National Park Local Plan update

SDNP PlanYou may be wondering what has happened to the development of the South Downs National Park Local Plan. It is the most important planning document locally in Sussex within the park boundary.

The initial plan consultation started in Feb 2014, over 2 years ago. Last year there was a further public consultation. Since the end of Oct 2015 we haven’t had much news but now things are moving on.   This report provides an update on the development of the plan together with some other information. Here is a summary of my report:

The importance of the ‘Sanford principle’ in protecting national parks, key statutory duties of national parks and the importance of planning enforcement.

I hope this information will help those wishing to protect the national park in dealing with planning applications and potential planning infringements. If national parks are important to you please read on……..

I recently attended a presentation given by the Planning Director, Tim Slaney, of the National Park about the development of the document. He was supported by Lucy Howard, Planning Policy Manager and Robert Ainslie, Development Manager. Originally we were expecting further public consultations to be made sometime this year. This next stage of public consultation will now be delayed and may not take place until early next year, 2017. Once that consultation is over the plan will be updated and will go to the Secretary of State for consideration and possibly approval. However the work of developing the plan, so that is ready for early 2017, goes on. For instance this week the planning officers will be bringing amendments to some of the Core Policies to the National Park Planning Committee (10th March 2016). The changes proposed cover chapters 1 to 3 and Core Policies of the Publication or Pre-Submission South Downs Local Plan. Click HERE for agenda and reports. See  item 10 .

Also there are a number of clarifications in the document including reference to the ‘Sanford principle’. This principle says that where there is an irreconcilable conflict between the statutory purposes, statute requires the Sandford Principle to be applied and the first purpose of the National Park will be given priority. The first purpose being – ‘To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area.’

You may be wondering why am I going on about this? Well, in my experience of attending planning committees, reading planning officer reports and inspector reports as well as attending public planning hearings I am very surprised that on no occasion have I seen this principle referred to. If it had, I believe some of the decisions might have been somewhat different. Often, professionals and lawyers working for applicants try to get the planning officers and committee to focus on ‘economic justifications’ for allowing a planning application in a national park. Now this clarification has been made those of us who wish to protect the national park can refer an officer or an inspector to this Sanford principle.

Mr Slaney’s presentation was very helpful as he reminded us of the statutory purposes of the National Park in pursuance of the purposes of national parks. He referred to the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) important ‘UK Government Vision and Circular 2010‘ about national parks. He refined the different statements in this way – the statutory purposes of a national park are to be the authority for planning and  management of open access land. Obviously the planning responsibilities are fairly easy to understand but finding out what the other statutory purposes of the National Park are requires a little bit of digging. Reading the UK Government Vision and Circular 2010 one can find the list of national parks key legal requirements and functions in section 5 on page 31. This covers:

  • 5.1 National Park Management Plans and the Broads Plan
  • 5.2 Planning responsibilities of the Authorities
  • 5.3 Mineral Working in the Parks
  • 5.4 Old Minerals Permissions
  • 5.5 Recording, maintaining and promoting the rights of way
  • 5.6 Working Successfully with Local Access Forums
  • 5.7 Duty to co-operate in preparation of Local Area Agreements
  • 5.8 Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • 5.9 Conservation of Biodiversity
  • 5.10 Access to open country and the coast

For details of what national park responsibilities are regarding under item 5.10 (access to open country) see section 156 & 157 and these sections say:

The 2000 Act provides a right of access, for recreation on foot, to open country (mountain, moor, heath, down) and registered common land. About 470,000 hectares of open country and registered common land are now open to the public within the Parks in England. NPAs are the ‘relevant authority’ for access land within a Park boundary and responsible for determining applications from landowners for exclusions or restrictions of access for reasons of land management, fire prevention and to avoid danger to the public. NPAs may also restrict access for reasons of fire prevention and danger to the public without an application having been made, and to restrict access for reasons of  nature conservation or to protect sites of historical or archaeological importance.

NPAs have a vital role under the 2000 Act as ‘access authorities’ in managing public access to land in a Park. The Act includes powers for NPAs to make byelaws; appoint wardens; erect and maintain notices indicating boundaries; and to negotiate agreements with a landowner or occupier to provide means of access and undertake the necessary works themselves if such agreements cannot be reached.

Mr Slaney also referred to section 207 of the NPPF giving an emphasis on planning enforcement. Section 207 says:

Enforcement

  1. Effective enforcement is important as a means of maintaining public confidence in the planning system. Enforcement action is discretionary, and local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control. Local planning authorities should consider publishing a local enforcement plan to manage enforcement proactively, in a way that is appropriate to their area. This should set out how they will monitor the implementation of planning permissions, investigate alleged cases of unauthorised development and take action where it is appropriate to do so.

 

The presentation also looked at the development of the National Park from the time of the issuing of the State of the National Park Report in 2012. up to today and the current draft local plan. I have listed the 59 policies in this short document: click here.

Reference was also made to the Partnership Management Plan (PMP) which is not a statutory planning document but which is often referred to by planners and inspectors; in my belief incorrectly. The PMP was issued in 2015

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