Fulford battlefied under threat

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Summary of published report

Archaeology work
Precautionary principle
Supervisory failures
Site's potential

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3. Ecology

3.1. The Fulford battlefield site links the Ings, most of which is designated as an SSSI, and an extensive green area including Heslington Common and Walmgate Stray. This represents one of York’s green wedges that links the countryside to the urban landscape. The site is not only of historic importance but is invaluable for its ecological context. The call-in letter asks about conflict with PPG 9. The fragility of this historic landscape will now be explored.

3.2. Flooding has been identified as a problem. However, it must be remembered that regular floods maintain the local landscape.

  • 3.2.1. According to PPG 25, “planning authorities should recognise the importance of functional flood plains, where water flows or is held at times of flood, and avoid inappropriate development on undeveloped and undefended flood plains”.
    • Having worked alongside Germany Beck for so many years, its importance as a reservoir and drain can be appreciated. It is a dynamic system and the work of the group has revealed much about the interaction of the beck and the Ings.
    • This is a fragile ecology and the water feeds the Ings which is an area that is recognised as a protected, rare environment. No ecological study has been conducted about the effects that any changes in water flow from the development will have.
  • 3.2.2. The same planning guidance recommends that the “planning authorities should apply the precautionary principle to the issue of flood risk, using a risk-based search sequence to avoid such risk where possible and managing it elsewhere”. The possibility that the proposed pond system might release extra nutrients, pesticides, algaecides or other toxic material as run-off from the proposed development has not been assessed but could be disastrous and not allowed because of the status of the Ings. An investigation is required.
  • 3.2.3. The choice of the natural drain of Germany Beck, created when the last ice sheet retreated, as the route for the single access road, fails both of the tests set out in the planning guidance.
    • First, the impact that the re-engineering will have on the Ings environment has not been assessed. The proposal must be seen as the sort of inappropriate development referred to in the planning guidance.
    • Second, the precautionary principle demands that this ancient drain is not dramatically altered in the way proposed.
    • The archaeological evidence allows us to model ‘land height growth’ and the impact it will have on future flooding for this area. The Ings are making their way very slowly along the beck.
  • 3.2.4. So flooding must be assessed in terms of the sustainable ecology of the beck. The impact of the unspecified gates, sluices, pumps and anti-reflux valves should have been assessed before permission was granted and must be done now before using Germany Beck as the access is considered.

3.3. Germany Beck is a vital ecological corridor where the needs of heritage and ecology are coincident which is why it has green belt status.

  • 3.3.1. There is some argument about the general status of the site as green belt land in the development. There is however, no dispute that the access road is planned along a section that is clearly marked in the draft plan as green belt. The loss of this particular green belt land is small but it must be considered highly significant until its potential importance has been fully investigated.
  • 3.3.2. PPG15 defines the purpose of reserving land for Green Belts "to provide a reserve supply of public open spaces and of recreational areas and to establish a green belt or girdle of open space". English Heritage and others have expressed a powerful case for preserving the green belt around York so those arguments are not rehearsed here. However, even within the draft city plan, Germany Beck is an area of Green Belt and it is proposed that this is covered to provide the access road. This is unacceptable.
  • 3.3.3. It appears that the COYC is looking towards the ring road as the new belt or limit for the city. If the plan to surround the city in a black rather than a green belt this must be the subject of proper public consultation and agreement.

3.4. The ‘very special circumstances’ case made by developers does not stand up to examination.

  • 3.4.1. They claim that there is a pressing need for housing in the area.
    • Various correspondents have contributed figures to the inquiry about the number of empty houses in the area and it would be possible to engage in an inconclusive argument about the management of the supply by property developers to ensure that prices are not depressed.
    • A report in the planning file at COYC indicates that housing supply calculations (until 2011) show 1,820 homes on the drawing board giving a crude oversupply of 1,091 against their government-imposed target. This represents, in crude terms, a 60% oversupply of housing units up to 2011. So there is no rush to develop this site.
    • 3.4.2. ‘Community benefits’ are claimed for removing the green belt but these benefits are not listed and it is very hard to see how the noise and visual impact that the access road along the green belt will offset any of the unspecified gains. Given that the community is going to suffer a dramatic increase in traffic congestion the developers need to provide a list of the benefits to the community for sacrificing their green belt. There are comments later on the lack of information and local consultation so it is only the developer who is assessing these supposed community benefits.
    • 3.4.3. Allocation of the site in the draft city plan is repeated as points 5 and 6 in the ‘very special’ case presented by the developers.
      • Elsewhere it is pointed out that planners cannot simply ignore all the other planning rules simply because an area has been earmarked for some purpose in a plan. Any plan confers no more than permission to investigate. The planners must still enforce the planning regulations which they have failed to do here. These failures are investigated in section 4.
      • The statement made by the developers is wrong in claiming that all of the green belt had been allocated in the draft plan for housing development. The city draft plan unambiguously preserves the route selected for the single access road as green belt for the very good ecological reasons. It is therefore hard to find words to dismiss this ‘special circumstance’ claimed for taking away the green belt.
  • 3.4.4. The claim that the land does not ‘contribution to the purposes of the green belt’ has been dealt with by the paper from English Heritage. The assertion also ignores the importance of this ecological corridor for which no investigation is presented. This is one of many examples in the planning documents from the developers and city planners inject expressions of what they would like to be true into their paperwork but for which there is no supporting evidence or analysis.
  • 3.4.5. Even if all the other arguments, cases and causes set out in this paper for refusing permission to build the access road on the route that is proposed, this issue of pre-existing protection should alone prevent the construction.

