LATCHMORE REPORT   Section 3

New Forest National Park Authority - Planning Position Statement

Environmental Impact Assessment

The other sides of the Debate

The run up to the Planning Decision



NFNPA - Planning Position Statement – September 2015

 

Steve Avery, Executive Director, Strategy and Planning  at the New Forest National Park Authority kindly prepared the following overview of  the Planning issues surrounding the New Forest Wetland Restoration Works


Introduction

1.1 One of the key objectives of the New Forest HLS Scheme is wetland restoration, to change the remaining unfavourable SSSI units to favourable condition, safeguarding an area that is recognised as being of outstanding importance for nature conservation in both the UK and Europe due to the size, quality and complex mosaic of habitats.

1.2 Each year the Forestry Commission researches and develops restoration proposals for eight to 10 sites. Some of these only require minor works to restore favourable condition, but works to larger, more complex sites may require planning permission.

1.3 The Scheme is administered by the Verderers and further information about current and completed projects can be found on the HLS website:
                  http://www.hlsnewforest.org.uk/hls/info/50/wetland_restoration 

1.4 This paper sets out the planning position relating to wetland restoration schemes.

2. The need for planning permission

2.1 Until relatively recently, planning permission was not required for wetland restoration works as the Forestry Commission benefited from what was known as ‘crown immunity’ from the need for planning consent. However, this no longer applies and so an assessment needs to be made as to whether certain wetland restoration works require permission.

2.2 In carrying out that assessment, the first consideration is whether the planned works constitute development within the meaning of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which is defined in section 55(1) as “the carrying out of building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under land, or the making of any material change in the use of any buildings or other land”.

2.3 The precise works involved in wetland restoration can vary from site to site, depending on the scale and location of the works, but typically involve the use of bales and the use of imported material to adjust the height and flow of the existing channel, excavation and use again of imported material to model the adjusted course of the stream in order to restore the channel to a slower moving natural meander. This can involve the use of heavy machinery including steel tracked hydraulic excavators and dumpers. Taken together, on larger schemes, this can amount to "the carrying out of building, engineering…or other operations” within the meaning of section 55(1) of Act. In some cases therefore, wetland restoration works can constitute development. Conversely, some works will be sufficiently small-scale that they can, for planning purposes, be classed as ‘de-minimis’ and not constitute development.

2.4 There are no clear ‘cut off’ points or thresholds that apply in determining whether a particular scheme constitutes development, but as a general rule mire schemes where only infilling works are proposed (with no meander restoration or excavation) over a short stretch of watercourse (less than 1000m in total) are likely to be classed as ‘de-minimis’ for planning purposes. For all other mire restoration schemes involving meander restoration and meander/drain infill works over a stretch of watercourse of more than 1000m, then the view will normally be that these amount to engineering operations within the meaning of development.

2.5 Once it has been established that the works do fall within the planning definition of development, then the next step is to consider whether they would constitute “Permitted Development” under the terms of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015 (GPDO). Whilst the Forestry Commission have a wide range of Permitted Development Rights, there are no express rights to carry out engineering operations in connection with wetland restoration. Therefore, as a general rule of thumb, it has been established that planning permission is likely to be required for all schemes which involve meander restoration and meander/drain infill works and for restoration works to 1000m or more of watercourse.

3. The planning application process

3.1 All planning applications for wetland restoration works need to be screened to determine whether or not an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required. The Forestry Commission asks the Authority to provide a ‘screening opinion’ in advance of submitting a planning application for a particular area of works. The Authority’s screening opinions to date have concluded that an EIA is not required as the works do not fall with any of the descriptions listed in ‘Schedule 2’ of the Regulations. Further information about the screening process (and the types of development that may require an EIA) can be found on the Government’s DCLG website:
http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/blog/guidance/environmental-impact-assessment/screening-schedule-2-projects/ 

3.2 Notwithstanding the above, the Forestry Commission have agreed to submit a voluntary EIA for the proposed works at Latchmore on the advice of Natural England.

3.3 Regard also needs to be had to the 2010 Habitat Regulations. Natural England’s advice to date is that an Appropriate Assessment is not required under the Habitat Regulations as the restoration works are necessary for European site management and necessary for the management of the European site interest features for nature conservation purposes, enabling the maintenance or restoration of those features and contributing to the achievement of the site’s Conservation Objectives.

3.4 On receipt of a valid application the Case Officer reviews the documents and plans submitted to ensure that all the required information is available to assess the proposals. Each application requires specific detail covering a range of issues and typically the documents required will include:

 

  •    Planning Statement, incorporating Design & Access Statement

  •    Biodiversity Checklist

  •    Biodiversity Statement

  •    Flood Risk Assessment

  •   Archaeology Report (including Written Scheme of Investigation and Desk Based Assessment)

  •   Construction and Environmental Management Plan

  •   Construction Traffic Management Plan

  •   Plans showing site location, proposed access routes, schedule of works

  •   Technical drawings showing typical scheme of works and cross sections


3.5 Various consultations are made with both statutory and non-statutory consultees to enable expert views and advice to be sought with regard to the more specific and technical issues such as ecological impacts, flood risk, archaeology, highway safety and access. Statutory consultees include Natural England, the Environment Agency and Highways England. Other consultees include the Authority’s own specialist officers (e.g. the ecologist and archaeologist) and various New Forest stakeholders, such as the Verderers and the New Forest Association. Views from the local Parish Council and local communities are also sought by way of written correspondence, site notices and press adverts. The Friends of Latchmore will be consulted on the application for the proposed restoration works at Latchmore.

