England, ultimately putting spaces for wildlife at risk of irreversible destruction.”

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesman, said: “Farmers need certainty, the environment needs protection and Natural England needs a proper budget to do it. Instead Defra is failing in its duties.”

Defra’s budget has been one of those worst hit by austerity cuts. There has been a recent increase in staffing and funding but only to deal with the expected impact of Brexit on farmers and food supplies so those extra resources are unlikely to have a positive impact on Natural England’s work.

Marian Spain, the interim chief executive of Natural England, said: “Inevitably, cuts of almost 50% to the Natural England budget over the last five years have meant changes to the way we do things. Since taking on my role in December, meeting staff and hearing about the pressures they face has been one of my top priorities.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “The work of Natural England and its staff to protect our invaluable natural spaces, wildlife and environment is vital and its independence as an adviser is essential to this. As set out in the 25-year environment plan, Natural England will continue to have a central role in protecting and enhancing our environment for future generations,”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/29/agency-protecting-english-environment-reaches-crisis-point

“Take business park land out of Local Plan say campaigners”

“Campaigners have called for land earmarked for a multi-million pound Sidford business park to be taken out of the Local Plan.

t follows East Devon District Council’s decision to throw out an application to build 8,445sqm of employment floor space on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The proposed development for the Two Bridges site received 255 comments of objection and 111 in support. A campaign group also submitted a petition to the council with 1,400 signatures opposing the plans.

Now campaigners are calling on council bosses to look at removing the area, earmarked for development, out the Local Plan, claiming it should have never been there in their first place.

The Herald understands the application could once again go to appeal following a response from East Devon District Council saying it would not be appropriate to respond to the campaigners’ comments.

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “As we understand that this matter is now going to appeal, it would not be appropriate to make any comments about the status of the Local Plan.

“The campaigners can make their points direct to the Planning Inspector in support of the council’s decision to refuse.”

Councillor Marianne Rixson has spoken out on the reasons why the town should join her rallying call to pressure the authority to look at taking the site out of the Local Plan at the earliest opportunity.

The Local Plan

“When a Government inspector was examining the suitability of the site in 2014, county Highways failed to point out that the roads would not be able to cope with the traffic an industrial estate would bring. Highways only admitted their error in September 2016.

“After the draft Local Plan had been sent to the Inspector for final approval in 2015, district councillors realised they’d made a mistake and voted almost unanimously to try to remove it from the plan but no effort was made to explain to the Inspector the reasons why the site was unsuitable – consequently he had no option but to rule that the site should remain, subject to planning.”

Flooding issues:

“It is on a floodplain and flooding will inevitably get worse with climate change.

“The Two Bridges site is in zones 3A and two flood risk zones – yet another reason why this site is unsuitable.”

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB):

“England has 34 AONB all of which are supposed to have the highest rate of protection in law and Government policy.

“We should only build on AONB if there is an overwhelming need for a development. The owners’ plans for a business park were market driven so there isn’t any hard proof. Surely we need to know for sure that there is an overwhelming need for employment space in the Sid Valley before we destroy this AONB?

“I would advocate for the district and town councils to work together to look seriously at how we can attract good quality, well paid jobs into the valley and how we can most effectively locate them without encroaching into the AONB and where there is good transport infrastructure.

“We need to attract good quality, well paid jobs into the area. Surely we can do this without encroaching into the AONB and where there are better road links? Regrettably by mid November Sidmouth will have lost three banks and building societies. Far better to turn these buildings into offices, which would help to keep our town vibrant, rather than build new offices on the outskirts.

Roads:

“Traffic cannot cope on this narrow road as it is due to the bottlenecks and number of HGVs already using the A375 – it will not be able to cope with more.

“Highways now agree this is not suitable for HGVs. “For two lorries to pass you need 6.5 metres. The main access for business park would be School Street which has a pinch point of 4.77 metres. There are several points through Sidbury too where the road is less than 5.5m, including Sidbury Mill and Cotford Bridge.

“Surely there should be a weight restriction on this road?

“According to an FOI submitted by the Say No Sidford Business Park campaigners some 30,000 cars travelled along the road in one off-peak week in April.

“I’d like to call for a weigh restriction on these struggling roads.

Endangered Bats and Japanese knotweed:

“The Two Bridges site is an important wildlife site for species that are protected such as horseshoe bats, otters and dormice.

“Knotweed exterminators have been seen on the site – it takes several years to get rid of.

Light Pollution

“The Norman Lockyer Observatory is both historical and the home to an active amateur astronomical society.

It also has plans to build a £70,000 extension so more experiments can take place than ever before.

“The light from any business park there will have an impact on the night sky, which currently has semi rural dark skies status at Sidford.”

http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/campaigners-reasons-why-sidford-business-park-land-should-not-be-in-eddc-local-plan-1-5772366

Government “Landscapes Review” call for evidence on AONBs and National Parks

“Overview

The Government has asked for an independent review of England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). You can find more about the work of the review and our Terms of Reference. Already the review team, led by Julian Glover and a panel with a range of experiences and interests, has carried out visits and meetings in many parts of England.

We will do more in the months ahead – but we want everyone to have a chance to contribute, whether you live in a National Park or AONB, run a business in them, enjoy visiting, care about landscapes and biodiversity, or represent an organisation with views that might shape and improve our findings. The questions (available as a list in the related documents section below) are a guide: please do not feel you must answer them all – or have to write at great length. We have not set a word length on answers, as we know some people and organisations will want to reply in detail on specific points. However, we ask that where possible you keep each individual answer to no more than 500 words. It is not necessary to reply to every question so please ignore those which you do not think relevant to you. You may find it easier to write your answers elsewhere before pasting them into the text boxes in the link below: …”

https://consult.defra.gov.uk/land-use/landscapes-review-call-for-evidence/

“We need ‘a steady supply’ of new homes in our National Parks, says Michael Gove adviser”

First they came for the green field sites, then they came for the green belt, then they came for the national parks … and by renaming AONBS they came for them too ….. The developer lobby has now come for everything.

Sit back and watch those developers get even richer … while those who need affordable (TRULY AFFORDABLE) housing get shafted again.

“People living in the countryside have to accept a “steady supply” of new homes need to be built in National Parks, the Government adviser in charge of a major review has said.

Julian Glover, who is running a review of whether to add to England’s 10 National Parks, said more homes had to be built in these protected areas.

Mr Glover also raised the prospect that new national parks will be created on the edge of major cities like Birmingham so people who live in urban areas can easily access them.

Another idea is to find new names for England’s 30 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. …”

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/10/19/need-steady-supply-new-homes-national-parks-says-michael-gove/