Wealden District Council (WDC) have recently confirmed that as a result of their continued assessment of nitrogen deposition on the Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC), they will not be permitting, or even accepting, planning applications until further notice.
It is understood that WDC will be publishing the results of their findings and associated compensation measures alongside the draft Local Plan in summer this year. We know that WDC will object to emerging Local Plans in the area, where they are considered to also impact on the Ashdown Forest SAC.
Last month, the High Court decision relating to WDC’s challenge of the Lewes District Council and South Downs National Park Authority Joint Core Strategy, found that traffic movements in the Ashdown Forest SAC had already cumulatively breached the 1000AADT movements, quoted by Natural England as a threshold for acceptable levels of traffic movements.
On this basis, the Judge quashed housing requirement policies of the South Downs National Park Authority. The equivalent policies of the Lewes Local Plan remain intact, but only as WDC had been out of time to bring proceedings against the Plan, however, planning applications must still give consideration to the judgment made.
If WDC are correct in their approach, and many will be considering whether they are, then their self-imposed embargo on development spans a 25km zone around the Ashdown Forest SAC, far greater than the previous 7km and 15km zones.
If such a zone is drawn around the forest, then large swathes of Sussex, Surrey and Kent are also affected. We understand that WDC will consider raising objections to planning applications in nearby authorities that could have an effect on the Ashdown Forest SAC. This places a great deal of uncertainly on any planning application within 25km of the Ashdown Forest, which affects a large number of strategic development proposals, both existing and proposed.
Furthermore, we understand that the proposed compensation measures will only provide adequate ‘headroom’ for those allocations identified within the draft Wealden Local Plan. Therefore, there is not only a question mark over development in other authorities within this zone, but also for developments within WDC that are not identified for development, including windfall sites or allocated sites which are able to deliver greater numbers.
This is a matter which is clearly of national importance, affecting the delivery of housing and economic development in an area where there is significant need and demand. It remains to be seen if the Government will step in to consider the implications of such a restrictive approach to the future development of such an important part of the South East.
What is apparent though, is that there will be a number of months of uncertainty and additional expense, whilst all those involved try to get their heads around the way forward.