3.5. Minister wants to know if the development plan accords with advice in paras 17& 18 of the planning guideline.

“17. The Government is committed to protecting and enhancing the quality of the natural and historic environment, in both rural and urban areas. Planning policies should seek to protect and enhance the quality, character and amenity value of the countryside and urban areas as a whole. A high level of protection should be given to most valued townscapes and landscapes, wildlife habitats and natural resources. Those with national and international designations should receive the highest level of protection.

“18. The condition of our surroundings has a direct impact on the quality of life and the conservation and improvement of the natural and built environment brings social and economic benefit for local communities. Planning should seek to maintain and improve the local environment and help to mitigate the effects of declining environmental quality through positive policies on issues such as design, conservation and the provision of public space.”

  • 3.5.1. No extra commentary is offered on these paragraphs as their relevance to the proposed development are clear. These official documents set out the policy that has been carefully prepared for the guidance of planners and developers. The present proposals fail the test set. Later in this paper, alternative ways to improve the environment and the economic benefit that the environment can deliver is discussed [5].

3.6. The minister also asks about paragraphs 33-39 of PPS 1 which looks at the design. Sadly, the planners can have little effective influence over the detailed design with such large developments. For a project of this size, the officers do not have the resources to micro-manage the project and ensure that the guidance is followed. The record of Persimmon is not good.

  • 3.6.1. The report from last November by Lord Rogers criticises ‘shoddy’ house builders and poor design among the big house builders. Persimmon claim to be the biggest builder of houses in England.
  • 3.6.2. Ninety-four per cent of new private housing built over the last three years in the north of England fails to measure up on design quality, according to an audit published by CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.
  • 3.6.3. An article in the Yorkshire Post of 22 November 2005 commenting on the CABE report lists a few successful projects but Persimmon is not among them.
  • 3.6.4. The BBC also carried a report a report about the CABE findings and named the estate in Consett built by Persimmon as ‘ the worst new development’.
  • 3.6.5. Catherine Riley writing in The Times on the 18 November 2005 looked behind the views about aesthetics to see if the estate, nevertheless worked for the residents. The majority felt is was ‘average’ and just 6% rated it as good. In the independent survey quoted in The Times it is worth noting that the residents were particularly critical of the need to rely on a car, poor bus links and felt that the sales literature mentioned services that were never delivered.
  • 3.6.6. We can have no confidence that the needs of the new residents will be met under the development model proposed.
  • 3.6.7. Some stringent conditions need to be applied to ensure that the guidance of PPS 1 is followed. If this requires the developer to fund additional planning controls costs such a condition should be imposed. The developers must also be obliged to fulfil their responsibilities to consult the community, as set out in the guidance, and act in a responsive way to the suggestions raised [See 5.3 5.4 7].

3.7. The bio-diversity of this site is impressive as anybody who has walked the area for many years can confirm. Regrettably, there has not been a before and after study to confirm the impression that shooting, especially the nocturnal ‘lamping’ reported to the land agent has not already degraded the wildlife. The land that forms part of this development, links the ancient grazing land of Heslington Common through the network of waterways to the SSSI on the Ings and then to the river Ouse. This is an active conduit as the footprints of several species of rodents can be identified in the soft mud along the banks. This proposal will cut this conduit.

3.8. No formal landscape character assessment has been undertaken which makes it impossible to follow the guidance that “it would not be onerous to undertake further analysis against those criteria at the development control level.” (PPS22 15.1)

3.9. The suggestion in the PPS is that this discussion about the landscape should form part of an on-going local consultative process. It also makes it clear that the ecological and the visual impact on the landscape must be debated as separate issues.

3.10. This development must now be subject to this public scrutiny not only because of its special environmental location but also to preserve the visual context of the battle site. The planning process should, at the very least, revert to a point where these issues can be debated. The problems encountered when one tried to enter into a debate with the developers are discussed later.

3.11. There is no economic model to assess the importance of an environment or the bio-diversity of which Germany Beck is such an important part. This is why Planning Policy Statement 9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation (PPS9) has a list of key principles which should be applied.

  • 3.11.1. Those who are familiar with this environment would suggest that every one of the six principles has been ignored by this development.
  • 3.11.2. Paragraph 12 emphasises the importance of considering the natural network and not the assess places in isolation. The role of Germany Beck in its ecological context has not been assessed.
  • 3.11.3. The policy set out in PPS9 is clear. It is the whole environment, or habitat that should be preserved especially where protected species are present. A proper study must be undertaken before a planning decision is made to inform the planning decision.
  • 3.11.4. This is the same process of ‘investigation before any planning decisions’ that was urged in connection with the battlefield archaeology.

3.12. The antiquity of this conduit is in little doubt.

  • 3.12.1. The developer’s desk-top study assessed the date of the hedge along Germany Beck, at the eastern edge of the site, to be 1000 years old. Sadly, much of this has been grubbed out but the good news is that many of the willow trees have survived and are remerging.
  • 3.12.2. To the west of the A19, outside the development area, another ancient hedge is visible which is estimated to be 1000 years old.
  • 3.12.3. While the linking hedge has been lost, laying 300 metres of road along this ancient waterway will cause permanent damage to the complex environment of the Ings and the extensive hinterland if the road is built.
  • 3.12.4. It is unacceptable that the hedges have not been studied and the impact of the development assessed. Paragraphs 7 and 8 of PPS9 state that areas adjacent to SSSIs “should be given a high degree of protection under the planning system”. This has not happened.

3.13. A formal assessment must be undertaken before any decision is made. All of this should have been undertaken during the planning process and included consultations. As with the archaeology, this assessment work should have been done before the matter was considered or brought to a planning decision. The planning process should, at the very least, be restarted so that the proper procedures and be carried out.

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The site was updated  14 June 2011