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For years the Government has facilitated the targeting of large areas of green space (including heritage site settings) for housing development on the basis that there is insufficient usable brownfield land. (Many people suspect that the real reason has more to do with the “advice” they’ve been getting from the big builders who coincidentally can make far bigger profits by building in picturesque locations. Who knows)
Lately the Government seems to be coming round to the idea that there ARE such sites but it remains vague about how many. Now the CPRE has launched an interesting campaign to establish and demonstrate to them just how many usable yet undeveloped brownfield sites and buildings are going to waste across England. As they put it: “ever helpful, we want to show them just how much potential there is”. Accordingly they’re asking the general public to nominate suitable brownfield sites that may have been overlooked in official plans and submit them for inclusion in the CPRE’s ‘WasteOfSpace’ map of England.
If you know of one (or more!) please send them a photo, ideally with a short description and an address or postcode. You can send the image by:
- emailing email@example.com
- tweeting @CPRE with the campaign hashtag #WasteOfSpace
- posting to the Facebook group #WasteOfSpace
The heritage group who want to protect Liverpool’s famous “Welsh Streets” area has been accused by the City Council’s barrister of triggering a public inquiry by exaggerating evidence!
Yes, you read it right, a lawyer made the accusation. A member of the profession whose whole raison d’être is to present a case in the best possible light on behalf of anyone that will pay them – in other words, exaggerate, understate or spin it in whichever direction is desired. Not through conviction but for money! Faking it for cash, like a certain older profession.
Still, if the Law Society has decreed that the adversarial system is no longer appropriate and their members must now speak the unspun truth then hurrah, planning matters will be a lot simpler to decide and there’ll be no need for pesky members of the public to get involved as justice will invariably be well served. Suddenly…. the noise from wind farms will no longer be always represented as somewhere between “minimal” and “acceptable”, housing developments will no longer be presented as attempts to bring unalloyed joy to the locals, developers will cease to be characterised as selfless community workers or patriots, nimbies will cease to be reviled as selfish, petty and anti-British and buffer zones will no longer be seen as too large however tiny they are. And heritage groups won’t be painted as somehow irresponsible for triggering something as unnecessary and awful as a public inquiry into a city council’s plan to demolish 271 homes!
And of course, lawyers will work for nothing and on the basis of sincere conviction. Like members of heritage groups!
From The South Wales Guardian:
See more here
After a long legal tussle it has finally been settled: a 1,000-cow ‘super-dairy’ CAN be built within the settings of Offa’s Dyke and other important heritage assets. An original approval was overturned by a planning inspector, mainly on the basis it would cause “considerable harm” to the landscape and the setting of heritage assets. But that in turn was overruled by the Welsh ministers on the grounds that the economic advantages of the scheme were compelling. Now The High Court has upheld the Welsh government’s decision, ruling that they had not failed to pay ‘special regard’ to the impact that the development would have on heritage assets and had taken relevant considerations into account in deciding that priority should be given to the economic benefits of the scheme.
No problem with that per se. Sometimes developers must win else the country would grind to a halt. But note, the system merely requires that the Government ministers should take all relevant considerations into account, not that in mulling them over they can’t be biased in favour of development. Indeed, there’s a presumption in favour of it.
But has that been taken to extreme? Is there anything to stop the degree of bias running out of control? Well, as mentioned yesterday, according to the CPRE, in the past year more than two thirds of major housing developments turned down by local councils and taken to appeal were eventually approved. How come, ref? Shouldn’t decisions go fifty-fifty? Are Heritage United being treated unfairly despite a rule book that gives the impression they aren’t?
We’ve just received the latest newsletter of The Campaign to Protect Rural England in which they outline their efforts to protect the Countryside from the dash for economic growth.
Thanks to you and to thousands of others, we now have over 22,500 signatures in support of our Charter to Save our Countryside. People have been spreading the word among their friends to help demonstrate the strength of public concern for the countryside they love. Our Charter promotes the reuse of brownfield land before building on open countryside, giving people a fair say in planning for the places where they live, and providing the housing we need but in the right places.
It’s been over two years since the Government introduced major reforms to planning. Right from the start we warned that the changes gave too much weight to pursuing economic growth regardless of the long term environmental consequences. We warned that they would result in more badly located and designed development, harming the countryside and undermining the regeneration of our towns and cities. Our fears have been realised. Our latest research has revealed 700,000 houses planned in the countryside – including almost 200,000 allocated for the Green Belt. Thousands of acres of green fields could be lost. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
Between March 2013 and March 2014, at least two thirds of major housing developments turned down by local councils and taken to appeal were approved by the Secretary of State or Government Planning Inspectors – double the number of appeals granted in the previous year.
