Lodge Hill: your last chance to speak out for this special site

Nightingale populations have crashed across the UK (pic courtesy of BBC)

Today (Monday, June 25) is your last chance to contribute to Medway Council’s Local Plan, which sets out development strategy in the district until 2035.
There are of course many issues to be determined, but one of the most contentious relates to plans to develop Lodge Hill, a former Ministry of Defence site that is now home to a fantastic range of wildlife, including the largest population of nightingales in the country.
The nightingale has declined by 90 per cent over the last 50 years, the British Trust for Ornithology has found. The 85 pairs at Lodge Hill represent some 1 per cent of that population, a figure that is likely to increases as the species’ range contracts towards the south-east.
Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill – the bulk of which comprises ancient woodland and a rare type of grassland – is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, one of “the country’s very best wildlife and/or geological sites”, as defined by Natural England.
Medway Council approved an outline planning application from Land Securities for 5,000 homes at Lodge Hill in September 2014, the site having been identified in the most recent draft of the Medway Local Plan as a significant strategic location for about a third of the district’s identified housing needs to 2026.
This SSSI designation was one of the reasons the inspector testing the Medway Local Plan in 2013 advised that it was sufficiently flawed to be abandoned, writing “I am not convinced that the social and economic benefits… would outweigh the harm to a site of national importance”.
She stated the modifications that would be needed to prevent damage to the SSSI were “so significant as to amount to the Plan being re-written”.
All of which made the council’s granting of planning permission difficult to fathom.
The National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear that in exceptional circumstances, the need for development might outweigh the importance of an SSSI or other important habitat.
However, the inspector made it equally clear that is not the case at Lodge Hill.
In February 2015 the development proposal was called in by the Secretary for State for Communities and Local Government for determination through public inquiry before Land Securities withdrew its application in September of that year.
And, two years after that, in September 2017, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, a branch of the MoD, withdrew similar plans to develop Lodge Hill, although Medway Council insisted it would be pressing ahead with its plans to allocate the site for housing.
The site has now passed to Homes England, a government agency charged with delivering housing across the country.
In its new draft Local Plan, Medway Council identified Lodge Hill as suitable for development, saying Homes England would submit a fresh scheme for 2,000 properties, including “development on some protected areas”.
If you think one of the most valuable sites for wildlife in north Kent should be spared – and not allocated for housing development by the local authority – you can make your views known here

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Monday, June 25, 2018

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