Natural England: “English nature’s ‘jewels in crown’ threatened by cuts, says watchdog”

“The reserves and protected places that are the “jewels in the crown” of English nature cannot be managed properly because of budget cuts, Tony Juniper, the chair of Natural England, has said.

The budget for the government’s conservation watchdog has been slashed in half over five years, leaving it “massively depleted”, according to Juniper, the influential former Friends of the Earth campaigner whom the environment secretary, Michael Gove, appointed earlier this year.

Sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) cannot be monitored to ensure their wildlife riches are maintained, and on national nature reserves Natural England can only afford to ensure basic health and safety for visitors, he said.

“I’ve inherited an organisation that is depleted, massively depleted,” Juniper told the Guardian in his first national newspaper interview since taking the job. “On a whole range of subjects, we cannot do what society expects of us.

“For example, all we’re able to spend on the management of the national nature reserve estate is for health and safety so visitors don’t hurt themselves.

We’ve got no monitoring capacity on the SSSIs. Our ability to give advice to planning applications and our works on landscapes, national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty is cut now to pretty much nothing.”

Juniper, visiting Halvergate Marshes in Norfolk, an SSSI and the second largest block of freshwater marshland in Britain, said he had been given no guarantees over budget increases or even an end to cuts so Natural England can revive wildlife and use natural landscapes to help tackle the climate emergency. But he said he had taken the job because he wanted to “reinvigorate the official nature conservation effort in this country”.

Juniper said budget cuts left the watchdog vulnerable to legal challenges. The WildJustice group led by Mark Avery, Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham successfully forced Natural England to scrap the “general licence” that previously allowed landowners to freely kill certain bird species such as crows and woodpigeons.

WildJustice has launched a fresh legal challenge against new temporary general licences, and Juniper invited Avery, Packham and Tingay to meet him.

“They are good friends of mine and I’d be pleased to talk to them about this or anything else, but the involvement of lawyers makes that more difficult,” he said. “I would hope that conservationists could be working together to try to solve these problems in a less time-consuming and confrontational manner because these legal actions do use up a vast amount of resources.”

Juniper appeared to accept that Gove was unlikely to remain environment secretary much longer.

He said: “Michael Gove has been an incredibly energetic, dedicated and effective secretary of state for the environment and it’s very rare we get those. The last one who made that kind of impact was John Gummer back in the early 90s. As was the case with John Gummer we were very surprised how the brief became so passionately owned – Michael Gove has done that and the conservation community has a lot to thank him for, for putting these issues back on the map.”

Juniper said he hoped Gove’s successor would take heed of the public mood, as outlined by recent Extinction Rebellion protests and the school climate strikes. He said: “I would hope no matter what the personal views of the new secretary of state they will come to the role recognising that the voters these days really want delivery on this stuff.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Natural England’s work is vital for protecting and enhancing the nation’s natural environment. We have worked closely with Natural England to settle their budget for the coming year.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/14/english-natures-jewels-in-crown-threatened-by-cuts-says-watchdog-tony-juniper?

Clinton Devon Estates: Director with too many fingers in too many public body pies?

Owl has been pondering the potential for conflicts of interest between some of Clinton Devon Estates’ (CDEs’) more environmentally sensitive development plans and the activities of its Estates Director, John Varley.

On the CDE website, at the time of going to press, Estates’ Director, John Varley is described as follows:

“John’s current non-executive positions include Board Member of the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England (NE).”

Clearly he is a very influential man.

Owl remembers him being appointed to the Environment Agency Board in 2012 (£21,002 per annum). [This coincided with CDE’s their first planning to extend their cow sheds in the Otter flood plain at the bottom of Colaton Raleigh – something we will return to]. Owl finds John is still on EA’s Board.

But he seems to be a bit confused about his role with Natural England. Owl doesn’t see his name listed as a current Natural England Board member. So Owl has had to call in the Ferrets.

They report that John Varley, whilst on the Environment Agency Board, was also welcomed onto board of Natural England on 29 April 2015 (remuneration £10K-£15K). They also have discovered that he was reported as being “sad to depart before the end of his term” at the meeting of 22 March 2017.

