|Here Planning and Transport Chair, Graham Baker weighs in, with some frustrations, over the past year, full of mounting concerns of increased pressure on the Forest. Part of our series of Annual Reports relevant to our AGM on Saturday 21st April 2018.|
It is difficult to read the 2016 planning report and not to conclude that 2017 has been a largely wasted year. You will therefore excuse any frustrations that show.
There remains little between our Association and the National Park Authority (NPA) over individual planning applications. In the defined villages we are succeeding in coping with the need to increase central housing densities without disturbing the spacious nature elsewhere and coping with the reduction in retail outlets without losing the vitality of High Streets. Residents agree that the type of housing required is modest, suitable for younger people starting out and older people downsizing. But we are challenged by developers’ desire to build what is most profitable without regard to local need; currently this is managed flats for old people who can afford high charges.
Second home ownership and short-term letting are growing at a rate that could exceed the planned increase in housing numbers. This sometimes requires planning permission and it is always worth knowing the extent of the problem, so please let us know if it happening near to you.
In the countryside problems remain dispersed but accumulatively erode character and traditions. Commoning properties are sold to the extremely well off who then seek to convert their humble holding into something else. Extensions are maximised, tatty outbuildings are replaced by three car garages with fully equipped offices above, large loose boxes are replaced by a row of pretty stables, ménages replace a pleasing adjacent paddock and elaborate electric gates or cattle grids replace five bars. Any common grazing land owned outside the new fence is “tidied” – this usually means easing the entry of the Land Rover Evoque by dumping tonnes of gravel on common grazing land. Often these activities do not break planning rules. Where it does we seeks first to have the applicant reconsider and secondly seek refusal.
Discussions continue on the revised Local Plans of the National Park and NFDC. We have achieved protection for the NF Special Protection Area broadly similar to that of the Thames Basin Heaths. This caused several proposed housing sites to be withdrawn, but rather than reduce numbers, NFNPA sought more sites, previously considered unsuitable, to keep the likely new dwelling numbers at around 35 per annum. The average house price in the Park is £581,000, over 15 times average earnings and there is a desperate need for affordable homes for local people. The NPA recognise the problem but their solutions lack ambition. We believe a straightforward policy that all new housing should be affordable stands the best chance of resisting incessant government meddling and developer manipulation and that the NPA should accept a greater role in securing underutilised publicly owned land in the villages for development.
Since we have become a National Park, the NPA’s own data reports that the success of many species of ground and low nesting birds has suffered a “marked decline”. The universally agreed cause is disturbance from recreation and the extra dwellings being built around the New Forest will result in an additional million visitors per annum, considerably worsening the problem. Despite this it is difficult to find any action stemming from the NPA’s 75 page Recreational Management Strategy since its publication in 2010. The planning committee will do all it can to ensure the emerging Local Plans recognise recreational pressure on the National Park as the primary problem facing the New Forest and that compensation from developers is used in forthright measures to reverse the problem. The relocation or closure Forestry Commission car parks will be one of the most effective management tools in reducing disturbance and we have developed sophisticated mapping techniques to measure levels of disturbance from them.
In 2017, planning volunteers have scrutinised over 1,000 planning applications, responded to a dozen consultations, developed maps, maintained good relationships with the parishes, plotted aircraft routes and surveyed overhead cable routes (with some success the line south and west of Burley is to be buried in 2018). Our thanks go to them all.
Planning & Transport Committee Chair – Graham Baker