Council bans all new builds in bid to protect the forest

    Development

    WEALDEN Council has taken the unprecedented decision to impose a ban all new development within the district.

    It has done this on the perceived threat to the Ashdown Forest from nitrogen levels caused by any additional traffic arising from new developments.

    Wealden District Council state that as a planning authority they cannot guarantee that new vehicle movements, resulting from development anywhere in the district, will not involve routes near or through the Ashdown Forest and lead to environmental damage.

    The neighbouring authority also states that once compensation measures are in place, new development will be allowed to come forward up to the level set out in their own Local Plan and where it can be demonstrated that there are no additional vehicle movements.

    Wealden’s preferred option for compensation is for developers to provide comparable habitat which can be restored to lowland heath. But until such times as the compensation is in place, the Council is unable to determine any planning applications for development, regardless of whether they can demonstrate no additional vehicle movements.

    “This is not an approach taken by any of the other Local Authorities”

    The estate agents Batcheller Monkhouse have written an analysis on implications of Wealden’s decision, which was made following a meeting of the full council on March 22.

    They claim there is undersupply of housing in Wealden District that is ‘worse than originally thought’ and will be exacerbated by the council’s plans to reduce the number of dwellings it plans to build by 2028 from 14,101 to 11,456.

    “Wealden take the view that the legislation comprising the Habitats Directive which directs the protection of the Ashdown Forest effectively trumps issues of housing need for planning decision making,” the agency states, adding: “This is not an approach taken by any of the other Local Authorities.”

    They say the implications of Wealden District Council’s new approach ‘are significant and far reaching’ for anyone considering making an application, is in the process of preparing an application, or those whose applications are currently in the system but are still undetermined.

    Councillor Ann Newton, Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development at Wealden, explaining why the council feels it is vindicated on the development ban, said: “Because of the potential impact on the Ashdown Forest any new housing will need to come after compensation measures to restore and maintain our biodiversity are secured.

    “It is a fundamental principle set out in the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework that a Local Plan must balance housing and economic growth with protection and enhancement of the environment. As a designated competent authority it is our statutory duty to do so.”

    The approach of Wealden is in stark contrast to that being taken by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council which is due to launch a consultation on where to build 13,000 over the next 15 years – including the option of creating a brand new ‘garden village’ within the borough.