They also note that he has popped up again as chair of the review which will consider all aspects of Network Rail’s approach to vegetation management 12 July 2018.

There is no suggestion whatsoever that John Varley has ever failed to declare an interest. Indeed, the Ferrets find that, quite properly, he had to leave the room during discussion of the agenda item on the reintroduction of beavers on the River Otter at the Natural England Board in September 2015.

What worries Owl is the conflicts, real or imagined, this might pose to the local staff of the Environment Agency and Natural England as they comment on CDE planning applications “without fear or favour”. Owl is also concerned about how it looks in the daylight.

In the old fashioned world Owl was brought up in any potential conflict would have been avoided. Those in a position to wield influence would do the “honourable” thing of either resigning or at least ensuring any applications they could be associated with were made in exemplary fashion.

Owl is not convinced that CDE’s recent planning applications could be described in this way. For example, consider the controversial 2012 applications to extend the cow sheds at Otter Farm, Church Road, Colaton Raleigh (application 12/0400 superseded by 12/2660).

One aspect of the controversy concerns whether or not either of these applications should have had a flood risk assessment. The fact is that Otter Farm is in flood zone 3, but it was claimed that the adjacent cow shed site, literally only yards away, would only lie in Zone 1 (1 in a 1,000 years risk). This was confirmed by EA on 6 February 2013:

“We have had a look at this one and feel, due to the nature of the development that a Flood risk Assessment would not be necessary. Of course we would still expect the applicant to demonstrate a commitment to SUDs in the design of their surface management for the site.”
[SUD – Sustainable drainage system]

However, this was queried by many on the basis of local knowledge including the Parish council, which, in February 2013, asked “for a better assessment in view of recent flooding incidents in the area”. The details were spelled out rather more graphically by one resident who expressed concern that “recently slurry was allowed to escape into the river (Otter) and into Railway Cottages”.

EA wrote again later in February: “Regarding the above, we have been advised that the site is over 1ha, if the new access road is included. If this is the case we are happy to review the application if accompanied by a Flood Risk Assessment”.

Eventually a detailed Environmental Management and Waste Management plan was submitted in April along with a Sustainable Drainage System Design of 66 pages. In May the Environment Agency recorded its thanks to: “you and your colleagues for meeting on site with [ ] to consider measures that could reduce flooding risks for the nearby Railway Cottage.”

Owl now flies forward to a more recent, even more controversial, case that of CDE’s application 17/3022 to extend the Blackhill Engineering works on Woodbury Common, submitted in December 2017.

It is clear from NE’s first comments that the Visual and Environmental Impact Assessments accompanying the application were still not up to scratch. NE’s comments 6 February 2018 read: “As it stands, we have significant concerns regarding the potential impacts of these proposals. We will provide more detailed advice once we have reviewed the additional information.”

Bats (and Batmen and Batwomen) in East Budleigh – today’s development

Owl hears that, somewhat surprisingly, EDDC’s Development Management Committee voted to defer the bat habitat decision.

It also appears that yesterday’s activity in and around the barn, reported by Owl here:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/02/11/bats-in-east-budleigh-barn-cleared-24-hours-before-eddc-planning-committee-meets-to-decide-their-fate/

has been reported to the Police who have allocated a crime number to it.

Here is how it has bedn reported in the local newspaper:

“Campaigners fighting the proposed demolition of a known bat habitat in East Budleigh have been given ‘breathing space’.


Image: Archant, Daniel Wilkins

More than 20 members of a conservation group gathered outside Exmouth Town Hall this morning (Tuesday, February 12) ahead of a crucial meeting to decide the fate of an East Budleigh barn known to be home to rare and protected bats.

East Devon District Council’s development management committee decided to defer their decision pending additional information from Natural England about wildlife mitigation on the site.

Landowner Clinton Devon Estates (CDE) is looking to knock down the barn and build a new dwelling on the site and has offered to build a separate ‘bat barn’ on the plot as mitigation.

Speaking after the meeting, Karen Alexander-Clarke, secretary of the East Budleigh Parish Conservation Group told The Journal this decision gives them ‘breathing space’ in their fight to protect the bats’ home.

