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Responding to today's announcement that the consultation on the environmental impact of HS2 will end as early as 24 January 2014, Ralph Smyth, barrister and Senior Transport Campaigner for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, says:

'The Government has chosen the minimum length of time allowed [1] for its consultation on the biggest ever environmental impact assessment in UK history. A 56 day formal consultation period for 50,000 pages of documents means you would need to read 1,000 pages a day just to know what is proposed. To add insult to injury this period includes the Christmas and New Year holidays, when Parliament has 23 days off.

B&NES Core Strategy again…

SOBAEvery month I sit down to consider the big stories in rural planning in our region, and pretty much every month sees a new twist in the saga of the Bath and North East Somerset Core Strategy. So I can only apologise for returning to it once again…

Very briefly, the Core Strategy – the strategic planning policy for the next 15 years – is undergoing Examination in Public at the moment, whereby a Planning Inspector works through the plans to ensure that they are sound and compliant with national policy. The process got halted because there were questions about the evidence that the council had provided for their housing numbers. Cynical observers felt that the only problem with the evidence was that it didn’t point to high enough housing numbers, but at any rate, the issue has now been resolved and the Examination is starting again.

However, the Inspector in charge of the process has recently written to B&NES Council to say – among other things – that in order to deliver the right number of houses at the right time, the suggestions that have been put forward regarding new housing in the Green Belt around Bath will have to be included not as outline plans but as specific proposals with a great deal more detail included. This in turn means that a new public consultation will have to be run about these Green Belt developments.

To say that the proposed developments are controversial would be an understatement. The plans involve releasing land from the Green Belt at Odd Down (near Southstoke) and at Weston; there is also a proposal to extend development at the ex-MOD site at Ensleigh. Between these sites, a total of perhaps 720 houses are proposed for green field, Green Belt locations in the setting of the Bath World Heritage Site – and the final figure could well be more, depending on how the details are planned.

Bath was named as a World Heritage site not just because of its Georgian architecture, but because of the extraordinary completeness of the original vision for the city: a civilised and beautiful urban space set within a Romantic rural landscape. So it’s barely an exaggeration to say that the preservation of the Green Belt around Bath has perhaps more importance to the character and future of the city than in any other UK city.

The consultation on the proposed Green Belt developments begins on November 11th, and we will be meeting on that date with other local organisations to discuss our response.

North Somerset Core Strategy

Long Ashton 1More Core Strategy news, this time from North Somerset. Earlier this year, a Judicial Review was held on North Somerset’s Core Strategy. It was triggered by Bristol University, who own land near Long Ashton which they wish to develop for housing (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/estates/long-ashton/). They challenged the housing numbers in the Core Strategy, in the hopes that higher housing numbers might mean urban extensions south of Bristol – into the land which they own.

The arguments were arcane in the extreme – you can read about the details here.

Long Ashton 2However, the result was by no means a clear-cut victory for the University. The judge ruled that Policy CS13, on the numbers of new houses needed, should be remitted for a fresh examination. If CS13 were to be found unsound, this would have implications for the rest of the Core Strategy as new sites for housing might need to be allocated.

Anyway, in the run-up to the re-examination of CS13, there has been a surprisingly frank exchange of letters between the council and the Inspector.

The Inspector seemed at first to suggest that the whole of the Core Strategy might need to be re-written. He wrote:

“I consider that these matters would go to the heart of the Core Strategy and are unlikely to be capable of being addressed by making Main Modifications…

Before proceeding further, I would suggest that the Council should give serious consideration to […] these fundamental issues and should assess whether it would be worthwhile to proceed further through, what is likely to be, a costly and time consuming re-examination process.”

The Council came out fighting:

“…there is concern about the perceived lack of balance in the Inspector’s initial letter. In particular the starting point seems to be that the remitted examination process is unlikely to result in a successful outcome…”

Not exactly bar-room brawling, but strong language for this kind of thing!

