MM053 - Page 57 After Paragraph 4.147 (new paragraphs)
Proposed Main Modifications
Representation ID: 7066
Respondent: Pirton Parish Council
Proposed Main Modifications
Representation ID: 7842
Respondent: Graveley Parish Council
Proposed Main Modifications
Representation ID: 7966
Respondent: Mr Reg F Norgan
Proposed Main Modifications
Representation ID: 8007
Respondent: Hertfordshire County Council - Environment & Infrastructure Department
See attached representations
Proposed Main Modifications
Representation ID: 8160
Respondent: Ms Nikki Hamilton
Firstly we would just like to say that we have tried to respond to this consultation of modifications in a coherent way but unfortunately we have found the whole situation rather taxing. We started by going through the Schedule of Proposed, followed by the track version and ended up with MM's and ED's all over the place and it has become rather confusing. In fact by the time we got to what was NE policies and now seems to be NEx but with NE policies still at large, it was decided that we would just make notes and respond the best we could so apologies if this is all rather a mess but will try and put in some as-semblance of order ...
Comments re open space and green belt review:
Comments re the sustainability appraisal (CAG) & MM008 c iv ...
p6 2b states 'provide access to green spaces and improve access and provide opportunities for people to come into contact with wildlife habitat etc:
The GA2 development is currently an open space that is accessible to all, residents of Great Ashby, Weston, Stevenage, Graveley and many other people that visit from around the district. There are no other areas around Stevenage that are made up of numerous small fields, connected by vintage mixed deciduous natural and ancient woodlands and bio diversity rich hedgerows (all which should qualify as LWS and are NERC section 41 priority habitats) that are accessible unlike the GA2 area so we are in disbelief that you would even consider allowing such an important area to such a wide range of species as well as an area that delivers so many health benefits to residents and an area that contributes to the green belt purposes to be built upon.
p7 details 'protecting the environment including bio diversity' and MM008 c iv mentions centres on this - GA2 is an area of beauty, and boasts a diversity of habitat (as stated by a number of ecologists) home to numerous species including protected species; badgers, bats (inc 2 rare species - the Western Barbastrelle and Leislers as well as Noctules), barn owls (not mentioned in the ecology report) and a few species of winter birds that are currently on the amber list.
We have already highlighted advice from other ecologists/organisations which stated in their reports that 'authorities should not make the same mistake when Great Ashby and Stevenage was built of encompassing woodlands on all sides by development' this was in our previous response and bought up at the hearings. NHDC have already made that mistake and yet they do not seem to have learnt from it (we don't wish to sound derogatory but this is a serious situation). Hangbois Wood has been totally encompassed by Great Ashby Way and housing and the badgers and other wildlife living within it depleted. Martin's Wood which also had a badger sett and numerous species has also been encompassed and the badger sett is no more and this is just a couple of examples.
Brown field sites and the green belt review and housing numbers, comments regarding ED159, MM035 SP8 discrepancies with figures:
We have observed serious issues with the figures. May we just reiterate once again; it was confirmed to Parliament that.....
''the government has put in place the strongest protection for the Green Belt. The Framework (NPPF) makes it clear that inappropriate development may only be allowed where very special circumstances exist .... and we have been repeatedly clear that demand for housing alone will not change Green Belt boundaries''
The NPPF confirms in paragraph 133 that:
''The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence''.
In regards of Turner v SSCLG  EWCA Civ. 466 at DL, 27, the Secretary of State agreed with the Inspector's interpretation and afforded "significant weight" to the benefits of housing delivery and economic benefits and "moderate weight" to the affordable housing etc but he made a clear finding at DL,56 that those matters did not amount to "very special circumstances" in the circumstances of that appeal.
That approach demonstrates that notwithstanding a shortfall in housing need, with a local plan at an early stage, the provision of housing, including affordable housing provision is highly unlikely to ever amount in itself to the necessary "very special circumstances" required to justify development on the Green Belt. The North Herts proposed Local Plan is now at a more advanced stage; however there have been many objections to the underpinning Green Belt Review and other processes carried out by the Council; there seems to be large discrepancies in regards to everything surrounding the review, as follows and we would be shocked if the Inspector does not raise further questions regarding this situation:
1) As raised by the Inspector was the question of NHDC over stating in their housing numbers in relation to the ONS by 4,600 homes. Whilst this may not be such an issue where an authority is placing the majority of its housing on brown field sites - where an authority is placing the majority on green belt then this is a very large issue indeed, especially considering it does NOT have the support of the communities.
