Latest news in the local press

Coldwaltham campaigners fail to have wildflower meadow removed from park plan

Scans from newspapers, with links to larger images:

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Update on meeting the Board

Yesterday we travelled to Midhurst, to make our presentations to the Board. We were joined by Janet Aidin, of the Wiggonholt Association, who added her expert views to ours and you can view our presentations in previous posts (Janet, Chris, Jim). Jim also circulated some A3 photographs of the flower-filled meadow, and the views from Amberley and the South Downs Way. Anneke Lilley from Coldwaltham Parish Council also came along to offer some moral support.

First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who emailed and wrote letters to the SDNPA Board and Planning Dept; you really made an impact. Some of the Board members referred to the emails you sent and one of them asked what would happen if a site was withdrawn…

Lucy Howard, SDNPA Planning Policy Officer, announced that the Planning Dept had also received protest emails. You could tell by the way they reacted that this was a new experience for most of them. Alun Aylesbury, Deputy Chair of the Planning Committee, conceded that the housing allocation for the meadow was very late in “coming forward” and Tim Slaney, Head of Planning, expressed concern that of all the 38 sites in the emerging Local Plan, Coldwaltham was the only one that had a significant negative impact on the Landscape. Of course, we have been saying this for ages, but the recently completed Sustainability Assessment said so too, so they had to take note of it. We really thought that we had convinced them to pull Coldwaltham from the Local Plan, but, you’ve guessed it, at the last minute, they all decided to go ahead after all. I suppose we expected that, for after all, they had been working on the Local Plan for four years, so wouldn’t want to delay it.

However, they have promised us that in view of the last-minute nature of the Coldwaltham Allocation, they would consider our points very carefully when it comes to the next formal consultation period in September. The Head of the National Parks UK, Margaret Paren, was so concerned by all the emails, that she asked the Parish Council to circulate her response before the Board meeting. For what it’s worth, and I suggest you read it with Coldwaltham in mind. So we must regard what we have done so far as a dummy run, dust ourselves off and try again.

We think we have a very strong case that will ultimately convince the Examiner that SDNPA have acted unfairly and inconsistently in refusing us a Regulation 18 Consultation, and if we can do that, SDNPA will have to reconsider our case. But to do that, we will have to get help from a Planning Consultant, to ensure that we make the best possible presentation of our case.

So now we must form ourselves into a proper group, with elected officers, some sort of mission statement and probably a bank account etc. We have just given an interview to Sussex Radio, and have now got to step up the publicity. We have also got to explore ways of raising funds for a Planning Consultant. All ideas welcome! Someone has suggested that we use “crowd funding” for this, which sounds a useful way forward, but we really need to be on facebook for that…Help! I know some of you said you could, but will you? Now is the time… Maybe we need a Facebook sub-group or something?

Letter to Mr Nelson from the SDNPA

Letter from SDNPA with comments in Red by Coldwaltham Meadow Conservation Group

Dear Mr Nelson,

We have received a number of e-mails about the proposed housing allocation at Coldwaltham.
 
First, may we say that there appears to be some confusion over the stage the Local Plan has reached and the extent to which members of the public and the parish council can make comments. This is entirely understandable given the complexity of the process. We hope the following will help.
 
 As you appreciate, the Local Plan has been through a number of iterations and at each stage we consult with the public.  Our main objection is that this is simply not true.
We have gone beyond the statutory requirement by, for example, consulting on an ‘Options’ document at the outset. It is normal practice to test the plan at each stage against the responses to earlier consultations as well as research and evidence. The Plan therefore, rightfully, changes with time.
 
Based on all of this, our approach is for a ‘medium’ level of growth dispersed across towns and villages.  Nonetheless, SDNPA call the  it a “Major Development” – 40 houses is 4.4% of the total for the whole NP and an 11% increase in our population. So far as Coldwaltham is concerned, some growth is considered desirable and appropriate over the next 20 years.  The site previously identified at the Preferred Options stage for development has since been demonstrated to have a negative impact on nearby nationally designated sites. As a consequence, a different site, adjacent to and seen as part of a larger area within which the previously proposed site was located, is now under consideration. It is a new site, but in the same meadow, just 100m to the west with twice as many houses and four times the area
 
The process of preparing the pre-submission draft of the Local Plan has been underway for some time. The meeting referred to in some e-mails formed part of that process and was an informal opportunity for parish councils to see how our thinking was developing, subject to further research and evidence as well as their responses.  Our Parish Council considered they were presented with a “fait accompli”.
 
