VARNDEAN COLLEGE'S APPEAL AGAINST THE DECISION BY BRIGHTON AND HOVE'S PLANNING COMMITTEE TO REFUSE OUTLINE PLANNING PERMISSION ON VARNDEAN GREEN HAS BEEN DISMISSED BY THE PLANNING INSPECTORATE.
Thank you so much for your support. We fought and won this because of the community coming together.
Varndean College planned to sell off some of its land which is currently designated as a nature reserve to build just 10 houses.
We were concerned that:
This application is for outline planning permission. The full application may be far more intrusive and destructive.
The proposal sets a dangerous precedent for more development on the Varndean campus and elsewhere. Any green space in Brighton and Hove will be at risk. Plans are also confirmed for a full size, net covered all- weather sports pitch on the campus near Surrenden Crescent.
A new road will be built behind and crossing the footpath, destroying the hedgerow, creating even more traffic and congestion with major safety risks for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists and ruining the view.
A biodiversity reserve will be destroyed. Developed in 2010 with the support of the Council and Butterfly Conservation, the reserve is home to colonies of legally protected butterflies like the Small Blue.
The proposed modern houses are not in keeping with the the local area. The view of the housing from the road will be of the garages and a semi-basement frontage. They will be very unattractive, block the view over Brighton and overlook the sports field, risking the privacy of our young students.
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Please get the message out that this development is only for 10 houses. The average house price likely to be in excess of 700k. This development will not address the housing problems in Brighton, or be affordable for most Brighton residents.
What are the key concerns?
Biodiversity status of the proposed site
1.1 The status of the site
Varndean College designated the proposed building site a biodiversity reserve in July 2010 with support from Brighton and Hove Council (who committed resources to help create the natural conditions for a butterfly and wildlife haven) and the Butterfly Council (a national NGO). It was a community project, with local primary school children helping to seed new wild flowers in the Varndean site in the early stages of the project.
The proposed development will destroy the biodiversity reserve whilst only creating 10 houses – most of which are likely to cost in excess of 700,000 pounds so are unlikely to meet the needs of local residents.
In the Brighton and Hove (2005) City Plan, this site and area was not identified as suitable for additional housing development.
1.2 Impact on protected species and local wildlife
The site is part of a nationally recognised butterfly conservation project across the Varndean College, Varndean School and Dorothy Stringer school sites. This particular site is well established and will produce very valuable ecological and scientific data moving forwards as part of a 25 – 30 year plan (ref: Dr Danahar). It is particularly special because it allows the development of biodiversity on a site that exactly replicates natural chalk down-land conditions (unlike the other sites) and so is of particular scientific importance. Varndean College also uses the site for its environmental science A level students.
The sites are the home for established rare butterfly colonies including the chalk hill blue, white-letter hairstreak and the Varndean site contains a legally protected schedule 8 butterfly – the small blue Cupido minimus (Dr Dan Danahar, 2017; Sussex Branch of Butterfly Conservation) https://twitter.com/ButterflyDan/status/889851370668527619). Other butterfly colonies on the Varndean site include the large white, common meadow brown, red admiral, common blue and small copper.
Maintaining all sites are very important as they create ‘islands’ in built up areas. Such a patchwork of habitat is a way to let species move – if one goes it becomes much harder to maintain populations across other sites. The Varndean College site is also a unique way station for wildlife moving between Withdean Woods and Park to the south and the South Downs to the north. - creating a unique transit corridor. This corridor – and the development of aspects of it – was part of a programme of work conducted to offset the environmental impact of a previous housing development in the local area.
The preliminary ecological survey conducted by Calluma Ecological Services on behalf of Varndean College was not conducted on the site and failed to mention the significance of the site and the presence of the protected Small Blue butterfly. It remains unclear what other significant protected biodiversity is present on the site given the lack of an independent and thorough ecological report in the planning application process. Their report does suggest more work needs to be done on the negative impact that removing this site may have for bats. Further, the appraisal does not take into account species of fauna and flora which may be protected under UK law.
A large number of small elm trees are located within the site (providing food-plant of
larval white-letter hairstreak butterfly), some of which would be taken down in the proposed plans, and several mature elms grow along the western boundary. An old and established hedgerow will also be destroyed. The copse is also part of the designated biodiversity reserve and is home or roost to many different bird species (including lesser spotted and green woodpeckers, magpies, jays, wood pigeons, crows, rooks, mistle and song thrushes, chaffinches, green finches, goldfinches, robins, wrens, and various tits), owls, butterflies and moths, and bats (which can be seen flying around the area on summer evenings). Bats also thrive because they are able to feed on the plentiful insects in the heathland section on the Varndean College site.
Given the above, it is concerning that Varndean College describe the site as ‘unused’ land in their planning application, whilst in a separate part of their planning reports they also make it clear that the proposed development site includes a 'Biodiversity Reserve'. In their outline planning application, Varndean College have proposed that the biodiversity site is moved to a different part of the campus. In practice, this is not possible because the site they have selected is the main walkway from the top of the field (next to the current biodiversity site) to three large schools and two colleges. This means that a large number of students walk directly through the area identified for the new site. The location of the new site is also next to the garden gates of residences and does not provide the unique conditions that the current sites provides - a hillside, chalk and downland reserve.
