Preston Parish Neighbourhood Plan 2018 - 2031

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(3) 10. Environment and Heritage

10.1 Our small rural parish lies at the north-eastern end of the Chiltern Hills, a chalk escarpment. One small chalk quarry, now much overgrown with scrub, is still visible, at TL 177259. From its northern end, the parish stretches from Wellhead Farm at only 73m above sea level, for about three miles across changing scenery to the edge of Hitch Wood, one of Hertfordshire’s largest areas of ancient deciduous woodland. The soils are mostly the poorly draining clay-with-flints. Small zones of ‘brick earth’ are found, as at Kiln Wood, and, on the steep scarp slope of the escarpment, are nutrient poor chalky soils in Target Plantation. This variety in the surface geology gives rise to a diversity of natural plant communities. The River Hiz, draining north to the River Ivel, then into the River Ouse and, after 90 miles, to The Wash, rises from a spring in a meadow close to Wellhead Farm; the parish thus has a few yards of this small and shallow ‘chalk stream’ that is a rare aquatic habitat in England. Water is scarce elsewhere in the parish; the clay soil, when used to create surface ponds for man or beast, can be ‘puddled’ to give an impermeable lining.

10.2 Today’s man-made landscape includes many small woods and plantations, as well as the arable fields and grassland of the farms. Hazel and hawthorn hedges with oak and holly trees divide the fields and line the lanes. With narrow winding lanes, bridle paths and footpaths, and a scatter of outlying farmsteads, this landscape is typical of the Chilterns.

10.3 Farm livestock is almost an endangered species in Hertfordshire. This parish is very fortunate that we have had, and still have, farmers capable of succeeding in this branch of farming. Douglas Vickers had a famous herd of Wessex Saddleback pigs at Castle Farm in the 1940s; Ian and David Clark had the prizewinning Prescas herd of pedigree Holstein dairy cows. Horses and ponies now graze the former cattle pastures at Castle Farm. Pilkington Farm Partnership use land at Offley Holes Farm to graze their animals and farmers from outside the parish have cattle in the Park of Princess Helena College. These three zones of long established pastures add scenic variety, and support a diversity of wildlife, in the parish.

10.4 Located between the expanding towns of Hitchin and Stevenage not far to the east, and the large urban centre of Luton to the west, this parish is now buffeted between the different claims of the many people in this local population: the farmer, the forester, the gamekeeper, the rambler and the dog-walker, the horse rider, the commuter, and the ecologist. The location of the parish makes it available to serve the leisure needs of non-residents. Ramblers use the northern extension of The Chiltern Way and our many quiet and litter-free paths, often heading for our community owned Red Lion public house on The Green. Threads of cyclists regularly traverse our winding lanes. In late April or early May, carloads of visitors fill up Hitchwood Lane at the weekends to marvel at the sight of the many millions of bluebells in Hitch Wood. Our well-maintained Recreation Ground and the long established Cricket Club attract many visiting players, and their supporters, on summer weekends. Education facilities in the parish also draw in, by car, the parents and their children from beyond the parish, to attend the Nursery School, the Primary School and Princess Helena College, every day during term time.

10.5 Neighbouring parishes are also vulnerable to similar pressures. The task now is to monitor and assess, to conserve and enhance what we value and wish to maintain.

10.6 ‘Heritage’ is something we make from those habitats, structures and materials, which the past has bequeathed to us. Preservation, by law, of prehistoric sites and buildings, and some iconic landscapes, started over a century ago; preservation, by law, of habitats and individual species has been introduced only in recent decades. This is a reflection of our national values and ‘cultural mood’. Both man-made and natural features need recognition and maintenance, either by local residents or by statutory bodies.

