Update regarding Natural England and Ashdown Forest
- Natural England Discretionary Advice – 16 February 2018
- Wealden District Council letter to Natural England – 2 March 2018
- Wealden District Council Statement concerning Natural England Discretionary Advice – 15th March 2018
Update 27th September 2017
Update 9th June 2017
Update 20th March 2017
Update 3rd March 2017Following the publication of the Wealden Local Plan on 3rd March 2017, the below information is under review. Further updates to this information will be provided over the coming days.
Following the examination and subsequent adoption of the Core Strategy Local Plan on 19 February 2013, the Council is obliged to take into account evidence concerning the impact of development on the Ashdown Forest Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) as required by the Habitats Regulations. The position which the Council is now obliged to follow is that all development which would, either individually or in combination with other development, increase use of the Ashdown Forest for recreational and other purposes must mitigate its own impact. Each planning application will be considered on a case by case basis. In addition to recreational impacts, the Council is also obliged to assess all development which would, either alone or in combination with other development, increase the level of nitrogen deposition on the Ashdown Forest SAC. When considering nitrogen deposition the focus will be on the emissions from motorised vehicular traffic. In the case of both recreational impact and nitrogen deposition, where it is assessed that there will be a likely significant effect due to an increase in the level of nitrogen deposition, and in the absence of any identified mitigation measures, planning permission must be withheld.
Ashdown Forest SPAOn 9th July 2015 in response to a Court of Appeal decision the Council has made changes to its Core Strategy Policy WCS 12 relating to Ashdown Forest. Prior to the Court of Appeal Judgement Policy WCS12 provided that any net increase in residential development between 400m and 7km would be required to mitigate its recreational impact through the provision of Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space (SANGS) and on-site visitor management measures. The reference to the 7km zone of influence and the specific mitigation identified in this policy has now been removed. However all planning applications will continue to be subject to the Habitat Regulations which protect the Ashdown Forest Special Protection Area (SPA). As a result all planning applications will be screened and if it is determined that an application either alone, or in combination with other plans or projects, is likely to result in a significant effect on the SPA, then an appropriate assessment will be required to determine the implications for that site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. Where the implications for the site are not known or they are uncertain then the precautionary approach must be applied. It will be Wealden District Councils duty to determine if the application will have a likely significant effect on the integrity of the SPA and whether suitable mitigation measures can be applied to mitigate the impact. Applicants will be required to provide relevant information in order for the Council to undertake an appropriate assessment including any required proposals for mitigation measures. Information may also be required from the applicant at the screening stage. The Council is continuing to actively work on developing a strategy to mitigate the impact of recreational pressure at Ashdown Forest SPA with regards to residential and tourism related development. This includes work to identify Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space (SANGS) together with working with partner authorities and organisations to identify and implement a Strategic Access Management and Monitoring Strategy (SAMMS) at Ashdown Forest. Even without specific wording relating to the 7km zone or specific mitigation measures in consideration of the Council’s existing evidence it is likely that SANGS and SAMMS will continue to be appropriate options for consideration and this is in line with Natural England guidance. The Council will continue to work actively to progress SANGS and on-site visitor access management as a key strategy for enabling development in the north of the district. Please note that the Council is in the process of updating its information relating to the Court of Appeal judgement including the documents below. These documents will be updated in due course. To ensure that the Council can respond positively to ideas and proposals that may come forward from landowners and developers the Council has been developing its approach to SANGS provision and has produced SANGS guidelines relevant to Ashdown Forest. These guidelines have been agreed by Natural England. The Wealden SANGS Guidelines identify the type of site that can constitute a Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space (SANGS) and identifies measures that can be taken to enhance sites so that they are suitable to be used as SANGS provision whilst ensuring compliance with the requirements of the Habitats Regulations.
Ashdown Forest SAC – Monitoring the effects of Nitrogen depositionAs part of the Councils adopted Core Strategy Local Plan we are committed to investigating the impacts of nitrogen upon the Ashdown Forest SAC so that its effects upon development in the longer term can be more fully understood and mitigated if appropriate. The monitoring is “to undertake further investigation of the impacts of Nitrogen deposition on the Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation so that its effects on development can be more fully understood and mitigated if appropriate”. In relation to the effects of traffic pollution, the Council commissioned specialist air quality Consultants to provide advice and develop a method for future air quality monitoring of nitrogen deposition on the Ashdown Forest SAC. This Air Quality Report was finalised in consultation with Natural England and presents a detailed review of existing information, a review of different monitoring methods and a proposed methodology for the programme of monitoring and research. This will include both air quality monitoring and the ecological monitoring of nitrogen deposition impacts on habitats, plant communities and plant species. On 30th April 2014, Wealden District Council awarded a contract to Ecus Ltd, supported by Air Quality Consultants Ltd, to determine the effects of atmospheric pollution on the Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The consultants have now implemented a monitoring, modelling and assessment programme which will run for a number of years. The contract involves: a) regular monitoring of air quality and vegetation along certain road corridors within and adjacent to the SAC; b) evaluating the results to identify the effects of atmospheric pollution on habitat and vegetation diversity; and c) modelling the current and future impacts that road traffic associated with future developments within Wealden will have on ambient concentrations and nitrogen deposition within the SAC. It is anticipated that the results of the monitoring and research will provide the Council with information on the impacts of nitrogen deposition on the Ashdown Forest SAC so that its effects on development in the longer term can be more fully understood. The requirement to implement a monitoring programme was one of the recommendations of the independent Planning Inspector who assessed the Core Strategy as sound. The official Contract Notice (Directive 2004/18/EC) under European commissioning regulations invited interest from suitably qualified consultants for the nitrogen deposition monitoring project. In order to monitor air pollution, it is necessary to place monitoring equipment at various locations across Ashdown Forest. This equipment is now in place and monitoring has commenced. If you require further information about the nitrogen deposition monitoring programme we have put together a list of frequantly asked questions. More detailed information can also be found in the following documents:
- Ashdown Forest – Air Quality report – July 2013
- Guidance Note on reducing nitrogen deposition at the Ashdown Forest March 2013
- Suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces (SANGS) Guidelines
- Ashdown Forest Briefing Note – October 2012
- Wealden District Council Position Statement – March 2013
- Ashdown Forest 7km Zone Facts and FAQs – June 2013
- Visitor Surveys at Potential SANGS sites in Wealden District July 2015
- High Court Rejects all Grounds of Challenge to Wealden’s Local Plan (February 2014)
- Report to the Council’s Environment and Scrutiny Committee 28 January 2013 (external link),
- Report to the Council’s Environment and Scrutiny Committee 7 March 2013 (external link),
- General Guidance on the Habitats Regulations and its impact upon development which requires planning permission within and around the Ashdown Forest,
- Information for those proposing to exercise Permitted Development Rights within the Zone of Influence of the Ashdown Forest Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC),
- Progress on the development of an Interim SANGs Mitigation Strategy. (This summary is older than the January and March C&E reports above, but still includes some useful background information.)
- Protecting the Ashdown Forest
- Addendum to the Core Strategy Document Habitats Assessment Regulations The assessment of the increase in traffic resulting from the Wealden District Proposed Submission Core Strategy on The Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation and The Lewes Downs Special Area of Conservation (reference K5) – This document submitted to a Planning Inquiry (APP/C1435/A/14/2223431) on 9 April 2015 and updates the Core Strategy Document reference K5.