Good afternoon, I am Carl Valentine and I am Head of Service for the Environment Division within the Economy, Transport and Environment Department of ESCC. I would like to make it clear from the outset that I am not an environmental specialist, I am a Chartered Civil Engineer and have many years experience of maintaining and developing new highways infrastructure, working in conjunction with environmental specialists. Within ESCC i am responsible for managing the Environment Service which includes waste, environmental advice, emergency planning, gypsies and travellers and the AONB High Weald Unit. I am here today to give you the broader view of the CC rather than the specialised view of one of my environmental advisors. The policies we are discussing today, in particular those arising from the Lawton review and the National Ecosystem Assessment, will have wide ranging implications for Local Authorities, however, I shall concentrate on those related to planning, particularly in the context of sustainable development and I shall explore the issues for ESCC in providing new infrastructure for it’s residents.
The breadth of work covered by my department alone illustrates the wide range of roles and responsibilities the CC has. At the broadest level we act as land owners, land managers, developers and as the local Planning Authority.
We have a responsibility to provide vital new infrastructure for the community – which can be a challenge from an environmental aspect Schools Waste facilities such as the ERF at Newhaven Transport Infrastructure which will facilitate economic development. As planning authority we need to consider the need and appropriateness for other infrastructure such as Housing Hospitals New business development
In meeting government policy, we also have to be mindful of various legal requirements that we are beholden too. Biodiversity is a core component of sustainable development, underpinning economic development and prosperity, and has an important role to play in developing locally distinctive and sustainable communities. We can’t do our job of developing new infrastructure without the resources that nature provides us with. We are also responsible for managing large parts of the environment that brings in a substantial part of the local tourist pound (e.g. The Cuckmere Estuary), and we have to ensure that the waste products of some of our economic activities don’t pollute our environment. So we have a wide ranging role in ensuring the natural environment can function in a productive and sustainable way. In 2006, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act placed a duty on all Public Authorities to have regard to the conservation of biodiversity in exercising their functions. The duty aims to raise the profile of biodiversity, to clarify existing commitments and to make biodiversity an integral part of policy and decision making. We therefore need to ensure that we address this duty throughout all our various functions, and development control is clearly an area where we need to consider appropriate mitigation as well as providing an obvious opportunity to address the issue of enhancement.
If we are to meet our biodiversity duty, as well as the multitude of other duties placed upon local government, the principles of sustainable development should be embedded in all plans and policies. As a LPA, ESCC therefore has three key roles to meet through the planning system; an economic role, a social role and an environmental role. Finding the balance is not always simple, especially around the grey areas of protection and enhancement of the natural environment, and judgements have to be made based on technical expertise and experience and best available information. However, as long as development is planned and undertaken responsibly, there doesn’t necessarily need to be a contradiction between increased levels of development and protecting and enhancing the environment. The landscape in which we work and live is constantly evolving, the challenge is to manage change well, to provide the most effective economic, social and environmental outcomes.
Within this context, I’m now going to highlight some of the policies which will have the greatest implications for LAs within the planning process and to give some examples of how we are already working towards sustainable development. One of the commitments within the Natural Environment White Paper is the creation of Local Nature Partnerships, which in time will help to deliver Nature Improvement Areas. Later, I will touch briefly on how we already work in partnership both with other organisations and with the community, and also how we are intending to strengthen this work. Again, much has already been done across the County to identify Biodiversity Opportunity Areas, which provide a sound basis for us to consider as part of wider Nature Improvement Areas, and to embed within the strategic planning framework of LDFs and the WMDF. In terms of powers to protect and improve the environment, in addition to various statutory instruments relating to the protection of species and habitats, and more broadly the biodiversity duty mentioned earlier, the White Paper gives us new powers and duties to improve the health of local people. There’s clear evidence that links a quality environment to improved health outcomes for those suffering from poor health, for instance, through providing opportunities for people to be active in green open spaces that are easily accessible from where they live.
I would also like to highlight some of the core principles within the draft National Planning Policy Framework, because whilst the Natural Environment White Paper makes some high level commitments, the Framework incorporates those commitments into a more practical format. Again, the Framework is anchored around sustainable development. Core principles include the development of a positive long-term vision for an area which takes account of environmental quality or potential quality and that seeks to protect and enhance environmental and heritage assets. As it is proposed that the default answer to development proposals will be “yes”, it is vital for us to make sure that the policies within our development plans are robust, up-to-date and based on the best available evidence. The draft Framework seeks to identify priority areas for economic regeneration, infrastructure provision and environmental enhancement, encouraging solutions which support reductions in emissions and congestion and facilitate economic growth. There are proposed policies for the restoration and aftercare of land previously used for minerals and/or waste, and these in turn can provide opportunities to improve people’s access to the countryside with the knock-on health benefits. In terms of development management, Local Authorities are identified as having a key role to play in encouraging all parties, to take maximum advantage of the pre-application stage. Such discussion enables better coordination between public and private resources and results in improved outcomes for the community. A key consideration for us is that ¾ of the County has some form of statutory environmental designation, notably the SDNP and the High Weald AONB, as well as international, national and locally designated sites.