10.7 In this parish, an early Victorian botanist, Henry Brown, from Hitchin recorded a plant colony inWainWood in 1838, and its descendants are still growing there. Brown’s herbarium, with theWainWood specimen, is now at the Natural History Museum in London. Several Victorian and Edwardian amateur naturalists fromHitchin,also visited the area and recorded their findings; Thomas Bates Blow noted orchids in the parish in the 1870s. Reginald Hine, in his book, The Natural History of the Hitchin Region, published in 1934, refers to others. The prize-winning scrapbook compiled by the Preston and Langley Women’s Institute in 1953 gives us a later glimpse of species then common: the birds - goldcrest, greater spotted woodpecker, tree creeper, nightingales, and the butterflies - Wall Brown, Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell and the Comma. The yellow pimpernel and the creeping moneywort were identified along Dead Woman’s Lane. The lady members thought that ‘The bluebells are Preston’s crowning glory’, and ‘In winter, nowhere in all England are there Holly Trees to compare with those around Preston’. This is evidence that, more than 60 years ago, some local villagers noticed, recognised and valued their local wildlife species.

10.8 John Dony, in his book, The Flora of Hertfordshire, published in 1967, was well aware of the loss of plant diversity along the wayside verges, the falling water table and the shrinkage of springs and ponds, the pressure from the human population and the abrasive effects of their footwear and motor vehicle tyres. He conducted a special Habitat Study in Wain Wood in May and June 1962, and listed the ground flora: 6 ‘frequent’ species, 12 ‘occasional’ species and 23 ‘rare’ species. Ecologists know that wildlife is intrinsically dynamic – there will be gains as well as losses. Gardeners and walkers in the parish have noticed recent changes: fewer hedgehogs and thrushes, more red kites and black squirrels, and just as many hungry muntjac deer.

10.9 National and local concerns have recently brought much legislation from central government, and many initiatives from ecologists in this county. Following the Hertfordshire Biodiversity Action Plan, in 2011-2013, a new Hertfordshire Habitat Inventory listed and mapped the latest data. A new relationship with farmers is evolving; they are required to be stewards of the landscape and conservators of the wildlife, as well as producers of food.

The results of recent decades of both environmental and heritage legislation nowgivesus a framework of Environmental Assets for Preston Parish. This Framework can be seen in Appendix C starting on page 59.

10.10 More information relating to an Environmental Study with information on the statutory and the non-statutory Sites, and on the species of flora and fauna of the parish is contained in Appendix C Section C.2 Natural Environment, starting on page 64.

10.11 There is a clear visual and physical break between the village of Preston and villages and hamlets of neighbouring parishes. The open rolling countryside and woodland encircling the village is highly valued and richly biodiverse. At 143 metres the village is only 10 metres below the highest point in Hertfordshire which provides exceptional and highly appreciated views down and across the surrounding countryside. These views contribute to the distinct setting of Preston recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and must be maintained. Coalescence needs to be prevented including through visual intrusion which reduces the openness between villages and hamlets. See maps and photographs in Appendix C “Views and Vistas” and “Distinct Villages”, pages 61 to 63.

10.12 Preston enjoys the benefits of a Conservation Area, many listed buildings and a number of undesignated buildings that have the potential to be considered heritage assets. These are mostly located in and around the village.
See maps and lists in Appendix C Built Environment, pages 75 to 83.

10.13 Designated heritage assets of particular importance include the Grade II* Listed Princess Helena College and Tudor House and the Grade II* Listed Temple Dinsley Registered Park and Garden. The wall and gate piers to Princess Helena College form an important part of the street scene along School Lane. It is important that any development in the Conservation Area is well managed so that the most appropriate design is found for the site having regard to local character to ensure that all development is of high quality and reflects the character and setting of the areas around them in spatial layout, scale density, materials, design and landscape terms.

10.14 New development must take account of known surface and sub-surface archaeology and ensure unknown and potentially significant deposits are identified and appropriately considered during development. Lack of current evidence of sub-surface archaeology must not be taken as proof of absence.

Reference: Local Plan 2011-2031: Proposed Submission: Policy SP13: a, P57

10.15 Not surprisingly, it is very important for residents of Preston to protect the green spaces and views that they have and love.

10.16 The rural setting is why people choose to live in Preston and walking in the countryside is a popular activity. 98% agree it is important to have ‘green space’ such as woodlands and fields between Preston and neighbouring villages and towns; and 95% agree it is important to minimise the impact of development on woodland, hedges, footpaths, bridleways, green lanes, ponds, streams, verges and geological features.