They went on:

“…it is clear that the projections as assessed now will be very different to those at the time of the original Core Strategy examination. They are likely to be substantially lower primarily as a result of the recalibration of the population base in the light of census data, reduced migration and household formation rates, and factors reflecting more recent economic conditions.”

“The Council’s position is that even if the housing requirement is increased, the flexibilities in the plan mean that this is likely to be able to be accommodated without changing the spatial strategy“

In plain English, they say that they don’t think that new sites will be needed, as if anything, they expect to lower the housing numbers or at least accommodate them in their existing plan.

The Inspector was put plainly on the defensive:

“In your response you refer to my having ‘pre-judged’ the outcome of the re-examination and having displayed a ‘lack of balance’ in my letter. I can assure you that this is not the case…”

The Inspector then shows his awareness that an expensive legal team will be watching his every move:

“I am cautious about the handling of the re-examination as I wish to avoid any possibility of further legal challenges.”

You can read the full text and find out more here:


North Somerset Council clearly mean to fight this challenge very hard. I would imagine that they are fuming that their lovingly prepared and successfully adopted Core Strategy is being hauled over the coals again. I’m not a gambling man, but I think I’d bet quite a lot that the very last place on earth that North Somerset Council would now allocate for housing is a certain stretch of land near Long Ashton…

Growth agenda is fuelling damaging development across National Parks and other precious landscapes

That was the response of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to the announcement today that Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has applied for judicial review of the Airports Commission's refusal to revisit its airport expansion criteria. In September the Commission had to relieve one of its members of his duties after it was revealed he was still being paid by the Manchester Airport Group (MAG) when he took up his role. MAG are the owners of Stansted airport and have submitted a proposal for three extra runways that would devastate large areas of countryside and would damage tranquillity further still.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) today warned that Government proposals to allow farmers to turn buildings into houses are badly thought through: they will lead to a rash of housing development in the countryside but without the safeguards provided by the planning system.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is urging people to write to their local MP today about a draft new Government website on planning guidance [1]. If the website is not improved it will frustrate the building of thousands of affordable homes, and lead to local councils being repeatedly overruled about where, and what type of, new housing is built in their area.

Welcome once again to this monthly round-up of stories. I need to start with a brief reminder of two upcoming events:

CPRE Avonside AGM

Don Foster10am on Saturday 5th October at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute, 16-18 Queen Square BA1 2HN.
Our AGM this year will be considerably enlivened by a talk from Don Foster MP and the opportunity to put questions to him afterwards. Both members and non-members are welcome.

CPRE Bath and North East Somerset district group Special Meeting

7.30pm, Thursday 10th October at Bath City Football Club, Twerton, BA2 1DB.
This is an open meeting to discuss the ongoing planning policy situation in B&NES, the threat it presents to the local countryside and CPRE’s response to it. All are welcome. For more information on both of these, please do get in touch – Joe Evans, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone on 07854 741130.

Gypsy, Traveller and Travelling Showmen’s sites

Tranquil countryside at Oldbury-on-Severn, near Thornbury

Tranquil countryside at Oldbury-on-Severn, near Thornbury

CPRE’s South Gloucestershire District group recently submitted an objection to the proposal (S Glos Council planning application ref. PT13/3101/F) for a travelling showman’s yard adjacent to Pound Mill Business Centre, near Thornbury. Our concern was that the landscape impact of the site and associated works would be unacceptable – as had been stated by a Planning Inspector at a previous appeal relating to the same site. In addition, there have been serious concerns about flooding, drainage and transport access to the site.

Over the last year or so, CPRE Avonside has done a fair amount of work on the provision of Gypsy, Traveller and Travelling Showmen’s sites across the region. It’s a difficult and emotive subject. When Bath and North East Somerset Council published a list of possible sites for their draft DPD on the subject last year, it caused outcry among many communities. We examined the list ourselves, and spoke at a council meeting on the topic; our position is that provision of sites is essential, but that they must be the right sites in the right places. We objected to a number of the proposed sites for B&NES because they offered poor transport connections, poor health and education facilities for residents, and in some cases a considerable negative impact on local life and landscape.