The Pound, in East Budleigh, which is subject to a planning application to demolish a barn which is thought to be home to species of rare bats.

She also said they would be writing to Natural England to lobby them and ‘emphasise that there are councillors that feel as strongly as we do’.

Speaking at the meeting, councillor Brian Bailey also raised concerns over whether the bats would take to their new home.
He said: “The bats, I feel, have been served poorly because there is no guarantee what so ever that the bats will survive the demolition or would accept their new home.”

Cllr Geoff Jung said: “This is one house and one family that is going to benefit and how many bats and other wildlife are going to benefit?”

An independent ecology report commissioned by the council recommended that the mitigation being offered by CDE be accepted.

Cllr Mark Williamson said he did not feel confident that, if they refused the application and CDE appealed, the Planning Inspectorate would back their original decision.

He said: “As we do frequently, we would look to our statutory consultees to guide us.

“Natural England is giving quite detailed guidance and they recommend the planning authority follow advice from the ecologist.”

Councillors voted in favour of deferring the application pending information from Natural England on the suitability of the proposed ‘bat barn’.”

https://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/east-budleigh-bat-barn-demolition-plan-deferred-1-5889261

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

Natural England: cuts mean too many compromises and conflicts

“England’s nature watchdog is planning to use its legal powers less and risks becoming a weak regulator forced to raise funding from the private companies it is meant to keep in check, leaked documents and sources reveal.

Natural England is duty-bound to defend rare species and protected areas including national parks and England’s 4,000 sites of special scientific interest from potentially environmentally damaging developments.

But the regulator faces a budget cut of 27% and a reduction in headcount of 20% by 2020 due to cuts to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). This means it will have a “significantly reduced national capacity”, it admits,.

A internal document from June, seen by Greenpeace and shared with the Guardian, says the agency will “make more proportionate use of our regulatory powers” and “retain our regulatory powers but will use them more proportionately and more efficiently, while increasingly operating through advice and partnership.”

Internal sources say this amounts to using its powers less and to agreements that “compromise wildlife”. …

… Stephen Trotter, the director of the Wildlife Trusts, a network of 47 local groups, said: “We have for some time seen evidence across the trusts of less engagement with planning issues by Natural England than would have been the case previously. We find that particularly around non-designated but local wildlife sites, it has a reluctance to get involved in defending those sites.”

Other changes to the way the agency operates include providing “advice to government that is politically aware”. The regulator is meant to provide science-based and independent advice. A source at Natural England said the idea was “ridiculous” as its advice was meant to be “based on the science, not on anything else”.

The watchdog’s ecologists will also get out less to see the wildlife and habitats they are meant to protect and understand.

“Fewer ad hoc site visits will be necessary because more information, data and evidence about sites and the local area will be captured remotely and by others,” says the document. Conservationists warned earlier this year that Natural England risked losing its “eyes and ears” after it cut funding for local environmental record centres.

In order to raise more money as its budget is cut £30m by the end of 2020 on 2015-16 levels, the agency also plans to raise more money by charging the private sector, such as water companies, housebuilders and windfarm developers, for its services. It raised £1.43m in 2015-16 by charging £110 an hour for such services, and hopes to increase this to £12m a year by 2020.

“It’s blurring the vision of what we do,” a source at Natural England said. “It’s commercialising something that’s very hard to commercialise. People find it quite a conflict in what they do. Previously we would prioritise what is important in terms of biodiversity rather than profit, so it’s quite a different mindset.”

The agency tried to allay such fears in another document shared with staff. “There were some concerns that a move towards charging might be perceived as a shift towards ‘supporting development’, with us working for, rather than with, our customers. Thankfully, that criticism has rarely been directed at us,” it said. …”

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/16/budget-cuts-threaten-to-weaken-powers-of-englands-nature-watchdog

Budleigh Salterton – onshore cable consultation to 5 September 2016 – questions to be answered

Here is the consultation letter and, below it, the maps showing the two possible routes that it might follow onshore.  Also details of where and when representatives of the project will be available for questioning.

