MSDC let developers avoid scrutiny

Mid Sussex District Council have allowed the Screening Request by developers Persimmon & Thakeham which means there will not be a full Environmental Impact Assessment on Site SA13, which is a real cause for alarm given both the sensitivity of the site and how this will affect the amazing biodiversity it contains.

SOFLAG objected strongly to that request, as we felt that the site more than met the requirements under the Regulations, which include “the relative abundance, availability, quality and regenerative capacity of natural resources  (including soil, land, water and biodiversity) in the area”.

Planning Officer Stephen Ashdown dismissed this concern stating “there are no areas on or around the site which contain important high quality or scarce resources which could be affected by the project”   This is however not the case, as the site contains verified important EU and UK protected wildlife species which in fact clearly constitute “important and high quality” biodiversity resources.

To understand why this decision, and especially the timing of it, is important, please take a look at the following explanation. It was written by a founding member of SOFLAG whose phone call this week to Sally Blomfield, MSDC Divisional Lead for Planning, led to Ms Blomfield contacting the Senior Development Directors at both Persimmon and Thakeham for assurances that no major site clearance works would take place until any planning permission is granted.

The decision to grant the Screening Request flies in the face of document MSDC 20 which is the signed Statement Of Common Ground (SCG) between Mid Sussex District Council, the South Downs National Park Authority and the Developers for sites SA12 & SA13. This statement had a significant bearing on the Government Planning Inspector’s Decision to find the Site Allocations DPD sound with regard to SA12 & SA13.

That joint SCG clearly states

“It is critically important that all relevant authorities, including Mid Sussex District Council (MSDC), are required to have regard to the purpose of the SDNP. This is set out in Section 62 of the Environment Act 1995, which states that the first purpose of the National Park is: “to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area.”

“The SCG referred to above demonstrates that their signatories are committed to ensuring that all new development respects the setting of the SDNP, and to this end, they demonstrate that the parties have worked together to make policies SA12 and SA13 more sensitive to their potential impact on the SDNP and to introduce more effective mitigation than they were hitherto.”

With regard to SA13 they agreed to:

“Undertake an holistic approach to Green Infrastructure and corridors, including; retention of existing landscape features and enhancement with new native species-rich hedgerows, native tree planting and wildflower seeding in areas of open space to provide a matrix of habitats with links to the surrounding landscape.

To Provide a Habitat Management Plan detailing conservation and enhancement of all areas of Habitat of Principle Importance (HPI) (woodland, hedgerows and standing water); this shall include retention of a minimum of a 5 metre buffer around the HPI.

Conserve and enhance areas of wildlife value and ensure there is a net gain to biodiversity overall. Avoid any loss of biodiversity through ecological protection and enhancement, and good design.

Site SA13 is highly sensitive to change, high ecological value, southern part of the site is likely to be the most sensitive

This joint statement totally conflicts with the planning officer’s decision that SA13 does not merit a full EIA under Schedule 3.

From the date of the decision notice, it is clear that MSDC Planning must have reached their decision before all submissions, including one from Burgess Hill Town Council, had been received, and more significantly prior to the Council Meeting vote on adopting the Site Allocations DPD had even taken place. This gives more weight to the suspicion that it was always a done deal to develop Site SA13, whatever the environmental impact…

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