Government policy is very clear on the matter. Gypsy and Traveller sites within Green Belt are considered ‘inappropriate development’ except in very special circumstances, and a recent written statement by the Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis made it clear that:

“…the single issue of unmet demand, whether for traveller sites or for conventional housing, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the ‘very special circumstances’ justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.”

Furthermore, the Government’s ‘Planning Policy for Travellers Sites’ of March 2012 states, among other things, that sites should be planned so as to:

“a) promote peaceful and integrated co-existence between the site and the local community
b) promote, in collaboration with commissioners of health services, access to appropriate health services
c) ensure that children can attend school on a regular basis
d) provide a settled base that reduces the need for long-distance travelling”

This makes a lot of sense, but in practice it’s extremely hard to identify sites that will meet these objectives. There can also be a great deal of local objection to new sites – rightly or wrongly, people often feel threatened by a proposal for a site in their area.

We will continue to argue in favour of the provision of good quality sites – and against those that do not met the standards set by national and local policy. When faced with a subject that can create highly emotional and personal responses, the careful application of actual planning policy is the best way to make the right decisions.

The Five Year Rule begins to bite…

The planning policy situation in Bath and North East Somerset has featured heavily in these bulletins over recent months. On September 17th, the Planning Inspector in charge of the Examination in Public of the B&NES Core Strategy agreed – with some conditions – that the Examination could continue. This is great news, because had he chosen to halt the process, the area would have been left with no proper local planning policy in place for many months to come.

The view from Bishop Sutton across Chew Valley Lake

The view from Bishop Sutton across Chew Valley Lake

Even as things stand, the reality of the situation is beginning to set in. A planning application for 41 houses in Bishop Sutton was refused by B&NES Council in April 2013. The Development Control Committee felt that the number of houses, the green field location and other factors meant that the plan was wholly unsuitable for the village; it also runs against the emerging Core Strategy.

However, the applicants appealed against this decision, on the grounds that as B&NES Council was unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing sites – the so-called ‘Five Year Rule’, then under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), local policy should be disregarded and decisions should be made solely on the basis of the NPPF itself. The appeal recently ended, and sadly the decision of the B&NES Development Control Committee has been overturned and planning application has been granted.

This is a sad day for democratic planning. This application, for 41 houses to be built on open fields adjacent to a small village, would have been refused under the old Local Plan; if the new Core Strategy is in place, it would also have been refused. But in the meantime, planning power has been taken out of the hands of the elected council by national planning legislation because the local authority has not been able to jump through the necessary hoops quickly enough. Our countryside is the worse for the decision.

Land for cars – or land for food?

In August this year, CPRE Avonside submitted a number of objections to Bristol’s draft Site Allocations and Development Management Policies DPD (SADMP). Bristol will be European Green Capital in 2015, and its own adopted Core Strategy makes plain its ambitions to be a green city.

M32 Park & Ride

M32 Park & Ride

However, this has not been entirely reflected in its planning policy. Our submissions included a call for clearer protection for ‘land of special food systems value’ – allotments, school gardens, community gardens and high-quality agricultural land. These are vital for the way that the city learns about food, grows its own food and connects to its surrounding countryside. In particular, we objected to the continued safeguarding of land at Stoke Lane, Stapleton, for an M32 Park and Ride. The land in question is part of the ‘Blue Finger’, a stretch of highly fertile land running north of Bristol alongside the M32 that was historically Bristol’s market garden quarter, and which remains a patchwork of allotments, smallholdings, community food projects and small farms. If Bristol is to be a green city, surely it needs to look after this precious resource right on its doorstep?