Please help us stop this needless destruction. We’re campaigning to persuade the Government to make the development of brownfield land in our towns a priority before building on open countryside.
In planning matters there’s nothing special about Shropshire (other than the fact the Environment Secretary is an MP there but is doing absolutely naff-all to combat an all out attempt to wreck the setting of a fantastic hill fort there). You could say actually Shropshire is a pretty typical slice of middle England so it’s reasonable to think that what is happening there is pretty much what is happening everywhere. Which is why this article in the Shropshire Star is worth highlighting.
It’s a remarkable article with some unusually frank statements being made by both sides:
On one side you have property developers, driven by profit and pound signs who are looking to stick homes on every available plot of land….. On the other are neighbours, cruelly labelled by some as Nimbys (Not In My Back Yard), who are desperately trying to protect what little green spaces are left for future generations….. Stuck in the middle are the members of council planning committees, elected laymen and women….. Leanings towards saying no are often accompanied by gentle reminders from planning officers of the potential for costly appeals and court costs running into the thousands. …… Battles are being won on the planning front by people power……. But coming out on top in a few battles doesn’t win the war, which is still waging in all four corners of the county……
So what we can be done? Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard has launched a petition calling for a block to be put on what he calls “excessive housing development” in the county. Mr Pritchard said he intended to hand the petition to both Telford & Wrekin Council and Shropshire Council. “When I travel around my constituency, people tell me that they are not against housing but they are against excessive housing,” he said. “So many of the developments put forward are disproportionate and unsustainable, both physically and socially.
“Disproportionate” may well be the crux. Development yes, but not to excess and certainly not on greenfield sites or on sites of heritage significance when brownfield land is available. As if to emphasise how the system is skewed to making maximum profits for developers rather than addressing housing need, here’s a “hobbit house“ in Pembrokeshire ‘built of low-impact, natural and recycled materials” that is facing demolition for lack of planning consents! The young couple who built it clearly have no pals in the cabinet and, unlike the big builders, weren’t invited to design the current planning regime!
As you may have noticed, we’ve been trying to get to the bottom of what the Government’s renewed enthusiasm to sort out the A303 actually involves – and particularly whether it would mean a tunnel at Stonehenge – and very particularly whether it would be a “long tunnel” or a hugely damaging “short tunnel”.
The last time the latter was mooted just about every archaeological and heritage organisation except English Heritage opposed it yet it almost went ahead regardless and was only cancelled when the world plunged into a financial crisis. Now the economy has improved, the pressure to sort out the congestion has built up once again and, by various accounts, technology has made tunnelling much cheaper. The Government is giving out strong signals it’s going to do something major and English Heritage has been expressing enthusiasm for “a tunnel” but our attempts to get them to say which tunnel they were thinking of when they said they were fighting for one (including via a Freedom of Information request) have been unsuccessful.
It’s to be hoped that The National Trust, which was strongly opposed to the previous short tunnel would be equally opposed to any new proposal for one. Unfortunately they are yet to say so. Instead, there’s this:
“Like many we recognise there are real problems at Stonehenge and we have for many years supported the principle of improving the road network in order to improve the road and the quality of the environment across the Stonehenge Landscape. Some people are insisting change is needed to ease congestion levels no matter what the impact on the landscape. At the Trust we believe that the current round of road improvements might provide an opportunity to finally give Stonehenge the scheme it deserves and that means a world class solution for a world class place. We will be engaging very closely with the Government and our key partners over the next year to ensure we help to protect this very special place.”
Let’s hope they’ll say what they really think very soon, i.e. that their view hasn’t changed, and can’t: a short tunnel at Stonehenge is still unacceptable. The fact they say Stonehenge deserves “a world class solution” pretty much telegraphs what they think already. Hooray for them! You’d rather be in a position where you’re defending that assertion than be a hapless English Heritage press officer chewing their pencil over how to phrase “we support the Government’s wish to impose a damaging solution”!
The British Government (who else!) is spearheading a move to roll out biodiversity offsetting throughout the world. It has just hosted in London “the first global conference” on it (called“To No Net Loss of Biodiversity and Beyond”). At the same time those opposed to the concept have held a counter-conference of their own called “Nature is not for sale -the 2nd Forum on Natural Commons” in Regent’s Park right opposite the Government’s one. In their own words their belief is that “biodiversity offsetting ignores the difficulties in recreating ecosystems, it overlooks the uniqueness of different habitats, and it disregards the importance of nature for local communities. Once a harmful development project goes ahead, communities lose access to it forever.”