2) We raised throughout the hearings the question of how many brown field sites were put forward, how many green belt sites and what has been the outcome and there seems, yet again large discrepancies with this. An email was sent to C Peers regarding this - not to myself or our group which advised 70 sites for housing development had been put forward of which 34 were on green belt and a list is attached. We have checked down this list of which all are green belt and we have contacted NHDC for a list of the brown field sites of which the other 36 sites have been allocated but up to this date, have still had no response as to this or how many brown field sites were originally put forward! From looking at the list sent out, it appears to us that all the main proposed development sites are on this list, eg on green belt - Great Ashby, Letchworth, Baldock, East of Luton etc etc.
As stated within the NPPF, it is the responsibility of the authority to locate brown field sites for housing development and it should be a focus by that authority to priorities brown field sites over green. We have seen that in November 2018 to December 2018 there was a call for brown field sites - isn't this rather late in the grand scheme of things. Did NHDC just not bother looking for any sites since 2011 - did you just decide it would be easier to ignore this responsibility and just proceed with a green belt review? If this is the case, then we do believe your plan is unjustified and unsound.
We would like to point out that SOGB feel that 82% of your proposed housing developments are actually on green belt land - if this is the case, then you should certainly amend your housing needs figures.
3) In regards to Green Belt compensation - MM023 b, surely the area that you are suggesting compensating all of our main urban areas' loss of green belt which make significant contributions and contributions does not even hit the criteria of green belt? Surely green belt is administered around an area of urbanisation such as Stevenage, Letchworth to avoid urban sprawl and protect the countryside etc - so placing green belt in an area where there are NO towns whatsoever detracts from the whole point???
4) In order to establish that 'exceptional' circumstances do exist (this was challenged at the recent Local Plan examination) to allow for what would otherwise continue to be permanent Green Belt to be reviewed to form new boundaries, North Herts District Council should be able to demonstrate that it has examined fully "all other reasonable options for meeting its identified need for development" (paragraph 137 of the latest NPPF) which we do NOT believe has happened as this includes looking at whether the strategy makes "as much use as possible" of brownfield land and underutilised land, as well as whether the density of any development coming forward within the area has been optimised in line with the requirements of section 11 of the NPPF.
Also the new guidance in the NPPF requires proposals for Green Belt releases to have been 'informed by discussions with neighbouring authorities' in terms of whether housing could be accommodated elsewhere which would place a more formal requirement on authorities to demonstrate co-operation through the preparation of statements of common ground and yet we do believe, even though NHDC have over stated with their housing need in line with the ONS, Central Beds are now looking to increase their housing figures as apparently NHDC are not able to hit their housing target, we are concerned by this.
5) In regards to removing Green Belt and 'exceptional circumstances' MM023 (SP5) - the green belt review highlighted that the area of GA2 makes an overall contribution to the green belt purposes with 2 of the purposes making a significant contribution. So we ask yet again as we have seen no explanation of this throughout the modifications - what are the 'very special circumstances' of removing this area from the Green Belt??? The only justification we have seen is that the site is available and you need to hit your housing needs target - which is not 'very special circumstances' and considering this area is home to such a huge list of species including protected species, rare species and those on the amber list, not to mention it being openly accessible which huge health benefits to thousands of people - we are hugely concerned with the actions of NHDC. The NPPF still states that a housing need alone does NOT justify removing land from Green Belt. Add this to the fact that brown field sites within North Hertfordshire have not been exhausted and NHDC have over estimated the number of housing in line with the ONS we would suggest this plan is unsound and GA2 should be removed from the Local Plan. We would also like to point out that in regards to this area, the NPPF states that 'the loss resulting from the proposed development would be replaced by equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location' - has this even been discussed because as we pointed out during the hearings, there are no other areas around Stevenage with such accessibility that has such a diverse range of habitat and wildlife with footpaths which is free and available to so many people?