We want to see new protection for the best agricultural land, not just in Bristol but across the region. Less than 3% of UK farmland qualifies as ‘Grade 1 Agricultural Land’. This top-quality farmland is going to be crucial for food security as climate change continues to take effect: the deep topsoil of the best land holds water in droughts but drains well in heavy rain, and the increased fertility of the soil gives better yields from smaller areas.

We believe that Bristol needs to take a lead on this, as European Green Capital. But we’d also like to see the same policy across our region, protecting the best soil for all of our futures.

Firstly, my apologies – this bulletin would normally go out on the first of the month, but holidays and circumstances in general have conspired to put me behind schedule!

B&NES on the brink

The planning policy situation in Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) remains in turmoil. With no adopted Core Strategy, there has been something of a free-for-all for developers, a situation that CPRE and the Local Authority are equally keen to stop! The examination in public of the emerging Core Strategy will soon be re-starting and a crucial session is taking place on September 17th, in which the Inspector will look at the scope of the Strategic Housing Market Assessment to determine whether he feels that it is acceptable. If he doesn’t, and the Examination is halted again, it will frankly be something of a disaster.

In light of this and other issues, CPRE B&NES is holding an open meeting for all members and those interested in joining CPRE, at Twerton Village Hall on Thursday 10th October at 7.30 pm.

The meeting will cover the following topics, with plenty of time for discussion and debate on the best way forwards for those who care about our local countryside.

1 After the outcome of the crunch meeting between B&NES and the Inspector on 17th September will we still have a Draft Core Strategy or will B&NES have to start again leaving the area at the mercy of speculative developers?

2 News from our meeting with David Trigwell and Graham Sabourn regarding planning policy and the stock of unoccupied council properties.

3 Report on the mounting pressure on the Government to reform the effects of the NPPF policy of granting planning permission despite local opposition

4 Do our parish councils get the consultation on local issues guaranteed by the Parish Charter?

5 Members from the city and towns are important too

6 Local planning and environmental issues.

This is a meeting that all members should try to attend as it will address the major threats to our countryside. If possible, please contact the Secretary, Nigel Long, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you are going to come along.

The Stoke Gifford Transport Link and the development of Bristol’s North Fringes

In August, South Gloucestershire Council submitted an application to themselves (normal practice, although it does sometimes seem odd…) to build a new road near Stoke Gifford, connecting Great Stoke Way in Stoke Gifford to the A 4174 Filton Road. It’s part of a general upgrading of transport infrastructure in the North Bristol Fringes, in preparation for the huge number of new homes that are planned for the area.

In some ways, CPRE is quite sympathetic to the approach that South Gloucestershire Council have taken to identifying sites for new houses. As far as possible, they have tried to fill in the spaces in the somewhat dispersed, low-density development of North Bristol to create a more sustainable urban area that can support more shops, schools and local services. However, the scale of what is planned is startling. In total, 12,700 new houses are planned for the North Bristol Fringes. The area currently has a population of around 50,000; this will rise by 60% to over 80,000.

The area already has transport problems. There is a higher-than average level of car ownership and car usage, which has resulted in terrible congestion problems on the roads. Public transport is poor and cycle lanes and other facilities are limited. But South Gloucester is extraordinarily optimistic about how this will change; their transport planning for the area is based on the assumption that with this 60% increase in population, car journeys will only go up 10%; bike and walking journeys will rise 20%; and public transport journeys will rise 100%!

I suppose all that is just possible, but only if all transport investment was focused on car-free travel. And that’s why we’re concerned about the Stoke Gifford Transport Link. It includes a shared cycle and foot path, but at 3m wide it is the minimum permissible size. There are bus lanes; but they don’t run right up to junctions, for reasons of cost and ‘land take’. Really, it’s a road with a few extras. It is certainly not what the area needs, which is a sustained investment into the best possible car-free transport.