For the rest of my presentation, I am now going to run through some practical examples of how we are seeking to address these various duties and policies. The examples I have chosen cover partnership working and community engagement, projects to improve access to the environment in areas of deprivation, and the difficult balance that sometimes exists between development and environmental protection and enhancement.
The community engagement work recently completed for the Cuckmere Estuary, funded through the Defra pathfinder project, is a classic example of ESCC having multi-functional roles and needing to remain objective. We are one of the main landowners within the Estuary, owning the land and properties on the east side. As the Highways Authority, we have responsibilities to maintain the road and the bridge, and to maintain the various public rights of way that run through the area. In addition, we have a role to play in recording, protecting and enhancing the high quality landscape, heritage and natural environment of the area. The decision by the Environment Agency to withdraw from maintenance of flood protection within the estuary, whilst based on sound economic and environmental principles, led to considerable local outcry, unsurprising given that in a recent survey carried out by the National Park Authority, the Seven Sisters Country Park came out as the most loved site within the whole National Park.
With an aim to reach consensus amongst the community about the best option for long term management of the estuary in the light of the predicted impacts of climate change, the Council undertook a comprehensive community engagement exercise. Led by a project board made up of key partners, including representatives from the Cuckmere Community Forum, the project commissioned a range of research on subjects including landscape, the historic environment and economic impacts, all of which helped provide a sound evidence base to inform a decision on the best options for future management. The community decided that what it wanted, above all else, was to ensure the long term survival of the iconic meanders. To achieve this a compromise has been reached, between maintaining the flood defences in the short term and reactivating the meanders, which are gradually silting up due to lack of flow through them, in the longer term. There is still some tension in how we broker balance, but given the polarised views that existed at the beginning of the project, the fact that consensus was reached should be seen as a considerable achievement. The long term outcome that will be taken forward with the help of a “Friends of” Cuckmere group can be seen as the Big Society in action. In addition, the White Paper provides the Sussex Biodiversity Partnership the opportunity to apply to become a Local Nature Partnership. Through the LNP, we would seek to act as a centre point for information and resources, including sharing best practice, articulating issues and establishing the principles of the range of benefits and services that a healthy natural environment provides. This will allow more coordinated working at a strategic level, sharing benefits and reducing costs, and strengthening links with Local Enterprise Partnerships.
The Draft National Planning Policy Framework states that planning policies should identify areas that are deficient in open space. In East Sussex, the area of greatest deficiency is between Bexhill and Hastings. Hence the Pebsham Countryside Park, shown here in green, is an important part of our approach to green infrastructure. The area currently includes a waste water treatment works, a landfill site which is due to close in the next few years and will be subject to appropriate restoration, a household waste site and a waste transfer station.
There is also considerable existing wildlife interest there including Combe Valley SSSI, Filsham Reedbeds Local Nature Reserve and the Bulverhythe Shingle Beach SNCI. The countryside park project aims to improve access throughout and around the area, improving and linking existing routes, creating new routes that are accessible to all including resting places and viewpoints, and enhancing biodiversity, improving connectivity for wildlife.
The creation of the park will lead to measurable improvements in an area of deprivation, both for the local economy increasing local income through related employment and associated tourism, and for the community With the associated health benefits of improved access to the countryside. As part of the national Connect 2 project, a cyclepath is currently being constructed along the coast, and we will make sure this links well with routes around the countrypark.
The cycle route itself is a good example of needing to balance development with the needs of the natural environment: the route is considered a priority given its health benefits and the high level of support it has received locally, but it will impact on an important locally designated sites that supports unusual coastal habitats and protected species. Through careful planning and detailed pre-application discussions, we have been able to mitigate the potential impacts of the scheme, and the design is likely to enhance the wildlife of the area in many ways, for example for providing protection for reptile hibernation habitat.
The Bexhill Hastings Link Road scheme is to construct a 5.6km long single carriageway road between the A259 in Bexhill and the B2092 Queensway in Hastings, linking the outskirts of Bexhill and Hastings. The Primary objectives of the scheme are : Economic regeneration of Hastings and Bexhill – the levels of deprivation in Hastings continue to be the worst in the South East and multiple deprivation in Sidley (Bexhill) has increased since 2007. There is a need to open up land for commercial and housing development Improve accessibility to and within Bexhill and Hastings, thereby reducing congestion on the A259. The scheme will also help promote social inclusion and improve air quality on the A259 at Glyne Gap Describe plan –ANOB – SNCI – SSSI - Proposed Development Areas In his brief for the scheme, the then Secretary of State for Transport stressed that ESCC should develop a preferred route in liaison with the Statutory Environmental Bodies (SEBs) to minimise the environmental impact of the road. It is recognised that whilst the road will result in the loss of some high quality landscape and biodiversity, careful design and planning has resulted in a mitigation package which should minimise environmental impacts, and allow for some enhancements, helping us address various duties and policies including the NERC Act.