In regards to ED159, the NPPF 158 stipulates that projections used should be up to date and should be adhered to - considering NHDC are over stating by 4,600 in green belt, we would have thought this was of paramount importance. NPPF 158 and 159 should be taken into account and the local plan should adhere to current projections particularly as so many of the communities are against a number of the developments such as GA2, East of Luton, North of Letchworth etc and are on green belt. Also, in regards to the over stating - NHDC stated that the Housing Minister has advised 'not to take their foot off the accelerator' or words to that effect - may we point out that statements made by Ministers do NOT over ride what is written within the NPPF which basically means 'using up to date projections' means what it says and NOT, 'never mind, we're 4,600 over and are putting most of it on the green belt and we'll pick up green belt from all around the towns where it is serving some of the 5 purposes and we'll stick it in the middle of the countryside as maybe in the future it will actually serve a purpose!!!!
Other authorities have realised the importance of protecting its green belt, we don't understand why NHDC won't do the same?
We will now just comment on the MM's:
MM050 SP12 - states protect, identify and enhance bio diversity including woodlands/hedgerows and yet we advised previous recommendations regarding woodlands and that there would not be a net gain in regards to the species currently inhabiting the area as they would be severely impacted upon if GA2 continued to be part of the local plan particularly the size it currently is. We advised that in its original capacity (half the size and only abutting up to Longdell and Nine Acre woodlands) we would not see such a large impact resulting in a negative outcome. The badger group, bat group and local wildlife rescue all responded about the importance of this area and yet the developers seem to feel that none of the wildlife will be impacted upon even though we have shown examples of this being totally incorrect.
We would also like to point out that your Local Plan modifications state that you will seek opportunities for net gains regarding bio diversity - are you aware that in the government's Spring statement - it was declared that 'net gains would be mandatory in 'all' planning authority areas? With this in mind, we re-iterate that there is no way the outcome of the GA2 area will be a net gain as the impact will eradicate and severely affect a number of the species currently living there.
We also have serious concerns in regards to the chalk streams within North Herts which we have also raised previously in regards to them being at risk due to extraction and for the first time ever last year, run dry in places. This is very serious when considering so many new developments within the area.
MM082 - discusses the green infrastructure corridor and MM166 (113 p80) - we will also be addressing the situation of the protected species in this section SP18 d i/ii (access road) and j iii (retention of green connectivity to wilder countryside):
You state that there is a green infrastructure corridor running through Great Ashby under the pylon tract which indeed there is. This currently runs from a wooded area and open countryside one end to open countryside between woodlands at the other end. You have also mentioned that the green infrastructure corridor will continue to run through to open countryside under the pylon tract. Green infrastructure as specified is open space, woodland, park area etc - how will the access route be a green infrastructure corridor if from Mendip Way it consists of an access road and cycle paths? (Where would the cycle paths join up with considering there aren't any within Ashby and not even enough room for safe travel via cars with the amount of parking that currently happens).
In regards to your green infrastructure corridor - the ecologist has shown a couple of outlier setts within their report. Even though we were quite impressed by the ecology report submitted by ELMLAW, we had numerous concerns in regards to the findings surrounding the protected species. We have been in touch with the Badger Trust and have also been in touch with a solicitor regarding this development, the site has also been visited by a mammal recorder and expert from another badger group and we have spoken at length with a county ecologist and would like to also submit the following ...
The Badger Group objects to the modifications concerning the GA2 development.
The Badger Group is concerned that the planning decision is based on insufficient information regarding the badger populations within the area. The modifications (access road) poses an unacceptable risk to the badger clan (badger social group) within the edge of Brooches Wood. The construction of the access road in the location chosen would destroy a main sett and outlier sett and sever existing badger routeways.
The surveys undertaken by the badger group have found much higher badger activity than presented within the Ecological Evaluation Site GA2 December 2017 report. There are badger setts in the field and hedge line proposed for the development (not identified in the 2017 report) and a main sett at the edge of *** *** that is along the routeway of the development's access road.
