Glover Review of National Parks and AONBs – interim findings

Some quotes:

“… The message from all this work has been vigorous and clear. We should not be satisfied with what we have at the moment. It falls short of what can be achieved, what the people of our country want and what the government says it expects in the 25-year plan for the environment.

Some of this failure comes from the fact that our protected landscapes have
not been given the tools, the funding and the direction to do the job we should now expect of them. I want to praise the commitment of those who work to protect our landscapes today. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve seen energy,
enthusiasm and examples of success.

Supporting schools, youth ranger schemes, farm clusters, joint working with
all sorts of organisations, tourism, planning and design, backing local
businesses, coping with the complexities of local and central government –
things like this happen every day, not much thanks is given for them and yet
much of it is done well, for relatively small sums.

But all this impressive effort is not achieving anything like as much as it could.

We need to reignite the fire and vision which brought this system into being in 1949. We need our finest landscapes to be places of natural beauty which look up and outwards to the nation they serve.

In essence, our review will ask not ‘what do protected landscapes need?’, but “what does the nation need from them today?’….

We think that AONBs should be strengthened, with increased funding, new purposes and a greater voice on development. We have been impressed by what they often achieve now through partnership working.

We believe there is a very strong case for increasing funding to AONBs. We will make proposals in our final review.

– We have been asked to give our view on the potential for new designations. We will set this out in our final report.”

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/817608/landscapes-review-interim-findings-july2019.pdf

Clinton Devon Estates refuses to meet Newton Poppleford parish council over planning application … rushes to appeal

Clinton Devon Estates … again … not doing its reputation any good.

“Clinton Devon Estates (CDE) says it was unable to find a tenant for the practice which was promised as part of a 40-home development at King Alfred Way. Instead it applied to build two further homes on the land.

On June 11 East Devon District Council (EDDC) deferred its decision for 90 days to allow time for talks between CDE and Newton Poppleford and Harpford Parish Council.

The parish has now shown an interest in renting the surgery and wants to enter into talks.

CDE has instead lodged an appeal against the delay in the decision.

The surgery was part of discussions when a 40-home development was granted permission. At the time district councillor Val Ranger said she felt 40 new homes, next to an area of outstanding natural beauty, was a high price to pay for a new surgery.

Coleridge Medical Centre was originally due to take over the new practice but withdrew its support after NHS funding fell through.

CDE has now refused to meet the parish council and said it was because of the delays already caused, current NHS aims to centralise services and the extra cost involved if the surgery is built after the bulk of the development is finished in 2020.

When asked if it would consider withdrawing its appeal, Clinton Devon Estates said in a statement: “A new GP surgery in Newton Poppleford is no longer viable without a commitment from the NHS to operate it. With the submission of an appeal, the opportunity for formal discussions between CDE and the parish council is now closed until a determination has been made by a planning inspector.”

The developer said Coleridge Medical Centre confirmed in June that its plans to consolidate services within a larger site rather than at branch sites was unchanged. It understood that their plans were to deliver services with the Beacon Surgery, Sidmouth.

When asked if it would be open to talks about the possibility of the parish council taking on the surgery, a Coleridge Medical Centre spokesman said: “We and Devon Clinical Commissioning Group are always open to discussions with our local partners.

“We will continue to provide the existing single-handed doctor service at Newton Poppleford for two mornings a week for the foreseeable future.

“We remain committed to securing high quality and accessible GP services for the people of Newton Poppleford and any proposals about how to best provide this in the long-term must take into account a number of factors including cost, workforce and sustainable modern ways of providing care.”

https://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/developer-refuses-talks-to-resolve-issues-over-new-gp-surgery-at-newton-poppleford-1-6154891

EDDC Development Management Committee agrees industrial expansion in Woodbury AONB

Details of industrial business expansion plan for Woodbury Common site agreed.

he first phase of expansion plans for an industrial business at the former Blackhill Quarry in Woodbury Common has been approved.

Last year, East Devon District Council’s development management committee gave the go-ahead for outline plans for 35,000 sq ft of additional industrial floor space at the quarry, operated by Blackhill Engineering, in Woodbury.

Tuesday’s meeting saw the committee approve the details of the first of those buildings, which will become the first part of a four-building development for Blackhill Engineering Services.

The site lies in the open countryside, this part of which is designated as an AONB and lies adjacent to the Pebblebed Heaths SAC, where development should be strictly controlled.

Cllr Tom Wright proposed that the scheme be approved, saying that the buildings would be less intrusive than the cranes and the movements to and from the quarry beforehand.

He added: “We also have to take into account the CDE management of the pebblebed heaths and no other organisation is more committed to retaining the high quality wildlife.” …

Cllr Olly Davey said that the ecological measures go some way to mitigating the effect of this, but said it was such an incongruous place for such a development to actually be taking place and that it was unfortunate it is here.

Cllr Nick Hookway added that he also had a real problem with the application. He said: “I understand the need for jobs but I am at a loss as to how the outline permission was passed by the previous DMC as this doesn’t seem to fit in at all here.

But Cllr Wright said that Blackhill have been there for decades and there are time limits of when they can operate.

Councillors voted by nine votes to two, with two abstentions, to approve the scheme.

Outline permission was granted last year despite calls for the former quarry land to be returned to heathland.

Concerns had been raised by parish and district councillors in Woodbury and the Otter Valley Association about the continued industrial use of a site in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Outline permission was granted last year despite calls for the former quarry land to be returned to heathland.

Concerns had been raised by parish and district councillors in Woodbury and the Otter Valley Association about the continued industrial use of a site in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/details-industrial-business-expansion-plan-2970387

“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