Pylons on the march

After what seems like years of consultations and planning, National Grid appear to be moving closer to a final plan for a new transmission route across North Somerset, connecting the proposed new Hinckley C nuclear power station with a major substation at Avonmouth. On the 3rd September, their latest – and perhaps final – proposed route was published for consultation. You see the details and participate in the consultation here.

This has certainly been a controversial project. According to Tessa Munt MP, until this project was launched, the largest number of responses to any National Grid consultation had been about 250; over 4000 responses to this consultation had been received back in January 2011! CPRE’s North Somerset branch have been deeply involved in the campaign, with volunteer campaigners producing a highly detailed technical report arguing for greater undergrounding of power lines through sensitive landscapes, using Gas Insulated Pipelines. This report was presented to 10 Downing Street and our work has had the support of local MP Liam Fox.

Another alternative approach would be an underwater connection. Hinckley is of course on the coast, and a sub-sea connection might also have provided the crucial infrastructure to enable offshore wind and tidal power in the Bristol Channel. Many feel that offshore is the best place for wind turbines – they are considerably more effective, due to stronger and more consistent wind; and they do not mar treasured landscapes. The potential for tidal power in the Bristol Channel is well-documented, and the move away from plans for an environmentally-destructive Severn Barrage to plans for smaller tidal lagoons or underwater turbines is very welcome.

However, these more radical and forward-looking options have been rejected. Although the latest plan by National Grid does include some underground cables through the Mendips AONB, it otherwise sticks to pylons – the new, T-Pylons – which are routed through some beautiful and fragile landscapes, already at severe risk of losing their tranquillity and rural character as a result of other development. It will be a disappointment to many.

National CPRE research on threats to Green Belt

In August, CPRE’s National Office carried out a major piece of research on the scale of the threat to the Green Belt since the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework. The results were startling and deeply worrying.

“Figures published by CPRE show that over 150,000 houses, along with over 1,000 hectares of mines, offices and warehousing, are planned for Green Belt sites. This is an increase of 84% in a year and comes despite Government assurances that its planning reforms would ‘maintain protection of the Green Belt’.” (from CPRE’s National website)

The map published by CPRE to illustrate this research shows clearly how the Green Belt around Bristol and Bath is under threat. Under severe pressure from the Planning Inspectorate, both B&NES and South Gloucestershire are looking to remove land from Green Belt. North Somerset’s adopted Core Strategy has been facing a legal challenge from Bristol University, who want land removed from Green Belt at Long Ashton to allow construction of new homes on a piece of exceptionally high-quality agricultural land that they own there; at Whitchurch, repeated applications have been put in to build new houses around the village and to fill in the gap between Bristol and the village.

CPRE was one of the driving forces for the creation of Green Belts, and the protection of the Green Belt remains one of our core priorities. Without it, cities face low-density urban sprawl, resulting in traffic congestion, poor urban environments and thinly dispersed services; without it, the countryside that we know and love could disappear. We need to keep the pressure on the Coalition not to break their promise to protect the Green Belt.

Notice of CPRE Avonside Annual general Meeting

Finally, I would like to give notice of our Annual General Meeting, which this year will take place at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute, on the morning of Saturday 5th October.

Don Foster MP will be speaking, alongside our Chair Georgie Bigg and others.

All CPRE members will receive notices of the AGM with full details. If you would like to attend, whether or not you are a member, please contact:

Joe Evans, Director, CPRE Avonside – 07854 741130 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Figures published today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) show that over 150,000 houses, along with over 1,000 hectares of mines, offices and warehousing, are planned for Green Belt sites. This is an increase of 84% in a year and comes despite Government assurances that its planning reforms would ‘maintain protection of the Green Belt’. A new CPRE briefing and accompanying map provides more details of the developments proposed on Green Belt land across England [1].

Surrey countryside campaigners have won their legal action against Mole Valley District Council over the decision to permit the building of a luxury golf and leisure complex at historic Cherkley Court near Leatherhead.

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