The sett is not an outlier as stated in the Ecological Evaluation Report but a main sett with 6 holes etc (this sett was recorded many years ago and has been monitored over the years, there is photographic evidence). The territorial latrines identified by the Badger Group also strongly suggest that the badgers in ** ** are a separate clan to the clan occupying ** **/** **. The Ecological Evaluation Report does acknowledge that at least one clan of badgers is present but it is important to establish this since badger clans will defend their own territories. Further survey using methods such as bait marking should be carried out to fully establish the movements of the badgers within the area.
Any exclusion of badgers from the main sett at ** ** would require a licence from Natural England to comply with the legislation protecting Badgers (Protection of Badgers Act 1992) but licences should only be granted if there is no alternative that would retain the badger sett in situ. To retain the badger sett it would be preferable to relocate the access road to an alternative location. If badgers are excluded from a main sett, they will require an alternative sett to move to that is not part of the territory of another clan. Usually when a new artificial set is constructed this would need to be located in suitable habitat and also located along existing routeways used by the Brooches Wood clan. Further survey work is required to ensure mitigation to compensate for the adverse impacts on badgers can be adequately addressed. Use of artificial setts can be unpredictable and for a licence to be granted to destroy a main sett it would need to be shown that badgers to be excluded are aware of the artificial sett and preferably showing signs of use. We would like to point out that to develop in GA2 would already command seeking licences to close 2 other subsidiary setts and 1 outlier. Due to the amount of closeness of the clans in this area and the fact that we can see no possible alternative for an artificial sett with sufficient foraging ground without them being at risk from impact of the development, we cannot see that licences to close all these setts would be permitted. We have also sent communications to Natural England in regards to the situation surrounding GA2.
There should also be more consideration given to the impact of the road systems across the site in general. Badgers may weigh up to 15kilograms, a motorist taking avoiding action could result in accidents and human injury. Badger proof fencing and appropriately designed badger underpasses would be required. The Badger Group consider that these details are required at an early stage.
Ref MM 053. After paragraph 4.147 (New paragraphs) - We are adding this at the advice of a county ecologist ...
Paragraph states "strict protection .... in accordance with the Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations 2010" this needs to be changed to Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017".
It is important that ancient woodlands are not lost and also that they are not subject to excessive recreational use that could lead to the deterioration of the woodland's biodiversity. Ancient woodland is an irreplaceable habitat and protected in the NPPF. The wording regarding ancient woodlands within this section should have a stronger emphasis on their value to biodiversity. The prime aim should be to manage ancient woodland for their important biodiversity and not with the prime aim to manage them as recreational and amenity areas for local people which frequently results in loss of wildlife in the woodlands.
Therefore I would suggest wording such as "The Districts woodlands are of high value to wildlife and will be managed over the plan period for the benefit of biodiversity as well as providing recreational and amenity areas for local residents where appropriate".
MM166 discusses 'net gain'. All developments should seek to deliver net gains for bio diversity - we do not believe this to be possible in regards to GA2. We would also like to point out that 11.xx sites that contain important habitat or species that are not designated wildlife sites can be identified by HERC - this isn't the case so unsure why you have included this as a modification?
MM157 a - protects, conserves and enhances and b - avoids loss/fragmentation. Again, where does this sit in regards to the green infrastructure corridor of Great Ashby? In regards to SP18 j iii - how would this result in retention of green connectivity to the wilder countryside, it wouldn't if you are going to put a road through it? As stated in your local plan modifications ... This Plan sets out a clear strategic approach for the protection, enhancement, creation and management of networks of green infrastructure. Green infrastructure refers to all assets within and between towns and villages, both urban and rural. It is a network of multi-functional open spaces, including urban parks, gardens, woodlands, hedgerows, watercourses and associated buffer zones, and green corridors in addition to protected sites, nature reserves and open countryside. No where have I seen the mention of a road in this description - it seems as though you have detailed all of the policies and yet you don't seem to be adhering to them within your local plan. For example, we highlighted the report by ecologists advising not to make the same mistake in regards to woodlands being totally encompassed and yet, in regards to Brooches Wood etc - you seem to be doing just that.