Several points spring to mind:

How wide will trenches be?
Will roads need to be closed and, if so, for how long?
How big is the converter station?
Why are some of the cables put in fields, yet others are embedded in roads? Roads particularly affected are the B3178 disrupting Budleigh Salterton, East Budleigh and Colaton Raleigh and the B3184 to the airport, Many other key strategic routes will also be cut across and possibly interrupted, including the A30 and also the railway line.
The two routes out of Budleigh Salterton are very sensitive environmental areas – moleing underground was originally mentioned but seems to have been dropped

The consultation letter (followed by maps of alternative routes included with the letter)

I am writing to invite you to take part a public consultation on proposals to build a 220 kilometre underground and subsea electricity interconnector and converter station which will see power flowing between France, the Channel Island of Alderney, and East Devon.

The FAB Project has the approval of the UK energy regulator Ofgem to build the interconnector, linking the British electricity grid from the existing National Grid substation at Broadclyst to the French grid to help ensure the security of supply to both the UK and the continent. Alderney Renewable Energy (ARE) and Transmission Investment LLP formed a joint venture company, FAB Link, and FAB Link is working with the French grid company RTE – Reseau de Transport d’Electricite – to develop the FAB Project.

The project also intends to take advantage of proposed tidal generators in Alderney to provide reliable, sustainable and low-carbon electricity for consumers on both sides of the Channel, hence the FAB name, which stands for France-Alderney-Britain. It is also our intention to increase competition in electricity markets, cutting prices for consumers.

As shown in the enclosed maps, the cables would come ashore in Britain at Budleigh Salterton and thereafter would run underground between the coast and a new above-ground converter station.

The interconnector cables would run completely underground between the coast and a new above-ground converter station to be built near Exeter International Airport. From the converter station the high-voltage DC electricity transmitted through the interconnector would be converted to or from high-voltage AC current used by the National Grid. Further underground cables would then link up with the grid at Broadclyst. There will be no pylons associated with the FAB Project, and our intention is that we will leave the environment along the route exactly as we found it.

We are holding three public consultation events in East Devon and one public consultation event in Alderney where we will be able to explain our project in more detail. Each of the events is open to the public from 2pm to 8pm. They are:
• Tuesday, 26th July, 2016: Temple Methodist Church Hall, Budleigh Salterton;
• Wednesday, 27th July, 2016: Younghayes Centre, Cranbrook;
• Thursday, 28th July 2016: Woodbury Park Hotel, Woodbury;

The events will provide you with opportunities to express your views on the project. The opinions of all stakeholders will help to inform our proposals for the route of the interconnector and the construction of the converter station before the relevant planning applications are submitted to the relevant authorities at the end of 2016.

If you are not able to attend one of the events, please visit our website to learn more. Copies of the detailed plans, technical reports and environmental appraisals of the onshore and offshore proposals available at the public consultation events will also be available online at http://www.fablink.net from 25th July, and there will be opportunities to express your opinions via the website, phone or by post. The consultation will run until 5th September 2016.

If you do not have access to the internet the information will also be available to view at Budleigh Salterton Library in Station Road, Budleigh Salterton, EX9 6RH, from 25th July to 5th September during normal library opening hours, which are currently 09.30-18.00 on Mondays, 09.30-13.00 on Wednesdays, 09.30-17.30 on Thursdays, and 09.30-13.00 on Fridays and Saturdays. Please note the library is not open on Tuesdays or Sundays.

Route 1

8 x 10 in. (1)

Route 2:

8 x 10 in. (1)

 

“Cronyism in the south west”

Something we all know about in East Devon!

“Cronyism in the South West”
The sheer amount of unsuitable and damaging development that has been pushed through against all objections in my home town of Totnes, but also throughout the south west, is making me question the role of cronyism in the deals made.

It starts at the very top of course in government, but appears to have sucked up many of our more august bodies that we are more used to seeing as our defenders and protection, into its net. The National Trust for example, now has a right wing business leader as its head. I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that this is as a result of any wrong doing, but I question why he is there, when he comes with no history of interest or involvement in conservation or the heritage sector. It is a coincidence of course that the National Trust appear to be engaged recently in the development business themselves, aiming to sell land, given to them in trust in Bovery Tracey and also in Somerset, for housing. To say local people aren’t happy is a bit of an understatement.

