A success or a stay of execution?

A proposal to develop a site home to rare plants and animals has been turned down, but for how long

Back in August 2014 we were made aware of a planning application to develop the former cordite magazine, at Priddy’s Hard, Gosport. The site itself is designated for its nature conservation value at county level, a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC), and therefore we were opposed to the development on a point of principle.

The application was contrary to the Borough Councils own planning policies, therefore we also objected on those grounds. Furthermore we were concerned that the applicant had provided insufficient evidence to determine that the proposals would not adversely impact a European Protected Species, in this case great crested newt Triturus cristatus and other protected species for which the SINC had been designated.

Interestingly, the site once formed part of a larger area that had previously been developed for housing. As part of the previous permission, the current application site and the immediate area had been identified for retention for nature conservation and enhancement. Due to the presence of rare plants, great crested newts, badgers and reptiles the site was ultimately designated as a SINC.

Badger

© Andrew Parkinson - 2020Vision

Badgers are among the species known to be at Priddy's Hard

In the event Gosport Borough Council were unable to determine the application within the allotted time period, and the applicant subsequently appealed against ‘a failure to give notice within the prescribed period of a decision on an application for planning permission’. A planning inspector had to consider whether the proposals were;

  1. compatible with the site’s location in a SINC including whether it would be likely to harm protected species;
  2. would lead to the loss of open space in the area;
  3. would harm the character and appearance of the building; and
  4. whether there is a justified requirement to provide financial contributions towards off-site open space, designated adjacent nature conservation sites, and highway/transport infrastructure in the area and if so whether this has been provided by a S106 agreement.

In the Inspector’s opinion, the ecological surveys submitted with the application had not been sufficiently robust to enable him to conclude that no significant adverse impacts would occur if the building was converted to a dwelling.

He also concluded measures aimed at preventing future occupiers from accessing the rest of the wildlife site were vague and ill-defined. In his opinion a firmer and more detailed set of mitigation and enhancement measures was required, in order to, at least preserve, if not enhance the biodiversity importance of the site.

As such the proposal was contrary to Policies in the Gosport Borough Council Local Plan as well as parts of the National Planning Policy Framework.

The Inspector also had other non-ecological concerns with the proposals, which included the conversion plans. Gosport Borough Council valued the site as a non-designated heritage asset associated with a former MoD munitions factory and depot, and the inspector agreed with this, and that is was associated with the historical development of cordite magazines from the 18th Century onwards.

It is of course fantastic news that the Inspector has dismissed this appeal, and we are cautiously optimistic that this important county wildlife site will be protected for the future.

But it is extremely concerning that land that has been identified for retention for nature conservation and enhancement, as part of a larger residential development, can itself be sold to a developer. We may well seek clarification from the Council as to how this has been able to happen.

We are of course concerned that this will only be a short-lived success and that the appellant will come forward with a revised application, we can only hope that is not the case.