10.17 There are no streetlights in the village, which means that night skies are dark, allowing wonderful views of the moon and stars on clear evenings. This darkness also guarantees regular feeding opportunities for moths, bats and owls.

10.18 During consultation, residents identified certain views and vistas they considered to be of particular importance. These are noted on the Views and Vistas Map in Appendix C page 61.

10.19 Residents place great importance on the green infrastructure in and around the parish. It is the network of open spaces, including woodlands, hedgerows, pastures and associated buffer zones, and green corridors, in addition to the protected sites and open countryside that make Preston such a unique place. Green infrastructure refers to all assets within and between towns and villages, both urban and rural.

10.20 Benefits to be gained from green infrastructure include a healthy environment, improved biodiversity value, climate change mitigation and flood attenuation as well as enhanced networks for walking and cycling, which contributes to a carbon neutral development. The retention of substantial connected networks of green space in adjacent countryside areas to serve growing communities is vitally important in ensuring these benefits are maximised.

10.21 The Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust has provided the Preston Parish Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group and Preston Parish Council with a set of detailed policies, along with justification for those policies, in relation to conserving and enhancing the natural environment (See Appendix D, page 87). Preston Parish Council (PPC) supports these policies, wherever they are relevant to Preston.

Objective E1: To protect and enhance the rural character and environment of the parish, its setting and its varied landscapes.

(1) Policy EH1: Village Boundary:

In the NHDC emerging Local Plan 2011- 2031, Preston is classed as a Category ‘A’ village, with a boundary within which development will be allowed. The remainder of the parish is designated as Green Belt. Any development outside the village boundary and therefore within the Green Belt will have to demonstrate exceptional circumstances, as well as proven need which is supported by evidence commissioned by Preston Parish Council. Any application for the re-use, replacement or extension of buildings in the Green Belt must adhere to the policies contained within the Preston Parish Neighbourhood Plan, the NHDC emerging Local Plan and the NPPF.

See also Policy QL3

References

NHDC Local Plan 2011- 2031: Proposed Submission: Development Management Policies: CGB2, p84

NHDC Local Plan 2011- 2031: Proposed Submission: Development Management Policies: CGB4, p87

NPPF: Paragraphs 83, 87, 89

(1) Policy EH2: Distinct Villages:

A clear visual break must be retained between Preston and nearby villages/settlements, for example: Gosmore, St. Paul's Walden and Langley. Development that significantly reduces this separation will not be permitted. Coalescence needs to be prevented including through visual intrusion which reduces the openness between villages and hamlets.

See map: Appendix C, page 63

Objective E2: To recognise all merits of the built environment across the parish, and to seek to protect this architectural heritage, especially that of the many Heritage Assets and their settings.

Objective E3: To take special care of the Conservation Area, ensure that development in the Conservation Area or its setting is of an appropriate scale and maintains or enhances its character, and to raise awareness of the relevant legislation.

(2) Policy EH3: Conservation Areas and Heritage Assets

All development proposals must demonstrate how the particular environment of Preston has been taken into account during conception and evolution of the design. Proposals that do not positively contribute to the local character must explain why and demonstrate the reasons behind the alternative approach. All development within the Conservation Area and within the setting of other designated and non-designated heritage assets must take account of the historic fabric of these areas and conserve, and where appropriate enhance, their character and appearance.

Proposals should provide a statement containing an appropriate level of detail for the importance of the asset, including:

  • The significance of any heritage asset(s) affected
  • Any adverse impacts the development may have on the asset(s) and their setting and any proposed mitigation measures
  • How it will contribute to the character and setting of the relevant heritage asset(s)

Designated heritage assets of particular importance include the Grade II* Listed Princess Helena College and Tudor House and the Grade II* Listed Temple Dinsley Registered Park and Garden.

See also Policy QL3

Reference: Local Plan 2011-2031: Proposed Submission: Policy SP13: a, P57

Objective E4: To protect and improve ‘greenspace’ e.g. The Green and all verges, within and around the village, to protect and enhance the features of the local environment, its views and vistas and to maintain the current level of tranquillity, so as to maintain and enhance the appearance of this rural settlement.

