Permission has been given to a quarry company to destroy ancient woodland. Is it all over for Oaken Wood?
Tuesday was a sad day for the Woods under Threat team. After more than 12 months of advocacy and lobbying work with decision-makers in Kent to help them appreciate the vital habitat at risk from the plans for Hermitage Quarry, decision day had arrived for the Planning Committee. We spent most of the morning in nervous anticipation as our Christina, who was at the Planning Committee meeting, kept us up to date with the proceedings when she could.
It was mid-afternoon when the result we were waiting for finally came through in a text from Chris. Just one word: “Granted”. Such a simple word that usually has such a positive meaning – but in this case it was the last word we hoped to read, because what has been granted is an expansion of the existing quarry into this ancient wood, which will cause the direct loss of 33 hectares of ancient woodland and which will impact further on the already vulnerable, continuous habitat covering 120 hectares that will remain.
The Committee’s Chair said that councillors had made a “difficult and finely balanced decision”. So far it’s proved to be a controversial result; nearly 2,000 individual objections from local people, environmental organisations and conservation groups have been overturned. Several local bloggers have expressed their views:
and the Save Oaken Wood Action Group‘s Facebook page continues to receive sympathetic and dismayed comments. There are also some anomalies – Protect Kent include Oaken Wood on their ‘Threats to Kent’ map on their website, yet at the Committee meeting a representative spoke in favour of the application. We are not sure which councillors voted which way, as for some reason this information isn’t online. Plus the planning report, which recommended approval, did not reference the independent need analysis on ragstone that the Trust provided as part of its formal submission.
We face a dangerous precedent here in that that the decision not only goes against the County Council’s own Minerals plan for the area, but also central government planning policy PPS9 which specifically protects ancient woodland. The text of PPS9 states:
‘[Local Authorities] should not grant planning permission for any development that would result in its loss or deterioration unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location outweigh the loss of the woodland habitat’.
The Chair has been quoted as saying “Local residents and environmental groups have argued that the loss of irreplaceable ancient woodland and impact on the local wildlife site is unacceptable. On balance, however, members felt the job prospects and the economic need for ragstone to support construction in the county in future, and benefits of the project, outweighed these objections.”
It feels as if PPS9 is being manipulated rather than used for the purposes which it was designed.
Given this clear policy context and the wider public concern for forests which was made so evident this year, it’s important that Eric Pickles, as Secretary of State in a Government which has restated this week its commitment to be the ‘Greenest Government ever’, calls this case in.
What do you think about this result?