Tag Archives: planning

Environmental infrastructure: what it could really cost

Drains, water, sewage works, landfill sites… usually best left to somebody else to sort out. Well, maybe once this was true. In south-east England nothing could be further from the truth today. It’s not always perceived as an obvious connection with countryside management but maybe it should be. The Ranger has always had a bit of an interest in sewage works, (see some photos of one of his recent visits to such an establishment) and is presently involved in advising his employer on drainage issues at a proposed large residential development site. So he read with enthusiasm the Environment Agency‘s 2007 report “Hidden infrastructure: the pressures on environmental infrastructure” because, let’s face it, you didn’t, did you? It’s a short report which is obviously designed to get some pretty stark messages home. It looks at how the environment is coming under pressure in densely populated areas, such as SE England, and argues that adequate environmental infrastructure is essential if development is to go ahead within the environment’s capacity to absorb the additional impacts. As well as looking at possible ways to reduce or mitigate these impacts, the report is bold enough to indicate the scale of the problem in simple terms:

Environmental infrastructure


Above is a figure from the report – it shows the calculated average environmental infrastructure cost, per house, in south-east England. The total is over £20,000 per house built.

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What’s behind the signs? A tale of a village green… or not.

Today in Portsmouth The Ranger was on his way to look at some nice shingle dunes when he saw a remarkable sign at the roadside, and had to ask his host to stop the car so it could be examined. A small parcel of land was surrounded by a new wooden fence, and prominently placed at two locations were some massive, highways style metal signs with some rather curious text on them – here’s one:

Sign at Eastney

Not the usual sort of thing one might expect, brand new, and rather strangely worded. Why was such a lot of money spent on such odd, over-specified signs? And that turn of words ‘sports and pastimes’… sounds familiar? It should do. Behind this simple phrase on a sign lies a big story. Let’s see if we can root it out. A bit of digging on the Portsmouth City Council website reveals that on 23/02/2004 there was a planning application for “Construction of 2 three storey blocks and 3 four storey blocks comprising 176 apartments”. The area included the site now sporting the new signs. Continue reading

Planning application rejected by fairies

Perhaps there’s hope. The Ranger spends an uncomfortable amount of time these days delving into the murky depths of the planning process – and the rights and wrongs of Permitted Development, Unitary Development Plans, and Strategic Environmental Assessment fill more of his working hours than do roaming the fields and looking vaguely at spiders. So he was much comforted to discover, via the worthy medium of The Honest Hypocrite, (thank you Richard) a great tale of how a planning application in Scotland was quite genuinely rejected by the fairies. See the original story here, and an unexpected followup tells how the property developer thinks the fairies have brought him luck! It’s nice to think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must be smiling down on St Fillans, Perthshire.

A fairy dies every time an application is approved against officers' recommendations
A Planning Inspector yesterday


(This article was first published in 2006, but has been updated with a new link)

Buglife squished

If you’ve been following the story of small charity Buglife on this blog you will recall its legal challenge intended to prevent development on West Thurrock Marshes, a former industrial site now very rich in invertebrate biodiversity.

Buglife logo

After a long trek through the courts it seems as though the final act may now have been played out in this drama, as Buglife retires to lick its wounds following a comprehensive rejection of its arguments by the Court of Appeal. Continue reading

Buglife rides forth yet again

It really does seem to be like the butterfly that stamped. If you’ve been following the story of small charity Buglife on this blog you will recall its legal challenge intended to prevent development on West Thurrock Marshes, a former industrial site now very rich in invertebrate biodiversity.

Spider stamp © Buglife

Buglife made its own alternative stamps showing species threatened by the Royal Mail development

The original site developer, Royal Mail, has now pulled out and Buglife suggests that this is because “Buglife pressure forced Royal Mail to scrap its plans“. However the planning consent still stands, so some other body could still do the works and damage the site. So Buglife took the matter to court. Continue reading

The butterfly that stamped… Buglife sees off Royal Mail at West Thurrock?

The most ironic marketing gaffe ever, and then an apparent u-turn by Royal Mail: did plucky little conservation charity Buglife really pull off this campaign coup? For those who haven’t been keeping up, see this post – or here’s a summary: Royal Mail have been planning to build a depot on a marshland full of scarce invertebrates in West Thurrock, and invertebrate charity Buglife has been campaigning to stop them. But a High Court bid by the charity to have the development halted was rejected in February. Buglife have been considering whether or not to appeal.

Spider stamp © Buglife

Buglife made their own alternative stamps showing species threatened by the Royal Mail development

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Hedgerow protection: a gap in the system

A recent discussion on the UK Tree Care mailing list explored the question of the amount of protection afforded hedgerows by the legislation in England and Wales.

Surveying a hedgerow

The Ranger surveys invertebrates in a hedgerow

It’s a widely misunderstood subject – and a quick surf around the web will show you that even those you might expect to know really don’t – for example, the Friends of the Earth website says:

…the removal of any hedge longer then 20 metres, requires planning permission. If the hedge is shown to be significant in terms of its age, environmental or historical importance, then the planning authority can refuse such permission and take further measures to protect the hedgerow.