But has this relevance to heritage? It must have, for often enough if you rip up fields or forests to build houses you also destroy heritage features and knowledge, things that can’t be “offset” for once they’re gone they’re gone. On that basis it follows that archaeologists should be involved in many of the anti-biodiversity offsetting battles which the “nature lobby” is currently fighting. As well as the “Nature is not for Sale” forum perhaps there should have been a “Heritage is not for Sale” forum.
So it was pleasing to see one recent instance of archaeologists joining with the nature lobby – The CBA is supporting the Woodland Trust’s campaign to exclude ancient woodland from biodiversity off-setting schemes. The original biodiversity offsetting green paper indicated that some habitats (including ancient woodland) are irreplaceable and should be excluded from the scheme. However recent comments from (who else!) Environment Minister Owen Paterson suggest that this advice has so far been ignored. The Woodland Trust calculates there are at least 380 Ancient Woodland sites across the UK currently under threat from development – and it is inevitable that archaeology will be threatened at many of them. It will be interesting to hear Mr Paterson explanation of how the irreplaceable can be replaced!
A surprising claim but perhaps true for once…. The Secretary of State has thrown out controversial plans for six 110m wind turbines at Thornholme Field in the Yorkshire Wolds. English Heritage and East Riding Council had opposed the plan but an Inspector had allowed it. Now Mr Pickles has overturned the decision saying he shared English Heritage’s view that the development would cause harm to the setting of many heritage assets, including Rudston Beacon. He found the Inspector had placed “less weight on the issue of harm than was required“.
But there’s the rub. How much harm is too much harm? Blowed if we know, or the parties involved, so it comes down to what Eric says. Or to be more precise, it comes down to whether the various parties have deep enough pockets to take it all the way to Eric to see what he says. Nearly always he comes down in favour of the developer so hurrah to the good guys for pursuing this case and coming out winners! As Councillor Frazer observed:
“This raises a glimmer of hope in our hearts …. We were getting a bit despondent that the refusals of planning permission were continually being overturned. This gives us hope that in the future, where we refuse permission and have strong arguments for refusal, they will carry more weight”.
(A bit personal, that!)
They say conservation is about choices. We can’t save everything and we can’t turn the country into a museum. It’s sadly true. So how do we decide?
There are lots of formal methods. EH has criteria for inclusion on The Heritage at Risk Register and for Scheduling and has published guidance such as The Settings of Heritage Assets [October 2011], Seeing the History in the View [May 2011} and Conservation Principles - Policies and Guidance  that Planning Committees, Inspectors and they themselves can follow. There’s even Section 7.2 of the November minutes of the English Heritage Advisory Committee, which covers “settings”, just released. And yet and yet …. some things that just about everyone feels should be protected are sometimes lost. Why?
It doesn’t help that the conservation pendulum has been hijacked lately by those who benefit from building stuff. Nor is it exactly good news that the official definition of conservation has consequently morphed into “the process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset”. (See here).
But even so. Some things just shouldn’t have happened. Digging up gravel in the setting of Thornborough? Building an estate of houses close to Avebury’s henge? And currently: allowing someone to target Oswestry Hill Fort’s setting without throttling the plan the moment it was hatched? Come on! It’s hard to see how bad some plans and some consequences are without holding them up against comparable decisions that went the other way and in the case of Oswestry we’ve already done that several times recently – see here for instance.
When decisions ARE held up and compared with others they are sometimes revealed as eccentric – bizarre even. What are the people of Oswestry to make of this for instance, news of a recent case tweeted with justified satisfaction by EH’s Legal Director: “Public benefits of wind turbine does not outweigh harm to setting and significance of hill fort. Appeal dismissed.” http://ow.ly/d/2aDM Would they say “Public benefit of the proposed development does not outweigh the public harm to the monument, eh? Lucky for some!”
Meanwhile, elsewhere, more decisions that look bizarre when one is compared with another – a comment on Rescue’s Facebook page: “They want to (substantially damage) a 1830 railway station in Manchester (the first in the whole world) but in London they want to keep 1960′s Elephant and Castle shopping centre because it was the first American style shopping centre in Europe.” I have no knowledge of the relative merits of those two cases but there is surely an argument for usefully holding one against the other in some way? All the public ever wants is consistency. Is there a way to tweak EH’s database of planning decisions to further promote it? Have they the nerve to set up a classification marked: “awful decisions, please don’t use as evidence” ?