This slide shows the environmental design of a rural section of the Link Road. The sensitivity of the area through which the road passes has been recognised from the outset and considerable attention has been given to mitigating potentially significant adverse environmental effects during the design stage. For example the alignment of the road has avoided direct impacts upon the SSSI’s. It also avoids as much ancient woodland and hedgerows as possible. In addition considerable planting, earthworks and fencing have been incorporated to blend the scheme into the surrounding landform and screen the road both visually and in respect of noise. Sufficient space has been included within the scheme design to accommodate the Greenway, which allows for a cycle, pedestrian and equestrian route between Bexhill and Hastings that is free from direct traffic influence.
However, the scheme will still impact on important habitats that are not necessarily designated but that are contiguous with the wider landscape, including the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are also likely to be impacts on a number of protected species including badgers, dormice, bats and great crested newts. This is a good example of where professional judgements have had to be applied to find the best outcome for all in managing change. There is little guidance available on habitat compensation ratios given the range of habitats being impacted and the intended outcome of the mitigation – for example some areas are designed to protect and enhance foraging habitat for bats, some to enhance terrestrial habitat for newts and some woodland planting has been agreed to mitigate for impacts on ancient woodland and dormice. As a result, a compensatory land package has been agreed whereby land will be replaced on an approximate 2:1 ratio. Whilst this has resulted in a considerable increase in the cost of the scheme, it is fundamental to meeting our biodiversity duties and towards sustainable development.
So whilst it is safe to say that the various policies that are currently being developed in the light of the Lawton Review and the National Ecosystem Assessment will have significant and far-reaching implications for Local Authorities, I hope I have shown that we are already making progress in addressing those implications. We have shown our commitment to partnership working through work around the Cuckmere Estuary, and hope to be able to continue and strengthen this work through a Local Nature Partnership. We have a reasonably robust, although by no means comprehensive evidence base on the ecology of East Sussex, and we hope to continue to enhance this through the Local Nature Partnership. The UK’s protected landscapes are rightly celebrated for their beautiful scenery but landscapes are dynamic systems driven by natural and human processes, some of which we can modify or harness for our own objectives. Natural change and change due to human activity in a landscape is therefore integral to its character. As a local authority, in our various roles as land owner, developer and Planning Authority, our challenge is to strike a balance between the needs of the community for new infrastructure whilst conserving / enhancing the environment that we depend on to provide essential services, such as clean air and drinking water through to iconic landscapes which support our tourism industry.
The Nature of Change: Carl Valentine
Policy Implications for Local Authorities Carl Valentine Head of Service – Environment East Sussex County Council Nature of Change conference - 15 September 2011
ESCC Responsibilities <ul><li>Economy, Transport & Environment </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Economic Development </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Highway Maintenance & Improvements </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Road Safety </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Public Transport </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Planning </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Waste Management </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rights of Way and Countryside Management </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Flood Risk Management </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Minerals </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>High Weald Unit </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trading Standards </li></ul></ul>
Biodiversity Duty <ul><li>Section 40 Natural Environment & Rural Communities Act 2006: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ 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.” </li></ul></ul>
Sustainable Development <ul><li>Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. </li></ul><ul><li>For the planning system: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>economic role </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>social role </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>environmental role </li></ul></ul>
Natural Environment White Paper <ul><li>Local Nature Partnerships </li></ul><ul><li>Nature Improvement Areas </li></ul><ul><li>Duties to facilitate coherent & resilient ecological networks </li></ul><ul><li>Duties to improve the health of local people </li></ul>
Draft National Planning Policy Framework <ul><li>Core principles include: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>positive long term vision </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>take account of environmental quality </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>protect & enhance </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>policies must be robust, up-to-date & evidence based </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Transport & Infrastructure </li></ul><ul><li>Minerals & Waste </li></ul><ul><li>Development Management </li></ul>
Examples <ul><li>Cuckmere Pathfinder </li></ul><ul><li>Pebsham Countryside Park </li></ul><ul><li>Bexhill Hastings Link Road </li></ul>
Summary <ul><li>Significant implications from a range of new and emerging national policies. </li></ul><ul><li>The County Council is committed to sustainable development. </li></ul><ul><li>Our challenge is to find the best balance between the economy and the environment for our community. </li></ul>