MM167 Policy NE4
ai Planning permission will only be granted for any proposed loss of open space only where provided that: (a) it can be demonstrated that the open space is surplus to requirements, or otherwise and justified on the basis of: i. the quality and accessibility of the open space; ii. the extent to which the open space is serving its purpose; iii. the quality and accessibility of alternative public open space; - again you seem not to be adhering to your own policies in regards to GA2 and other proposals such as East of Luton. GA2 open space s not surplus to requirements, it is used by thousands of people each year as highlighted during the hearings when I provided an example of a freezing cold day in January when a survey was completed. It is accessible through a number of points, unpolluted, high in bio diversity and species rich, with a diverse range of habitat and provides many benefits to all. We cannot think of a suitable alternative around Stevenage/Ashby!
Over the plan period it is anticipated that some open spaces could come under pressure for development. It is therefore vital that any proposed loss of open space is carefully considered to ensure that the both the existing and future population of North Hertfordshire has sufficient access to open space. In parts of the District where there are identified deficiencies in open space, any proposed loss would be subject to increased scrutiny. Are we missing something NHDC - we ask once again, what very special circumstances warrant the loss of such an important place to the residents of Ashby, Stevenage, Weston, Graveley??? Again you seem to be going against your own policies!
MM158 GA2 will spoil the view - to those living in the Cleveland Way area of Ashby and to all those thousands of residents from around the area that walk, job, ride, picnic there!
MM160 - we object to ... whilst recognising ... needs to be met. This clause states there is no limit to how much landscape can be sacrificed for development. It seems to conclude that housing need will have priority no matter what damage is caused. This is quite frankly wrong and despicable and totally shows no understanding of the meaning of sustainability.
MM166 - bio diversity impact calculators. We do have concerns with the sole us of an impact calculator in regards to endangered and rare species. They also encourage the idea that loss of bio diversity on a site can be easily mitigated by planting elsewhere to offset a loss or convert it to a net gain in regards to bio diversity. This is NOT the case! Complex habitats that have taken hundreds of years to evolve cannot be destroyed and impacted upon and then compensated for new habitat or imported habitat which could then conflict with species that already inhabit the area. Further to this and the ecological report submitted by ELMLAW - we have concerns in regards to the results of dormice in that our monitors came across numerous black square tubes discarded around a couple of areas within GA2 - at this time we had no idea that a dormouse survey was being carried out. We have come across tubes in another woodland but if a number of the tubes were tampered with during the survey period then they would have not been checked efficiently and a full survey could not have been completed. We have spoken with 2 mammal recorders who have advised that locating dormice can be a very difficult task!
Extra points in regards to transport, employment etc:
4.xxx - In regards to the Stevenage Mobility Strategy, how do you propose this in GA2 when there are no cycle paths already in Ashby itself and there are already significant problems with traffic? Also you have stated that the issues with Back Lane will be addressed in the transport assessment and it has been mentioned elsewhere that the larger issues with traffic and transport will also be addressed in transport assessments - would it not be better to have these in place from the offset before trying to push through more housing (on top of Stevenage BC's housing, EHDC's housing) when the A1M and other areas are already seeing numerous accidents because of the issues?
There is also no mention of any new employment/economy initiatives for GA2, NS1 despite an increase in population due to all the extra developments mentioned above. We have also already highlighted an infrastructure that cannot cope in the present day without thousands more homes added to the situation. How will this provide stability and benefits to North Hertfordshire residents - this is also a concern with a number of other developments that you are proposing?
We ask yet again, for the thousands of people that use the GA2 area and the huge amount of wildlife that inhabit it - please remove GA2 from the local plan. We still believe that in regards to the objections and comments we have made considering the green belt review, the over stating of housing needs, discrepancies with figures, that the plan is unsound and unjustified as it currently stands and again we would press that NHDC look at a third garden city which would not result in a devastating impact on current green belt, weakened infrastructures, thousands and thousands of residents already struggling and the huge number of species currently inhabiting some of the proposed development sites.
Proposed Main Modifications
Representation ID: 8268
Respondent: Mrs Cheryl Peers
Proposed Main Modifications
Representation ID: 8335
Respondent: Mr Tom Coates