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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.

Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel and South Downs, has highlighted increasing concerns in rural England about the impact fracking may have on our matchless countryside. [1]

CPRE’s new national campaign: the Charter to Save our Countryside

Charter_CMYK [Converted].epsCPRE’s National Office has launched a new campaign, the Charter to Save our Countryside. The current government has made radical changes to the planning system, primarily the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This sixty-page document replaced over a thousand pages of legislation, and CPRE lobbied hard to ensure that it gave proper protection to the countryside. We thought we’d done quite well, but over the last couple of years, it’s become clear that the NPPF is allowing widespread greenfield and Green Belt development.

CPRE’s Charter is based on three simple demands:

Don’t sacrifice our countryside.

Our open spaces are being destroyed unnecessarily. Previously developed brownfield sites should be re-used first.

A fair say for communities

The cards are stacked in favour of developers. We want a democratic planning system that gives local people a stronger voice.

More housing – in the right places

The country needs affordable homes. They must be sensitively located, with excellent environmental standards and high quality design.

If you agree with these principles, please do sign up to the Charter, whether or not you are a member of CPRE. You can sign up and read more on our national website, www.cpre.org.uk.

Is the tide turning within the Conservative party?

Many countryside and environmental campaigners have been surprised by the attitude that the government has taken on some vital issues. Planning Minister Nick Boles, at the CPRE AGM this year, stated that meeting housing need “…may mean building on low quality, environmentally uninteresting fields.” (Read more about the AGM here). This seemed to many to be symptomatic of a lack of interest and care for the ordinary English countryside; the lack of any true vision for sustainability in the NPPF or indeed elsewhere echoes this lack of care for the landscape that sustains us.

The Conservative Party has deep roots in the countryside, and many long-term Conservative supporters are becoming frustrated with the Government’s seeming lack of understanding for the rural environment. Indeed, one of the most interesting things for me in this job has been to see that right now, young, left-wing urban environmental campaigners and older, Conservative-voting people in rural areas are campaigning side by side on the same issues. A love for the countryside and an understanding of its importance cuts across all party lines.

Nick HerbertHowever, there are signs that this discontent is beginning to reach higher within the Conservative Party. On 14th July, the Guardian published a piece by Nick Herbert, Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs, under the headline “Letting developers vandalise the countryside won’t solve our housing crisis.” And, perhaps in response to concerns from rural MPs , the Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis made a written ministerial statement on July 4th, saying:

“Having considered recent planning decisions by councils and the Planning Inspectorate, it has become apparent that, in some cases, the green belt is not always being given the sufficient protection that was the explicit policy intent of ministers.

The Secretary of State wishes to make clear that, in considering planning applications, although each case will depend on its facts, he considers 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.”( https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/planning-and-travellers)

So could it be that the grassroots discontent on planning is beginning to find expression at ministerial level? We can only hope so…

Energy in the countryside: Solar arrays and Fracking

Fracking siteClimate change presents an unprecedented threat. Despite the highly vocal scepticism of some, the scientific evidence on climate change is overwhelming. Meanwhile, the cost of fossil fuel energy is rising fast, leading to increased energy bills, higher food and transport costs and rising levels of ‘fuel poverty’.

One result of this situation is that the countryside faces new pressures, as the need grows for alternative energy sources. The arguments regarding the impact of wind turbines on energy policy and landscape go on, but now large-scale solar PV arrays and fracking – unconventional gas extraction – are increasingly being proposed for the countryside in the West of England.

SolararraySolar arrays are large installations of photovoltaic (PV) panels. Even their most ardent supporters would not claim that they are attractive; fields full of black panels on steel frames, protected by high wire fences, do not sit easily in the English countryside. However, they are at least safe and can easily be removed at the end of their life if new energy sources render them unnecessary. They can also provide valuable new wildlife habitats, by creating ‘unimproved’ grassland environments below the panels, to support wildflower, butterfly, bee and other insect populations.

It would seem therefore that the key to solar PV arrays lies in the details: visibility within the landscape; biodiversity action plans; use of brownfield or less versatile farmland. Ideally, I would like to see building codes changed so that all industrial buildings could support PV arrays on their roofs, but this might not be economically realistic at present. With all this in mind, we welcome North Somerset Council’s work to create a planning policy document on solar PV arrays. Their draft, on which we submitted a detailed commentary, can be seen here: http://consult-ldf.n-somerset.gov.uk/consult.ti/rlce/consultationHome.

Fracking is a more problematic technology. It appears to hold the promise of greater energy independence and lower gas prices; but many analysts say that we are unlikely to see the dramatic falls in gas prices experienced in the US. And the potential dangers are great, from contamination of aquifers and surface water to the widespread industrialisation of the rural landscape.

I was interested to see that Bath and North East Somerset have united in a cross-party agreement to reject fracking, in a full-council meeting on 11th July. More recently, police arrived in considerable force to remove protesters from the site of a planned exploratory bore-hole in Balcombe, West Sussex. There is a highly vocal and active anti-fracking movement in the West of England too, led by Frack Free Somerset (http://www.frackfreesomerset.org/), and I suspect that our area will soon see similar scenes to the Balcombe protests.

The issues around fracking are complex. Some argue that by using imported gas, we simply pass the environmental damage caused by its extraction on to other countries; others point to the value of energy security. But CPRE feels that the landscape damage and loss of tranquillity; the impact on increasingly scarce water supplies; the creation of large volumes of contaminated water; and the potential for irreversible underground contamination, together outweigh the potential benefits.

South Bristol Link

No to South Bristol LInk roadAs part of the widely-criticised Bus Rapid Transit scheme, now re-branded as MetroBus, a planning application is in place to build a new road crossing open countryside between the A370 at Long Ashton and Hengrove Park. It seems odd to say the least that funding for public transport in Bristol is being used to build a road across open countryside in North Somerset.

The road, the South Bristol Link, has been discussed since the 1950s as a way to create better transport links to south Bristol. While we are fully supportive of any attempt to improve Bristol’s woeful public transport, we strongly oppose this scheme. It has been shown time and again that new road infrastructure does not have any long-term impact on road congestion. What Bristol needs is better urban rail services; big improvements in its expensive bus services; and serious investment into cycling infrastructure, to make cycling a real option for commuters and families who have no wish to mix with heavy traffic.

CPRE will be working with other campaign groups to produce a joint response to this proposal. You can see and comment on the proposed road development here: http://planningonline.bristol.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=MPM5ZYDN00C00

And you can read some really well-informed plans about how Bristol should be approaching its transport problems here: http://www.tfgb.org.uk/.

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