Our Woods Under Threat team has heard about an unexpected success down in Heathfield, East Sussex today. This case is quite an interesting one that we first became aware of over 2 years ago, but it has been bubbling away for many more years before this.
The actual development site is partly wooded, adjacent to a large ancient woodland site. After we checked the Ancient Woodland Inventory we learned the area was not identified as ancient. We were also aware the site had long been earmarked for development in local planning policy. With this in mind the Trust could not really justify becoming directly involved in a fight against the development.
However, a couple of months on and I couldn’t quite shake the niggling feeling I had that there was more to the case than met the eye and I decided to keep an eye on it. It turned out that the applicant had been granted outline permission for a housing development several years ago, but had only applied for full permission in 2006. The Local Planning Authority had initially refused full planning permission on the grounds of loss of ancient woodland, after the Wealden Inventory had been updated. An appeal was swiftly lodged.
With the direct loss to ancient woodland established, we sent in a strong objection to the Planning Inspectorate, strengthening both the Local Planning Authority’s original decision and a tenacious fight against the development locally. The complexities of the issue led the case to Public Inquiry in early 2007.
The applicant refused to accept the site’s inclusion into the updated Ancient Woodland Inventory and a large proportion of the Public Inquiry was given over to long discussions on the antiquity of the site. Despite the Local Planning Authority putting forward a good case on the value of the woodland and some sterling work from the local campaign, the Planning Inspector decided that permission should be granted on the grounds that the site had been awarded outline permission and if this was no longer appropriate the Local Planning Authority would need to revoke the entire permission. Work was due to commence and we thought the wood was lost.
Luckily for the wood however, a key local campaigner in the fight against this development was not satisfied by this and launched a legal challenge. After a long fight this was successful, overturning the appeal decision.
Rather unexpectedly, the applicant has now written to the Local Planning Authority to inform them that they will apply for a new permission ‘without prejudice’ and this development site will now exclude the area of valuable ancient woodland. This is great news – and a well deserved end to a long and difficult campaign fought against the odds.
website useful for resources, guidance and tips from other local groups. Perhaps you too can help more developers to have similar twinges of conscience!