(3) Policy EH4: Open and Green Spaces:

New development should not impact on the uses and functions of existing green infrastructure (i.e. all types of green space, large or small, public or private) within the village and wider parish. Where it is demonstrated through assessment that a development will have a detrimental impact on the quantity or function of existing green infrastructure, then the development will not be permitted unless replacement provision is made that is of equal or greater value than that which will be lost through development. Development that fails to exploit opportunities to incorporate green infrastructure will not be considered appropriate. Of particular importance are The Green, the Recreation Ground, St. Martin’s Churchyard and Church Meadow.

See also an inventory and maps of important green spaces in Appendix C starting on page 69

References

Local Plan 2011-2031: Proposed Submission: Policy SP10: f, P 53

Local Plan 2011-2031: Proposed Submission: Policy SP12: a, c, P 56

(2) Policy EH5: Protecting and Enhancing the Local Environment:

Development should not adversely impact on areas of particular local ecological importance (for example, water courses, significant ponds, wildlife corridors, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Local Wildlife Sites). Proposals should seek to maintain and enhance biodiversity, ecological networks and habitat connectivity.

Reference: Local Plan 2011-2031: Proposed Submission: Policy SP12: b, P56

Community Rights may be employed if a community led development can be set up to ensure an environmentally sensitive development.

(1) Policy EH6: Tranquillity and Dark Skies:

Given the importance Preston residents place on the quiet, peaceful nature of the parish and its dark skies, any new development should not significantly disturb this tranquillity through the creation of excess noise, increases in traffic or light pollution. Preston Parish Council has a long-standing policy that there will be no streetlights within the parish.

(2) Policy EH7: Views and Vistas:

Any development proposal should include an assessment of the impact of the development on the key views and vistas or harm to the landscape. Proposals where a harmful impact is identified will only be permitted where appropriate mitigation measures can be delivered. If there is mitigation, the mitigation cannot be as bad or worse than the problem it has to solve. Development proposals will need to demonstrate, through their design and planning statement, that their design, scale, height and massing does not adversely impact the existing views and vistas, and positively enhances them where possible.

See also the Views and Vistas Map in Appendix C, page 61

Objective E5: To maintain and protect good access to the countryside by means of statutory and permissive footpaths and bridleways.

(1) Policy EH8: Access to the Countryside:

New development should recognise and respect the importance of walking routes in Preston, ensuring that the enjoyment of paths and bridleways is maintained. These include specifically but not exclusively: footpaths to and through Wain Wood (Footpath 13 and Footpath 14), Footpath 3 from The Green to Preston Primary School, the Chiltern Way Extension footpath between Chequers Lane and Butchers Lane and the Hitch Wood Nature Trail (Permissive Path).

See also Policy HD2 and Policy TC1

See also the Footpath Map in Appendix C on page 60

Objective E6: To ensure new developments do not create flood risk and problems with the sewerage system and surface water drainage, while at the same time ensuring that any existing problems are not exacerbated.

(2) Policy EH9: Protecting and Enhancing the Natural Environment:

Development should not adversely impact on areas of particular local ecological importance (for example, water courses, significant ponds {Castle Farm pond, Princess Helena College pond and Preston Green pond} and wildlife corridors). Proposals should seek to maintain and enhance ecological networks and habitat connectivity.

See also the Green Spaces and Ponds maps in Appendix C.2 Natural Environment, page 64

(2) Policy EH10: Wildlife Sites:

In accordance with the Hertfordshire Biodiversity Action Plan, all statutory sites as listed by Natural England including Wain Wood SSSI, the 13 Ancient Woodlands and all Local Wildlife Sites as listed by NHDC (including Lady Grove Wood areas of chalk grassland and other woodland listed in Appendix C.2Natural Environment starting on page 64) will be protected from any harmful development.

(3) Policy EH11: Biodiversity:

Development should preferably avoid any negative impact on biodiversity. If this is not achievable proposals should mitigate for or, as a last resort, compensate for impacts on biodiversity. When requested, proposals for development must clearly demonstrate how they will deliver measurable net gain to biodiversity (see appendix D starting on page 87 for details)

Reference: Local Plan 2011-2031: Proposed Submission: Policy SP12: b, P56

Community Rights may be employed if a community led development can be set up to ensure an environmentally sensitive development.

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