Preston Parish Neighbourhood Plan 2018 - 2031 - February 2019

Ended on the 25 April 2019
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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 PHC (formerly 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 PHC, 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 in Wain Wood in 1838, and its descendants are still growing there. Brown's herbarium, with the Wain Wood specimen, is now at the Natural History Museum in London. Several Victorian and Edwardian amateur naturalists from Hitchin, 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 now give us a framework of Environmental Assets for Preston Parish. This Framework can be seen in Appendix C starting on page 63.

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 68.

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 65 to 67.

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 85 to 93.

10.13 It is important to ensure that local character, including its relationship with the countryside, is preserved and where appropriate enhanced. New development that is at odds with a distinctive local character can be harmful so should be treated cautiously.

See maps and lists in Appendix C Built Environment, pages 85 to 93.

10.14 Designated heritage assets of particular importance include the Grade II* Listed Princess Helena College (now called PHC) and Tudor House and the Grade II* Listed Temple Dinsley Registered Park and Garden. The wall and gate piers to PHC 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.

10.15 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.

10.16 Planning applications for development which may affect one of the Areas of Archaeological Significance listed in Appendix C, page 84, should be submitted with a desk top archaeological survey and where necessary a field evaluation undertaken by an appropriate qualified specialist so that the impact of the proposed development on the significance of the heritage assets can be assessed. This may indicate that further pre-determination field evaluation, excavation and or mitigation secured by condition are required. Mitigation may take the form of further excavation, an archaeological watching brief, or the preservation in situ of significant archaeological remains.

10.17 In addition to consultation with the archaeological planning advisory service and the Hertfordshire Historic Environment Record, specialists undertaking such surveys should consult with the Preston Parish Council which holds local knowledge on these sites.


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

10.19 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.

10.20 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.

10.21 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 65.

10.22 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.

10.23 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.

10.24 Local green space designation is a way to provide special protection against development of green areas of particular importance to our local community. In considering the Green Spaces within our Parish we acknowledge that they provide a range of social, economic and environmental benefits to the community.

Under the NPPF, Neighbourhood Plans have the opportunity to identify and protect Local Green Spaces which are of particular importance to them. It allows such designation where the green space is:

  1. in reasonably close proximity to the community it serves;
  1. demonstrably special to a local community and holds a particular local significance, for example because of its beauty, historic significance, recreational value (including as a playing field), tranquillity or richness of its wildlife; and
  1. local in character and is not an extensive tract of land.

Reference: NPPF paragraphs 99 and 100

10.25 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 97). Preston Parish Council (PPC) supports these policies, wherever they are relevant to Preston. Development proposals must demonstrate that they have consulted and respected these sources of information.

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

Policy EH1: Village Boundary, Rural Character and Setting:

In the emerging NHDC Local Plan Preston is classed as a Category ‘A’ village, with a boundary within which development will be allowed.

A clear visual break must be retained between Preston and nearby villages/settlements, for example, Gosmore, St. Paul's Walden and Langley to ensure that open countryside, woodlands, hedgerows and green corridors are protected and enhanced. Development that significantly reduces or destroys these assets will not be permitted.

See map: Appendix C, page 67
See also Policy QL3

Emerging NHDC Local Plan 2011-2031: Policy SP5, P41
Emerging NHDC
Local Plan, Policy SP12, and paragraph 4.145, P56
NPPF, 143-147

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.

Policy EH2: Conservation Areas and Heritage Assets

All development proposals, including new build, 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)
  • Where a site on which development is proposed includes or has the potential to include heritage assets with archaeological interest, local planning authorities should require developers to submit an appropriate desk-based assessment undertaken by an appropriately qualified specialist so that the impact of the proposed development on the significance of the heritage assets can be assessed and, where necessary, carry out a field evaluation.
  • The design of any new build should have regard to prevailing scale, massing and density of properties in the Conservation area and be in harmony with the character of the location in which it is being constructed. Materials used should be complementary and similar to neighbouring properties.

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.

Policy EH3: 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.

In considering development proposals, Preston Parish Council will expect green infrastructure to provide permeability for wildlife through and around the development. Green infrastructure should be connective and functional as wildlife habitat in its own right not just as a link between habitats. Development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists. Development will not be permitted within 8 meters of a watercourse.

See also an inventory and maps of important green and blue spaces in Appendix C starting on page 71
also paragraphs 10. 19, 10.20 and 10.21 on page 46


Local Plan 2011-2031: Proposed Submission: Policy SP10: f, P53
Local Plan 2011-2031: Proposed Submission: Policy SP12: a, c, P56

Policy EH4: Local Green Spaces:

The following areas, as shown in Appendix C, of this Neighbourhood Plan are designated as Local Green Spaces. Proposals for built development on these Local Green Spaces will not be permitted unless: the proposal is of a limited nature and it can be clearly demonstrated that it is required to enhance the role and function of an identified Local Green Space.

  • Recreation and Cricket Ground
  • Verge against PHC Wall, including Village Pond
  • Verge between Preston House and the Village Green
  • The Village Green and Well
  • Verges along Crunnells Green
  • Millennium Play Ground
  • Chiltern Way Extension Footpath

See also the Local Green Space Assessment in Appendix C.2, page 77

Reference: NPPF paragraphs 99 and 100

Policy EH5: Transquillity 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.

Policy EH6: Views and Vistas:

This policy seeks to maintain the close connection between the village and the surrounding rural landscape, so 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.

Where development proposals are likely to have an impact upon landscape, a landscape and visual impact assessment will be required in line with good practice guidance, ‘Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment Third edition, Landscape Institute and Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, 2013.’ (GLVIA3) or any successor document.

See also the Views and Vistas Map in Appendix C, page 65

Reference: NPPF 170 (a) and (b)

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

Objective E6: To support the conservation of flora and fauna and to maintain and enhance the different habitats and their distinctive and varied species.

Policy EH7: Protecting and Enhancing the Local and Natural Environment:

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, other woodland, water courses, significant ponds and wildlife corridors will be protected from any harmful development. Proposals should seek to maintain and enhance biodiversity, ecological networks and habitat connectivity.

Development should 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 also the Green Spaces and Ponds maps in Appendix C.2 Natural Environment, page 68 and appendix D starting on page 97

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.

Policy EH8: Hedgerows, Trees and Verges:

Any development proposal should include an assessment of trees and hedges on the site with the aim of maintaining and retaining existing trees and hedgerows. If their removal is necessary, they should be replaced in an appropriate location with trees of no less arboriculture or amenity value.

Where the boundary of a new development has existing hedgerows and trees these should be protected to give it a green and soft edge, with additional landscaping and planting to minimise the visual impact of the new development. Landscaping must be incorporated in the design of all new development to mitigate the visual impact of development and ensure that the development merges into the existing village context. Landscaping schemes should seek to include predominately native species.

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

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