Highcliffe and Walkford Parish Council has reconsidered its position on Jesmond Avenue

Jesmond Avenue, Highcliffe, Dorset

Highcliffe and Walkford Parish Council has reconsidered its position on the Jesmond Avenue planning application and will now advise BCP Council it formally objects to the scheme.

The council held a special meeting on Wednesday (March 3).

Additional information had come to light from a number of organisations since the council last considered the scheme in December.

The application has also raised significant concern among local residents.

Planning lead Cllr Willie McNeill outlined the latest developments to members including reports from the Woodland Trust, Natural England and BCP itself.

A proposal from vice chairman Cllr Andy Martin was agreed unanimously.

It said: In the light of the additional information made available since HWPC last considered the Jesmond Avenue planning application particularly in relation to ecological and environmental issues, the parish now formally objects to the application and wishes to advise BCP Council of its position.’

The council has sent the following submission to BCP Council.

The application has been designated as a ‘green corridor’ in the Christchurch and East Dorset Local Plan since 2001, providing an important ecological corridor linking Nea Meadows and Chewton Common, and the site is included in a Tree Preservation Order.

This corridor is confirmed as part of the Dorset Ecological Network, and will be reduced from 56m wide to around 10m under this application.

The saved Policy ENV 15 (Christchurch Local Plan, 2001) states that “development proposals adjacent to or within a green corridor will be expected to respect its function and integrity.

Where a proposal is likely to prejudice a green corridor, its enhancement or expansion will be sought as part of the proposal.” The application does propose a green corridor, but by comparison to the existing woodland, this is narrow and does not provide the same scale of usage for wildlife as the existing corridor habitat.

For instance, at least 7 species of bats have been identified as using and foraging in the corridor and its width provides darkness for bats to use away from lighting. Reduction in the corridor width will reduce its “function and integrity” and increase light pollution within it. The corridor is recognised as part of the Dorset Ecological Network both as high value habitat which is important for foraging and breeding species such as woodland birds and bats.

The Arboriculturally Report identifies at least one veteran tree, with a number nearing veteran stage. A Tree Preservation Order (TPO) covers the site and the woodland is of high amenity value to the character of the area.

Housing is proposed close to TPO trees which means that there will be future pressure to fell or prune them as they grow, as well as the felling of TPO trees to facilitate the development. The development will therefore impact on TPO trees and the character of the area, being contrary to Core Strategy, Christchurch and East Dorset Local Plan Policies HE2 and HE3.

Reflecting their ecological importance and irreplaceable nature, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which protects ancient woodland and veteran trees (whether mapped or not), provides special protection – NPPF Paragraph 175c - ‘Development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons….” Therefore, this woodland site should be assessed before any decision is made on the planning application as in suggested by the Woodland Trust

The site’s current broadleaf habitat is identified by Defra as a Priority Habitat of biodiversity value, as part of the ecological network, which is also of importance to the Council’s declared (December 2019) climate and ecological emergency as a carbon sink.

National Planning Policy Framework Paragraph 118(a) states that planning policies and decisions should “encourage multiple benefits from both urban and rural land, including through mixed use schemes and taking opportunities to achieve net environmental gains – such as developments that would enable new habitat creation or improve public access to the countryside”. This proposed development does not enable new habitat creation, it does the opposite and takes away valuable ecological and biodiverse habitat.

Core Strategy, Christchurch and East Dorset Local Plan Policy ME1 “aims to protect, maintain and enhance the condition of all types of nature conservation sites, habitats, and species within their ecological networks …” This site is part of the Dorset Ecological Network and the proposal is contrary to the policy of protecting its unique features, amenity value and biodiversity.