There’s one mistake and a few understatements in this analysis, but they are typical misconceptions. The mistake: the hedgerow regulations are nothing to do with planning permission. The understatements: the establishment of the ‘importance’ of a hedge is very complex, and there is little if any discretion in the process. And even if that is successful, the ‘further measures to protect the hedgerow’ amount to very little. When the Ranger was working with protected trees he dealt with a constant stream of enquiries from people wanting to protect hedges in some way. Almost all were disappointed. It is often imagined that the Hedgerow Regulations 1997 are some sort of Tree Preservation Order (TPO) for hedges – they are not. Key differences are that whilst any tree can (in theory) be protected by a TPO, only certain very closely prescribed hedge types can qualify as ‘important hedges’, and almost all of these will be rural or agricultural hedges, well away from the urban and suburban areas where most TPOs are found, and where hedge-related conflicts usually break out. Furthermore there is no facility to proactively designate hedges as ‘important’, this can only be done in response to a notification from a landowner. Failing such a notification the potential for action in the case of a removed hedge is pretty minimal. Finally there is only really a prohibition of removal, not any lesser works. Works up to and including the ground-level coppicing of an entire hedge would not fall within the regulations in most cases. Data reported by Alina Congreve suggests that “All the criteria combined only protect about 20% of hedgerows from removal.” That’s not many. She also points out many other problems with the hedgerow regulations, and suggests that by widening the scope of the regs this could to some extent be addressed. The Ranger has come to believe that there is a gap in the protection regime that allows most hedgerows to remain in effect unprotected. This gap is not much understood as most people seem to assume that the Hedgerow Regulations cover it. This has arisen because the original Hedgerow Regs were rightly aimed at agricultural hedge removal, whereas today the issues concerning hedge removal are much more likely to be concerned with development and gardens, where the regulations do not apply and the issues are quite different. He takes a more pessimistic view than Dr Congreve because of the qualitative issues that arise once non-rural hedges are considered. The problems with the Hedgerow Regulations in non-rural situations are serious enough that a more radical approach is required. Instead of widening the scope of the Hedgerow Regulations it may be more appropriate to introduce a new category of Tree Preservation Order, complete with the existing constraints and controls that system already carries. TPOs are primarily intended for domestic, not agricultural environments. Such a new category could be applied specifically to hedgerows in any location, for the purpose of protecting their public amenity as opposed to simply evaluating their intrinsic importance.

Development Control: the musical

Driving to a tedious meeting about planning applications today The Ranger pumped up the stereo, and up popped one of his old favourites, (Nothing But) Flowers by Talking Heads, from their 1988 album Naked.

In a moment of epiphany, he realised that this old foot-tappin’ tune was in fact all about the Town and Country Planning Acts, or at least whatever passes for that in America. It seemed almost unbelievable, but could he have stumbled upon the only known example of a song about planning? The lyrics, in typical Talking heads fashion, are a little enigmatic, and subject to a number of interpretations.

…Once there were parking lots Now it’s a peaceful oasis you got it, you got it This was a Pizza Hut Now it’s all covered with daisies you got it, you got it I miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens you got it, you got it And as things fell apart Nobody paid much attention you got it, you got it…

Clearly a musical discussion of the merits of greenfield sites versus light industrial (B1) and retail (A1 and A3) usage. On the face of it, it’s a simple song in praise of modern civilisation and the developments that have raised us from our agricultural ancestors. One reviewer who took this view said

It’s denouncing the “hippy” or nature freak lifestyle. Sounds great at first, but you end up missing the creature comforts…

It doesn’t take too much further analysis to realise that this is probably not the song’s true message. What that is, is less clear. Is it suggesting that we should go back to a natural way of living? Is it pointing out the folly of looking back nostalgically at a mythical bucolic past? Or does it just invite us to reflect on what we have given up, and what we have gained in return? Probably some of all these things and more. The insight that The Ranger had on the road to Cowes today, whilst singing along lustily, was that (Nothing But) Flowers could be seen as a satire on the faux-rustic trappings we like to adorn our high-tech lives with. Perhaps it’s appropriate that it takes a Virtual Ranger to notice this. Do this exercise if you want to understand. Swap all the ‘urban’ sentiments with ‘rural’ ones and vice versa; and you get a very unoriginal country ballad bemoaning the loss of the countryside and the encroachment of the urban sprawl. David Byrne sings “[when] I was an angry young man/ I’d pretend/ That I was a billboard/ Standing tall/ By the side of the road/ I fell in love/ With a beautiful highway…“. Surely he is parodying the way a child might pretend to be a tree, and fall in love with the countryside? When applied in that more usual way these sentiments seem utterly unremarkable to us. Remarking ‘I remember when all this was fields‘ has become a jocular indicator of rambling reminiscences, so commonplace is that feeling. But what if things were reversed? What if there were no more urban sprawl and roadside takeaways? Would we miss them? What would our reminiscences sound like then? Perhaps (Nothing But) Flowers is trying to show us.