Judges kick 7km ruling into touch

Ashdown Forest SUS-140226-090110001
Ashdown Forest SUS-140226-090110001

Wealden District Council’s controversial seven kilometre ‘no development’ ruling has been overturned by three of Britain’s top judges.

Lord Justice Richards sitting with Lords Justices Mcfarlane and Christopher Clarke upheld a challenge by landowners’ consortium, Ashdown Forest Economic Development LLP that the 7km zone policy should not stand.

The judges backed the consortium’s claim that the council had not considered reasonable alternatives to the policy. Lord Justice Richards said the council faced ‘a fundamental difficulty’ answering the group’s case and added: “There is in my view no evidence the council gave any consideration to the question of reasonable alternatives to the 7km zone.”

Their decision has been welcomed by some council members and former applicants.

Commercial land and property agent Chris Lawson told the Express: “It was an unacceptable and unworkable policy that hindered the economic health of communities within reach of the Forest, including areas which had long been designated for business use. It was ridiculous that small schemes were refused which would have offered local jobs to local people and reduced pollution by cutting numbers of vehicle movements away from the Forest. This is a victory for common sense. We now expect schemes which were on ice to come forward, particularly those which had permitted rights. A classic example of an incomprehensible refusal was the former surgery at April Cottage, Buxted where owners were told it could not revert to its original use as a home.”

Wealden has now agreed that specific references requiring SANGS (alternative green spaces) and on site visitor management measures will be removed from its Core Strategy Local Plan.

But councillors pointed out the Forest will still be protected and any schemes put forward must observe habitat regulations which aim to protect it. Cllr Ann Newton, planning cabinet member does not regard the court victory as a green light for development to re-start.

She said: “This disappointing Court of Appeal decision is on a technical legal point. The judge has not said the policy is incorrect, rather that we had not explicitly considered the alternatives. In practical terms the appeal outcome means that applicants will still have to prove to our satisfaction that their development will not cause damage to the Forest.

“We need to balance the need to deliver housing with protecting Wealden’s high quality environment.”

A council spokesman said: “We are hoping to produce some guidelines to help applicants whose proposal may affect the Ashdown Forest for next week, however each application will still have to be assessed individually.

Regarding those whose applications were previously turned down on the grounds of the 7km ruling - the Court order amending the wording of the policy is prospective and not retrospective - this means all applications that were refused in accordance with WCS12 were validly determined up to the date of the order July 9 2015 so they stand.

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