Subsequently all the draft policies and allocations have been considered by our Planning Committee in public and with the papers available on our website. The latest version of their plans for our meadow, different from all the others, appeared on 4 July!  The Committee also listened to representations about the Plan, both positive and negative. The Planning committee refused to look at our Parish Council’s letter of Objection at their meeting on 15 June.  We have now reached the point at which the pre-submission draft will be considered by the SDNPA Members at our meeting on 11 July. At that meeting we will be asked to approve the draft plan for formal public consultation. That consultation is planned to start in September and will run for eight weeks rather than the six weeks required by legislation. It is at that stage that the parish council and members of the public can respond to the policies and the proposed allocations. The responses will not only be considered by the SDNPA but will also be available to the Planning Inspector who will hold a public hearing on the Local Plan next year.
 
May we say that the SDNPA places great store on community engagement, which is why we encourage Neighbourhood Plans and have exceeded the statutory requirements on consultation. They have not followed the guidelines set out in their Statement of Community Involvement
 
Finally, we are aware that there are concerns regarding the possible involvement of one of our Members in decision making of this site who has a financial interest in it. As Members, we take our role very seriously as impartial decision makers. We have strong and rigorous governance arrangements that have been followed in this case. The Member concerned has been scrupulous in absenting himself from decision making on the Local Plan. We do not say that the landowner/member concerned has done anything wrong. We are simply asking why, as “impartial decision makers” the Planning Committee has proposed:   
  1. The largest allocation of land for the largest number of houses on one plot in the whole Local Plan (which includes 37 other sites);
  2.  On such an exceptionally important meadow in the wider landscape with high nature conservation interest, and with adjacent internationally important wildlife sites and 
  3. Why did they go to such apparent lengths to avoid consultation?
 We hope this e-mail clarifies the situation and that you can be assured that there will be the opportunity to comment on the pre-submission version of the Local Plan in the autumn. We should be very grateful if you could help in disseminating this information to the residents of your parish who are concerned about this issue. 
 
Yours,

Margaret Paren – Chair of the Authority

Neville Harrison – Chair of Planning Committee

 

South Downs National Park Authority

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Janet Aidin’s Statement

I want to talk about process.  We took part in the Preferred Options consultation in 2015.  The Coldwaltham site was taken out of the Plan.  Now it’s come back different, enlarged and more contentious.  But there has been no public consultation on it and indeed no clear consultation at all.  Yet it’s a major development:  it should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances and in the public interest.  (And it keeps on changing).

The parish council and local people have been told they can have their say in September during the Reg. 19 consultation.  I am afraid this is illusory.  This consultation will not be on the merits.  It will be on the soundness and legality of the draft, very high hurdles to jump.  People can make points on the merits but the planning authority won’t have to deal with them. The site will stay in the Plan.  It’s soundness and legality that the Inspector will examine.

It rings very hollow for local people to be told this is a landscape-led Plan when they can’t even comment on this blot on the landscape. No wonder they feel disenfranchised.  The Local Plan process should be seen to be fair; it should be seen to be reasonable.  Instead it just looks mechanical.  Major changes could be made to the Plan today and I would like to suggest that this Policy SD64 is an obvious candidate.  A decision to remove it and hold a fresh consultation would demonstrate natural justice and the Plan would be the sounder for it.

Janet Aiden

Wiggonholt Association

Jim Glover’s Statement

I am here representing  the Coldwaltham Meadow Conservation Group.

Purpose 1. Of  Your Management Plan is:

“ To conserve and enhance natural beauty , wildlife and cultural heritage”

Most people would think a Flower rich hay meadow would be the embodiment of natural beauty and wildlife, the result of traditional farming that is our cultural heritage.  Other National Parks celebrate the importance of hay meadows, why can’t you?

We have provided you with photographs of this beautiful meadow. We have also sent you a great deal of detailed information,  explaining why this meadow is so special and  important for wildlife and why it should be protected.

For example, your Farmland Bird Initiative seeks to monitor 19 farmland bird species in order to measure your progress in safeguarding and enhancing biodiversity. This meadow supports 13 of them.

It takes decades of careful management and substantial government grants to create a meadow of this quality.  But it only takes one careless decision to destroy it.  Is that really what you want to do today?

Your Partnership Management Plan lists so many policies and guidelines that make it clear you should be protecting this site.

The original allocation was withdrawn following a section 18 Consultation because it was too close to the SSSI and SPA.

This new proposal which appeared just a few days before the end of the consultation period, is in the same meadow, just 100 metres to the west but with twice as many houses and taking four times as much land.

  • View from The Sportsman in Amberley
    View from The Sportsman in Amberley
  • View from Rackham Bank
    View from Rackham Bank

The allocation of the rest of the meadow as an open space will bring public access right up to the boundary of the SSSI and much nearer to the SPA than your original proposal.