Natural England also, is now headed up by a right wing business man, an ex-developer actually, with little to no interest up to now in the environment, or preserving the countryside, he was too busy working to concrete it over as head of Linden Homes. George Monbiot describes his appointment as, ‘The government wants a chairman who can flog nature and have chosen a Tory party donor with a background in investment banking and housing developments.’

So our conservation and heritage organisations appear to be headed by cronies, our secretive Local Enterprise Partnership appears to be also. This is the self-appointed group tasked with pouring vast amounts of public money into encouraging enterprise and business down here and with running our devolution bid. The fact that the majority of those on the board come from the construction and housing sector and a few who are involved in weapons manufacturing won’t come as a surprise when you see that our devolution bid, which they mostly engineered, is very heavy on giant construction projects, which the board’s companies appear to profit from and very weak on tourism, farming and sustainability. This bid is about growth. ‘I want to only build structures that you can see from space,’ the chair is quoted as saying. The fact that this undemocratically elected group hold their meetings in private, have no head office, very little accountability and have managed to keep the lid on their activities very successfully is worrying and the ultimate in cronyism.

This culture goes down the line; housing developments pushed through when they are so obviously damaging and ridiculous. In Totnes, Great Court Farm was sold to developers in very suspect circumstances in my opinion. It is the last dairy farm in Totnes, the home to a fourth generation of farmers, a totally unsuitable spot for yet more mass building in this beleaguered town. The access is terrible, the logistics ridiculous and yet it was pushed through by a combination of cronyism and mis-management. The people who suffer are the people who always suffer when cronyism is allowed to flourish and that’s us – everyone else and in this instance the farmer and his family and the people of Totnes, who see their landscape the plaything of those in power.

Across the county, across the country in fact, the same story is played out endlessly. Local people left shocked and devastated as those in power find the wherewithal to circumnavigate due process and make an absolute fortunes flogging nature and our land to line their own pockets.”

https://allengeorgina.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/comment-piece-for-western-morning-news-cronyism/

Q. When is a Plan not a Plan? A. When it’s an EDDC fudge?

At the July Public Examination Inspector Thickett instructed EDDC to reach agreement with Natural England over outstanding issues regarding compliance with the European Habitat Directive. These are legally binding on EDDC and, therefore, potential show stoppers. (It is claimed the phrasing he used was “lock yourselves in a darkened room until you reach agreement” – but who would voluntarily do that with an EDDC planner?).

Not surprising then to find the amendments proposed to the Draft Plan by EDDC in August didn’t mention that agreement had been reached, only that there had been a “dialogue”. EDDC’s proposed solution is to duck the issue by removing any dependency between the Exmouth Master Plan and the Local Plan i.e. Exmouth regeneration is irrelevant to achieving the staggering economic growth assumed in the Local Plan.

So the Watch watchers were interested to read the following article by Becca Glidden in last Week’s Journal under the title “Setback for major regeneration sites”. Amongst all the nuanced phrasing we are left wondering when is a plan not a plan? Maybe our readers can enlighten us?

Here is the text of the article:

Major sites earmarked for regeneration have been struck out of a major new planning document – after objections from Natural England.

The sites include the seafront Splash Zone/ Queen’s Drive, the Imperial Road car park, the rugby ground, bus station, estuary car park, London Inn car park and town centre post office.

They have been removed from the proposed East Devon Local Plan, which is currently undergoing public consultation.
The regeneration works have been deleted from the proposed planning document because Natural England said the proposals were not `legally sound’.

Natural England, a group championing the preservation of the natural environment for future generations, said East Devon District Council (EDDC) had failed to carry out a full conservation assessment of the Exmouth sites earmarked for regeneration. [Comment from Owl: Natural England is the Government’s statutory advisory body on this – i.e. top dog].

In a letter to EDDC, Natural England said: “Because we advise that we are unable to agree that the Habitat Regulations Assessment is complete, we consider that the Local Plan is not legally sound, since the statutory requirements of the assessment process have not been followed.