3.6 Further information on the development control process and procedures can be found in the New Forest National Park Development Control Charter which can be accessed here:
      http://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/downloads/file/320/development_control_charter

3.7 A site visit is carried out by the Case Officer early in the process to carry out an initial assessment of the proposal and to gain a better understanding ‘on the ground’ of the works proposed.

3.8 Consideration is given to relevant legislation, including legal requirements relating to designation, protection and management of SSSI and SAC habitats as set out in the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. The proposals must also comply with the requirements of the Environment Act (1995), the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2006) and the Natural and Rural Communities' Act (2006).

3.9 The information and plans submitted are scrutinised and assessed with due regard to these legislative requirements, expert advice received from statutory and other consultees and the views and comments of all other stakeholders and representees. A detailed assessment of the proposals is made in consideration of national and local planning policy (including the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework, 2014 National Planning Practice Guidance and the 2010 New Forest National Park Core Strategy). This allows a balanced judgement of all of the material planning considerations to be made in order to formulate a recommendation via a detailed Case Officer report. Key planning considerations include:

 

  • The purpose of the proposed works, i.e. are they for the conservation and protection of biodiversity and ecology? and

  • An Assessment of the impacts on:

        1. biodiversity - protected species and landscapes
        2. the special qualities, character, amenity and landscape setting of the site and wider National Park
        3. grazing and commoning rights
        4. flooding
        5. archaeology and heritage assets
        6. highway safety and access
        7. public access and amenity
        8. residential amenity

3.10 In view of the Authority’s partnership role in the New Forest HLS, all planning applications for wetland restoration works are reported to the Planning Development Control Committee for a decision, rather than left to officers to determine under delegated powers.

3.11 So far, four applications have been submitted and these include;

  • North Slufters (14/00394) - approved on 17 July 2014

  • Harvestslade (14/00611) - approved on 21 November 2014

  • Amberslade & Broomy (15/00045) - approved on 17 March 2015

  • Pondhead (15/00294) – application currently held in abeyance pending the Secretary of State’s decision on a third party request to issue a ‘screening direction’, i.e. to consider whether an EIA is required.


Details of these applications can be viewed by typing in the application reference number (above) on the planning portal:       http://publicaccess.newforestnpa.gov.uk/online-applications/ 
 


Environmental Impact  Assessment

The EIA will be published once the Public exhibition has taken place and after the organisers have had time to assess the need to change, add or amend sections of their work based on comments arising at and immediately after the exhibition.  It will hopefully be published in late October.  It will be a large body of work,but as a starting point, the Non-Technical Summary will be published on our website and the full copy will be available via a link.


 

The other sides of the Debate

The statements from the statutory bodies published above naturally lean towards a wetland restoration solution that meets their criteria and legal obligation.    However, as mentioned in the introduction to these pages, there is a strong body of opinion opposed to restoration of the Brook - either in its entirety or within specific areas of local interest, e.g. hydrology, ecology, mires, wildlife in many forms, archaeology, not to mention the impact of importing materials to sites on local roads and in proximity to many houses..  

Many of those who stand in opposition are members of the Friends of Latchmore.   The pro-active stance of this group was led by Professor John Shepherd during his time living in the Parish, and even now he remains keenly interested - only three weeks ago he addressed the Consultative Panel on behalf of Burley Parish Council.

Members of the Parish seeking the broadest scope of information, therefore, should not only read the papers submitted by the statutory bodies, but take time to visit www.friendsoflatchmore.org  and to study the opinions there presented - and the various steps taken by this group in following their determination to change the course of future events.

 


The run up to the Planning decision

The next few months will bring to a head over 4 years of debate and argument over this beautiful stretch of the Forest we love - and which is ours, in so far that much of it lies within our Parish Boundary.   We should remember that the ‘unfavourable recovering’ status is to a large degree the direct result of ill-informed drainage works by the managing body many, many years ago. That body is now under a legal obligation to effect repair.  Repair is a messy and sometimes ugly business and has many short term downsides, but we are told that nature is a great restorer; so perhaps we should balance our opposition to changes that we shall not enjoy against the benefits that will be seen and felt by ensuing generations.

One thing is certain: this will be the most important planning decision of our lifetime in the Forest.


Once received by the NPA, the Planning application will be forwarded to the Parish Council in the normal way, but instead of the usual 4 week period afforded to us for inspection, debate and decision, in this case the period will be 8 weeks - thus spanning two monthly Parish Council meetings.   Thereafter the matter will be returned to the NPA who will place it before the National Park Planning Committee in Lymington for further debate, followed by decision.   At that meeting various bodies may be called to speak, but in certainty the Parish Council voice will be heard - and without time constraint.