Saturday, 7 December 2013

Dormice and planning appeals, again

Following Buckfastleigh's appeal, another local planning decision has been made where the presence of dormice was material, in this case dismissing an appeal for 59 dwellings in Kennford.

Officers recommended approval, but Teignbridge District Councillors voted against. The Planning Inspector sided with Councillors. Here are a few paragraphs from his Report:
38. Hedgerows are a Priority Habitat under the Teignbridge, Devon and UK Biodiversity Action Plans and can act as ecological corridors. The presence of a protected species is a material consideration when determining planning applications and [the NPPF] advises that local planning authorities should aim to conserve and enhance biodiversity.

39. The appellant’s [Ecological Impact Assessment (EA)] identifies two hedgerows within the site as species-rich and indicates that these are an important habitat for the locally diverse population of bats. A Hazel dormouse nest was found in the central hedgerow within the site and the connecting hedgerows are also reported as supporting this protected species. A “good population” of slow worm was recorded within two discrete areas within the site. A Brown hare and common bird species also use the site and the hedgerows are also likely to be used by nesting birds. Bats, slow worms and dormice are protected species and dormice, Brown hare and slow worms are UK BAP Priority Species. The site has ecological value.

40. The proposed hedgerow removal and loss of pasture would have an adverse effect upon local wildlife. However, the proposed mitigation measures would limit this disturbance and new planting, including replacement hedgerows and bat and bird boxes would be undertaken. The EA concludes that the proposals would maintain and enhance the integrity of the habitat network within and adjacent to the site, with “probable” beneficial impacts for biodiversity in the long-term (10+ years).

41. Whilst the scheme could result in a net increase in hedgerow and the creation of new habitats, there are doubts in my mind that dormice and bats would withstand the rigours of construction and the post-constructions phases. The scheme would be likely to considerably disrupt the network of hedgerows upon which these protected species are dependent.

42. Even if the known dormouse nest was left undisturbed, it is by no means certain that dormice would remain on site or find a suitable, alternative habitat. The EA states that the new habitats would not be of value for four to five years after planting. This suggests to me that at best, it is likely to be the medium term (3-10 years) before the adverse effects upon dormice would cease.
The Planning Inspector concluded:
Moreover, the totality of this harm would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the economic and social dimensions/benefits of the scheme. The proposal would therefore fail to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. 
Would a quarry at Straitgate Farm ever be able “to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development”? As the Inspector made clear, the NPPF guides local planning authorities "to conserve and enhance biodiversity” and if "significant harm resulting from a development cannot be avoided, adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused”. A quarry at Straitgate would decimate hedgerows, veteran oaks and dormice habitats; it would disrupt the water regime supplying wetland habitats of ancient woodland and drinking water supplies. Is it a price worth paying? Aggregate Industries obviously thinks it is, but it is the powers that be that will eventually decide. Is it “sustainable development”? No.