The total block on housing development posed by the Ashdown Forest seven kilometre ‘no build’ policy imposed by Wealden District Council is being eased.
After fears were expressed that the area would grind to a halt economically, moves are being made to allow development in the north of the District ‘without harming the internationally-protected habitat’, a council spokeswoman says.
Wealden’s Cabinet approved the creation of a ‘revolving infrastructure fund’ to support creating alternative natural green spaces (SANGS) which allow new development in the area without damaging wildlife.
A sum of £5million - replenished by contributions from the Community Infrastructure Levy and New Homes bonus - has been set aside to fund the project.
A key requirement of SANGS will be setting up circular walks in a natural landscape with adequate car parking.
Planning cabinet member Cllr Ann Newton said: “These will be extra green spaces, similar to a country park, for the benefit of everyone. To be successful they must make best use of the existing landscape to excite the feeling of wild, open spaces and woodland. We are already working with private developers in Crowborough and Uckfield on suitable SANGS arrangements but we still need to consider investment in early delivery. These provisions will safeguard the outstanding ecology that is part of our growing District. They will help ensure that economic growth, and the benefits it brings, continue.”
Money will be paid as developments in the District’s local plan take place.
The Council has also drawn up SANGS guidelines which can be found on its website. The Council is working with the Conservators of Ashdown Forest and neighbouring local authorities to agree managing access and monitoring measures, called SAMMs, to alleviate visitor pressure. Monitoring nitrogen levels has already begun and a full year of air quality monitoring data is expected next year.
Approving the measures, Cabinet made it clear that they would not result in an increase of the housing allocation in the Local Plan. Developers will continue to be required to demonstrate that any developments not included in the Local Plan will not increase the amount of nitrogen deposits within the Ashdown Forest.
However the decision fails to provide local jobs or safeguard the area’s commercial health, says Chris Lawson of Uckfield specialists Lawson Commercial. His advice: “Watch this space and see how it all works out.”