This remains the case.”

The regeneration sites are contained in a document called the Exmouth Masterplan, a planning paper which forms part of the proposed East Devon Local Plan.

An EDDC spokesperson told the Journal: “The Exmouth Masterplan is one of a suite of planning documents that support the [proposed] Local Plan, however, the Exmouth Masterplan needs updating.

“The issue which Natural England has concerns about, is whether all of the Exmouth Masterplan can be acceptably delivered, bearing in mind the possibility of adverse impacts on the Exe Estuary wildlife site.

“Because of the concerns expressed by Natural England, the council has withdrawn the direct links/references between the Exmouth Masterplan and the Local Plan to enable the Local Plan to move forward.

“The sites in Exmouth can still come forward, but to show that they are acceptable, each site and the scheme on that site will need to be subject to its own detailed assessment under the habitat regulations – Natural England will take a keen interest in these assessments.”

The district council said the seafront Splash/ Queen’s Drive, the Imperial Road car park, the rugby ground, bus station, estuary car park, London Inn car park and town centre post office would be included in a refreshed Masterplan, a council document which sets out the future for Exmouth.

The council said its regeneration plans for Exmouth were ongoing and would be completed.

The spokesperson said plans would be submitted for the Splash/Queens Drive development before the end of the year.
“Projects in the Masterplan remain in place for delivery. The delivery of Masterplan projects will be aligned with the new Local Plan policies, as well as wider rules and regulations. In the mean-time, the existing Masterplan remains in force.

“The Queen’s Drive proposals are proceeding and a planning application for the enabling works – road and car park – has recently been submitted.

“An application for the second phase will be forthcoming before the end of the year.”

Our summary: Now you see it, now you don’t!

That could be EDDC’s new motto, perhaps!

EDDC, Natural England and the Local Plan: it appears the room wasn’t dark enough

The list of responses to the latest iteration of the Local Plan can be found below – many from developers, of course.

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/planning/planning-policy/emerging-plans-and-policies/inspector-and-programme-officer/inspector-and-council-correspondence-since-2014-examination-hearings/

Amongst them is this one from Natural England

Natural England 30 Sept 2015

Those who attended the last set of hearings before the Planning Inspector may recall the slightly worrying image when Mr Thickett suggested that Laura Horner (Natural England) and Ed Freeman (EDDC) should shut themselves in a darkened room until they arrived at a solution on the Habitat Regulation issue, without which the Local Plan cannot be signed off.

The letter from Natural England makes interesting reading – the complain of confusion over the drafting of the EDDC version of what should be in the Local Plan calling it “over-detailed and potentially unclear and requiring substantive rewriting”. They point out that words such as “endorsed by the council” imply greater status for the Masterplan than was intended and point out that they need to clarify their intentions towards Exmouth.

They further point out that the Beer Neighbourhood Plan cannot be progressed until EDDC makes its intentions more clear.

It appears from the letter than EDDC had only one meeting with Natural England on 23 July 2015 and that little appears to have been resolved at that meeting.

Clearly, the room wasn’t dark enough!

Further evidence for the Local Plan and EDDC tries to pass the buck to the National Trust and Woodland Trust for required open spaces

Mr Thickett said he would allow the participants at the housing session an opportunity to see and comment on the Council’s further submissions.

The further submissions can be accessed here:
http://eastdevon.gov.uk/planning/planning-policy/emerging-plans-and-policies/the-new-local-plan/examination-and-hearing-sessions-and-further-consultation-at-april-2015/august-2015-evidence/#article-content

If you wish to make any comments on the new evidence and submissions only; on other matters will not be accepted, please submit these comments to me the Programme Officer by 30 September 2015.”

Our comment:

The EDDC “evidence” does not inspire us with enough confidence that sufficient robust evidence has been supplied by EDDC, particularly in respect of Habitat Mitigation obligations.

Many aspects have been left for the Inspector to decide because Natural England and EDDC cannot agree that enough has been done to safeguard special sites.

It also says that the Exmouth Splash Masterplan as it stood at the last hearing, may well not be the one that Exmouth ends up with but they don’t see why this should hold up the Local Plan.