There has already been very significant media interest in the biodiversity sites around Varndean College, Varndean School and Dorothy Stringer School (including this site), because of its particular scientific and ecological importance. This includes CNN and BBC filming, with David Bellamy, Nick Baker (naturalist and TV presenter) and Caroline Lucas all having visited the site.
2. Legal and planning concerns
What are the key concerns?
The site is an established biodiversity reserve, containing many important species including the protected small blue butterfly. The Small Blue butterfly is in decline and the UK has taken steps to halt its decline by taking steps to enhance its habitat and connecting habitats. In Britain, the Small Blue is listed on Schedule 9 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act and is fully protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order (1985).
Making planning decisions without due consideration of priority species (such as bats and protected butterflies) is contrary to the Natural Environment & Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 which applies to all public organisations, including local authorities. Section 40 of the Act states ‘Every public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity.’ We are also concerned about impact on the local bat population; under s.41 of the Act, bats are listed by Defra as a priority species for the conservation of biodiversity. In England and Wales this duty falls under Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006.
Other restrictions include:
Under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended): the local distribution or abundance of the species to which they belong, or damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place (roost) of a bat.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981(as amended): intentionally, recklessly or deliberately disturb a roosting or hibernating bat i.e. disturbing it whilst it is occupying a structure or place used for shelter or protection)
Conservation priority species comprising the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), such as the White-letter Hairstreak and Small Blue, will be directly impacted by the proposed development.
LPAs (Local Planning Authorities) are a competent authority under Regulation 7(1) of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended), under which they must have regard to the requirements of the Habitats Directive. The Directive includes a strict system of protection for certain European Protected Species (EPS) including bats. These requirements have been implemented by Part 3 of the Habitats Regulations so LPAs must have regard to the contents of Part 3 prior to granting planning permission where European protected species – such as bats - may be affected. In England and Wales this duty falls under Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006.
The presence of a protected species is a material consideration, when an LPA is considering a development proposal that, if carried out, would be likely to result in harm to the species or its habitat (ODPM 06/2005, paragraph 98).
Developers must comply with any statutory species protection issues affecting the site (ODPM 06/2005, paragraph 98).
Local Planning – the proposal does not satisfy City Plan Policy (CP) 12 which states that proposals “should conserve or enhance the city’s built and archaeological heritage and its settings, protect or enhance strategic views into and out of the city and be inclusive, adaptable and accessible” as it does not protect or enhance strategic views. Please also note that CP 12 is not satisfied as the proposal for development has not submitted “details to show that adequate consideration has been given to landscape design at an early stage in the design process”. Local Plan Policy QD15 is also not satisfied as the proposal does not show a “high quality landscaping materials appropriate to the site” or “retention and enhancement of nature conservation features and a contribution to the Greenway network where the location is appropriate” as the proposal will remove the Small Blue butterfly conservation feature.
A similar planning proposal for 50 houses in 2002 on the Varndean College campus was rejected on the basis that "the proposal is considered to involve an unacceptable loss of playing fields and open space contrary to (planning policy) guidance and unacceptable development of housing on a greenfield site not allocated in the .....Local Plan". Circumstances have not changed. In the Brighton and Hove (2005) City Plan, this site and area was not identified as suitable for additional housing development.
The proposed building site meets the EFA definition of playing fields in s.77(7) of SSFA 1998, being ‘land in the open air which is provided for the purposes of physical education or recreation, other than any prescribed description of land’. This definition as stated, includes:
marginal areas, around the edges of playing fields for run-off and to allow for the cyclical realignment of pitches; and
habitat areas, set aside for the formal teaching of nature or informal curriculum purposes, including meadowland, wildlife habitats (including ponds), gardens, nature trails and outdoor science areas. Allotment gardens are included in the definition as well as woodland habitat areas.
2.2 Design concerns
Means of Access - Accessibility has only been analysed directly within site but does not include all routes to the site. For example, we need to understand how increased traffic will impact on the safety of infants attending Balfour Infant School who make use of Surrenden Campus. The Design and Access Statements submitted do not provide this level of information.
Landscaping - There is little information on landscaping. Landscaping should illustrate what steps have been taken to eliminate any visual impacts incurred by stakeholders. This includes the views of residents at the front and back of the properties. For example residents on Balfour Road, Surrenden Road and Friar Road will be directly affected. The design does not satisfy the Urban Design Policy of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) because the development is not visually attractive and does not provide appropriate landscaping to reduce visual impacts.
The proposal does not satisfy the Local Plan Policy QD15 because it does not show “high quality landscaping materials appropriate to the site” or “retention and enhancement of nature conservation features and a contribution to the Greenway network where the location is appropriate” as the proposal will result in the removal of habitat critical for priority conservation species such as the White-letter Hairstreak and Small Blue Butterflies.
2.3 Consultation process
Towards the end of the consultation process, an FOI request was raised by Green Varndean Action Group. 69 responses had been received by the College - 68 objections and one comment. It is of concern that Varndean College stated in the Outline Planning Application that “it is considered that all of the concerns listed above have been addressed in full within this application submission”. Given the number of objections received, Green Varndean Action Group also consider the following statement made in a Varndean Collge December newsletter to parents and carers untrue: “Varndean College undertook a pre-application consultation by form of a leaflet drop to our nearest neighbours directly adjoining the application site, and their concerns have been addressed in full within the application submission. The Council will now also undertake a period of public consultation, allowing all interested parties to have their say”. It is noted that the newsletter was sent to 1200 parents and carers.