Is the planning system in a pickle?

As many readers may already be aware, a serious development threat to an SSSI has emerged in Dorset with national implications. In short, a developer has obtained planning permission for more than 100,000 solar panels on Rampisham Down near Dorchester. This is possibly the largest (76ha) remaining piece of lowland acid grassland in the country. The habitat will almost certainly be irrevocably damaged by the shading if the development goes ahead. The decision by the local council is all the more perverse because it went against the advice of their own planning officer, Natural EnglandDorset Wildlife Trust and several others. There is an alternative site across the road which we all support and hence flies in the face of the National Planning Policy Framework guidelines.  For more details on the actual planning application view documents through the Dorset Planning Portal.  

As with Lodge Hill in Kent, we (conservation campaigners & supporters) cannot allow nationally important SSSIs to be destroyed. We recognise and acknowledge the need for and support renewables in principle, but in the right place.

For readers not familiar with the cases, excellent synopses and updates can be found on Miles King excellent blog “a new nature blog”   King provides an excellent analysis of both Rampisham Down and Lodge Hill cases.  Mark Avery too along with Mike McCarthy.

SSSIs are supposed to be the best examples of their habitat kind, so what does this say about the planning system?  Might we be forgiven for suggesting that it appears to be in something of a pickle?

Dorset Wildlife Trust are asking for your support, as soon as possible given the short stay of execution (5th February), by asking your staff and members to go to the TWT campaign web page and send Eric Pickles a strong message that he needs to call in this decision. DWT believe that it would be really powerful if we could show the strength of concern about this and the precedent it could establish.

Thus far the DWT epetition has 5,347 – add your voice to theirs here?

The link to the e-action is http://wtru.st/SaveRDown .

Better still, write to the Secretary of State or phone his office and ask him to call the decision in, likewise contact Natural England and outline why they should defend SSSIs?  Contact details as follows:

No postal address or telephone number available for Mr Pickles via his constituency website, just an email form.  His Parliamentary, including Departmental contact details are available via www.parliament.uk where interestingly, no constituency office address is detailed.  It appears he can be tweeted …. @erickpickles otherwise email picklese@parliament.uk or try contact@communities.gsi.gov.uk  Imagine if those 5,347 and a few ‘moor’ emailed both addresses?  Do let us know if you get a response.

Natural England Head Office can be contacted via the GOV.UK website here.

Natural England, Foundry House, 3 Millsands, Riverside Exchange, Sheffield, S3 8NH, Telephone 0300 060 6000

Calls to this number will be answered by an external switchboard service. They will connect callers to Natural England staff who can deal with your enquiry. Please tell them the name of the person in Head Office you wish to speak to (where known).

Again, please do let us know how you get on.

DWT and indeed others are also talking with Natural England and will be writing directly to the Secretary of State asking him to ‘call in’ the planning decision.

If you remember Eric Pickles was the Minister who was going to give local communities more say in their neighbourhoods, particularly where planning and developments were concerned.  How many decisions have been overturned because they were outwith Government Policy irrespective of community wishes?

Rampisham Down is yet another example of development precedent over SSSIs?  Conservation is often left fighting a rear guard action through a failure by the collective conservation community to advocate for better protection, for a truly independent guardian of the natural environment.  Until there is a critical mass prepared to collaborate we will see continued erosion of special places and natural landscapes?

Greenblobpride

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