Conservation organizations including;  SWT and RSPB have objected to so many houses  so close to the SPA.  Your draft HRA actually states “that disturbance to wildlife was the main problem for wetlands!”  “ particularly where visitors walked with dogs” but  in mitigation their solution is to “promote engagement with dog walkers” and “a commitment to influence visitor behaviour” This is derisory.

This is a major development, not a medium level one as you claimed in local papers.  How is it in the public interest to destroy this special habitat?

Why is this utterly unsuitable site being given such an excessive allocation and such exceptional treatment?

Given the highly sensitive ownership of SD64 we would expect the highest standards of impartiality in this allocation.  Sadly, this is not the public perception.

Our members are calling for the section 18 consultation that they have been deprived of, or better still the withdrawal of SD64 in favour of a much more suitable site, one of which has come to your attention in the last month but so far you have refused to consider it.

Jim Glover

Coldwaltham Meadow Conservation Group

Statement from Chris Skinner

This meadow embodies all seven special qualities of the National Park.

It is as much a part of our cultural heritage as an old barn or a windmill. It makes a distinctive contribution to our sense of place, preserving the rural, agricultural character of our surroundings.

According to the recent Sustainability Appraisal, The meadow is sited within one of the most tranquil areas in the Park. It has an important separation function between two villages; preserving their distinct identities.

A highly visible component in the landscape, it can be seen for miles; developing the meadow will certainly spoil “inspirational landscapes “ and “breathtaking views”.

97% of our flower-rich hay meadows have disappeared from the UK within living memory. How will people understand and enjoy the special qualities of this meadow if it has gone? Destruction of this scarce cultural and wildlife resource is in conflict with Purpose 1 and 2 of the National Park.

This is a Major Development. As such it should be refused in a National Park unless there are exceptional circumstances in the public interest. There are none here.

Of all the villages within the National Park, Coldwaltham has been assessed by The Hierarchy Study as one of its least sustainable settlements.  Yet: It has the largest housing allocation (40) of all the rural villages in East and West Sussex. The village population will increase by nearly 11%.

Coldwaltham has by far the largest land allocation in the Park;  The whole meadow will be destroyed, with roughly half of it going for housing, the other half for car parking and open space. Why do we need any open space on the edge of the Arun Valley, with all its footpaths?

Because the housing plot is so large, each house will have on average 1/4 acre per plot, one of the lowest housing densities in the Park. Why is so much land needed for this?

This is not a balanced, proportional allocation. It is unfair and it is not in the public interest to proceed with it.

Since the original allocation was withdrawn, the plot has moved within the meadow; it has doubled, then quadrupled in size and the houses have increased from 20 to 40. None of this has been subject to a Regulation 18 consultation.

The Parish Council’s objection to the current proposal, which surfaced on 2 June, was acknowledged, but ignored, with the remark that there would be plenty of time for comment in September.

The National Park has failed in its duty to conduct appropriate stakeholder consultations. We are not opposed to development, but there are other sites in the village that are more suitable.

We urge that this site be removed from the emerging Local Plan to enable an adequate and fair consultation about the issues outlined above.

 

Chris Skinner

Coldwaltham Meadow Conservation Group

Should 40 new homes, right on our doorstep replace this?

 

Our Parish Council meets on Tuesday evening 13th June to consider the proposal that would allow up to 40 new homes to be built on this meadow,next to Brookview and Brooklands Way, on an area as big as the two estates combined.

The map shown in Sussex Local (June issue, p47) is wrong. The proposed housing area is actually twice the size and cover all the higher part of the meadow. It will bring more traffic and disturbance to our area and will almost join up Coldwaltham and Waterfield. Our country village is in danger of becoming just another chunk of suburbia.

You can find out more from visiting: The South Downs National Park website planning applications SD Local Plan Pre-submission papers (pages 238-242).

This meadow is full of flowers, butterflies and birds. It is the only flower-rich meadow in Coldwaltham and one of the most colourful in the National Park. Did you know that 97% of meadows like this have disappeared from the UK in the last 75 years? We should protect those that remain.

The National Park Authority is also proposing a carpark close to the entrance to Waltham Brooks Nature Reserve. The reserve forms part of the Arun Valley Special Protection Area. This means it is one of the most important sites for wildlife in Europe. There is already a problem with disturbance of livestock and wildlife and many more people living and visiting here will only add to this.

The National Park Authority already acknowledges that the meadow is a site of “high landscape sensitivity”. This is because it can easily be seen across the Wildbrooks from the Sportsman Pub in Amberley or from Rackham Mount on the South Downs Way. A new area of housing as big as Brookview and Brooklands Way combined, would certainly spoil the view!