Regular readers of this blog will know that past statements by EN about the Lodge Hill site have made it clear, contrary to recent DEFRA statements, they they view biodiversity offsetting not as a means of offsetting residual impact but as a means of smoothing consents where the primary impact is negative. The statement below confirms it. It took the bravery of the inspector Laura Graham here to show that the test of whether there was an alternative site with less habitat loss impact had not been met.
In a letter to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS), Medway Council said that the decision to withdraw the document from examination was made on 21 November. The council said it will now start work on a new local plan.
In a statement issued this week, Medway Council said that the decision to withdraw the core strategy followed a decision from conservation adviser Natural England to confirm an SSSI covering a site earmarked for a new settlement.
The Lodge Hill site, a former Ministry of Defence facility on the Hoo Peninsula, had been allocated as a 5,000 home community in Medway Council’s draft core strategy.
But on 19 November, Natural England confirmed the site as an SSSI. Speaking after the decision, Poul Christensen, Natural England’s chairman, said: “The evidence clearly points to this site being one of the most important strongholds for nightingales in the country. Confirming this land as an SSSI gives the clearest possible recognition of this.”
Natural England said in a statement that the SSSI status “does not determine whether or not development can go ahead; this is a matter for the planning system”.
The adviser added that, “in order to contribute to sustainable development, we will consider carefully any proposals for a habitat creation scheme to offset the impacts on the special wildlife of the site, should development proceed”.
Natural England had said in March that it was minded to designate the location as an SSSI because of the presence of nightingales.
In June, the council was told by inspector Laura Graham that because of this, and the lack of alternative sites, the document should be withdrawn and a new plan drawn up.
Given that EN now have a political placeman in charge we will see what difference this makes.