In order to protect its position on issues of air quality that may have the potential to affect the Ashdown Forest SPA/SAC, Wealden District Council has taken the extraordinary step of objecting to residential development in neighbouring authorities and beyond. The objections raised by Wealden District Council include even small residential developments of a few units some 30km away from Ashdown Forest, in authority areas that do not share a border with Wealden District. The objection letters also refer to other European sites where air quality, particularly nitrogen deposition, is unlikely to be detrimental to the interest features of the site.
Lowland Heathland, 2011.
While it is clear that air quality is a key issue for some European sites and one that needs to be addressed, it is also true that there are ways in which the effects of additional traffic generated by new residential development can be mitigated, avoiding the need to trigger an Appropriate Assessment under the Habitats Regulations.
Our advice to developers within the region is to ensure that, prior to submission, they prepare a statement to accompany their planning application which sets out: a) whether there are likely to be any effects of air quality arising from the project, and b) if there are, how these effects will be mitigated. For large development this will require a multidisciplinary approach involving ecologists, air quality expertise and traffic consultants.
In a statement, Wealden District Council has referred to their ‘precautionary approach’ which we take as a reference to the precautionary principle and a misinterpretation of that tenet.