Campaigners’ shock over council’s stance on Hanham Green Belt site

One of the fields at The Batch

Fears for the future of treasured Green Belt land in Hanham continue to rise after a South Gloucestershire Council planning officer’s report this week described proposals to build on it as an “urban development project” and said the developers would not have to prepare an environmental impact assessment.

Ashfield Land and partner Redrow Homes last month announced their intention to apply for planning permission to build 149 homes on fields known as The Batch, off Hencliffe Way.

Although no planning application has yet been submitted to the council, the developers’ consultants were told this week that, in the council’s opinion, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) would not be required.

The purpose of an EIA is to ensure that the environmental effects of a proposed development are properly considered.

The access to The Batch from Castle Farm Road

As well as considering the development to be an “urban development project”, the planning officer’s report said: “The development is not considered likely to have significant long-term irreversible impacts on humans or on the environment either in isolation or in combination with other planned development in the vicinity of the site.”

He said the developers’ site description including known constraints was considered to be “broadly appropriate and accurate” although the constraints plan “does not note the status of the site as designated Green Belt, some designated heritage assets are not entirely accurately plotted and the supporting statement asserts that the designated Site of Nature Conservation Importance no longer has ecological value over the majority of its area given agricultural practice over an extended period”.

Today Alex Pirie, from Hanham District Green Belt Conservation Society’s committee, said: “The fact that South Gloucestershire Council considers an environmental impact assessment is not required in respect of potential development in an area designated Green Belt is truly astonishing.

“Any erosion of the Green Belt will impact the environment and should be properly assessed. The BBC Wild Isles programme stated that over the past 60 years, the UK has lost 97% of it wild meadow land, having an adverse impact on wildlife, insects and pollinators. When an EIA is not considered necessary, even for the potential loss of designated Green Belt, it’s easy to see why our country is in such a sorry state.

“Whilst it is declared Government policy to protect the Green Belt, South Gloucestershire Council have not been asked to comment on this aspect and remain silent on the issue.”

Alex Pirie said that statements in the council’s response should merit an EIA rather than taking the developers’ views “at face value”.

“For people living in close proximity to the site, this proposal will have a tremendous impact on their environment which deserves to be properly assessed. Regarding the Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI) having no ecological value due to agricultural practice, it is worth noting that the ground has remained fallow for a longer period than it has actually been farmed. Typically the land has been ploughed and planted April/May and harvested September i.e. utilised for five months and fallow for seven months. Nature quickly returns to the site each year before the cycle is repeated. An EIA would formally determine its value and contribution to the ecology of the area.

“The council does however recognise the site has a range of constraints and interests of acknowledged importance and further assessments and mitigations will be necessary. They recommend a pre-application enquiry is submitted to fully establish requirements and the council’s likely position in respect of the development proposal.”

‘Residents are rightly concerned’

More than 1,100 people have already signed a petition on the website calling the proposals “an attack on an area known for its beauty, wildlife and ecosystems” and “a disaster for the local environment, residents and visitors who currently use this space”.

The petition says that more housing is already planned on the old Kleeneze site near Hanham High Street and building at The Batch would put even more pressure on overstretched public services in the area.

Campaigners with MP Chris Skidmore last month outside the house which the developers have bought to demolish for access

Local MP Chris Skidmore has also launched a petition for local residents to sign and has written to the chief executive of South Gloucestershire Council, Dave Perry, calling on the council to ensure that it maintains Green Belt protection of the land.

Mr Skidmore told Mr Perry: “Residents are rightly concerned that this application seeks to place housing on land that has been designated special protection, at the same time as being agricultural land and close by woodland environments and the River Avon, a protected natural habitat for which development here would prove detrimental.”

As we have previously reported, a house in Hencliffe Way that would be demolished to create an access has been bought by the developers for a reported £1.3m.

Meanwhile Hanham Abbots parish councillor Chrissie Cushing is gathering evidence of the public rights of way at The Batch. Anyone who has walked these paths for over 20 years and would be prepared to sign a statement to that effect is invited to attend at Hanham Cricket Club on Saturday 25th March between 2pm and 4pm where she will have the relevant forms.