Rampion draft Environmental Statement disappoints

The South Downs Network has responded to the consultation, which ended yesterday, on the draft Environmental Statement for the proposed Rampion offshore wind farm to express its disappointment and concern at the lack of good quality information within in.  The lack of data was a frustration with the first consultation earlier in the year and reassurances were received that this would be resolved with the publication of the draft Environmental Statement.

However, this has not been the case and detailed information on alternative cable routes is still missing and the quality and number of the photomontages and other data inadequate to properly assess the visual impact on the South Downs National Park.  The Network is particularly concerned that the effect on the Heritage Coast appears to have been downplayed and that mitigation of, and compensation for, any visual impact is not even discussed.

There are also issues around how the cable route goes through the South Downs Way and the importation and disposal of materials for the haul road, amongst many other concerns that have been raised.  In all, this has led the Network to the conclusion that E.ON has not fulfilled its legal duty, under Section 62(2) of the 1995 Environment Act, to have regard to National Park purposes.

The Network hopes that E.ON will take stock and work with local communities and organisations to improve the draft Environmental Statement, which should include discussion of possible mitigation and compensation measures.  This may require it to hold back from formally submitting its application in October but if that leads to a better outcome all round then that can only be of benefit.

Public urged to back South Downs farmer

The South Downs Network is urging the public to get behind Peter Knight, Estate Manager for the Norfolk Estate in Arundel who recently was selected as South East regional winner in the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Awards.  He has now made it through to the final four in the national competition, from an initial 350 entrants.  Judges were not only impressed by the way that Peter manages the farm to the benefit to wildlife but also the way that he promotes the benefits of farming this way to others.

Who wins the national competition is decided by a public vote which is open from now until September 5.  You can vote by visiting www.rspb.org.uk/farmvote, calling the RSPB on 01767 693680 to request a FREEPOST postal voting form, online via The Telegraph, or at country shows throughout the summer.  Everyone who votes in this year’s competition will be entered into a prize draw to win a luxury break for two people at Ragdale Hall worth over £500.

The South Downs Network is urging the public to get behind Peter and the Norfolk Estate in recognition for the all the work he has done to promote and accomodate wildlife on the 1240ha arable and sheep farm in West Sussex.  It has been under Peter’s management for the past 24 years, during which he has supervised the change from a fully production based system to a commercially managed estate that has conservation at its heart.

The Estate manages over 1000ha of arable farmland, which benefits skylarks, fieldfares, corn buntings, grey partridge, redwings, harvest mice, brown hares, short-tailed voles and a variety of insects, all of which have increased in significant numbers with the implementation of Natural England’s agri-environmental schemes.

Lapwings, barn owls and buzzards are flourishing across the whole Estate and the woodland is home to two rare species of butterfly – the Duke of Burgundy and the Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

For more information about the competition see the RSPB’s website, but don’t forget to vote!

Black Hole in the heart of Amberley

A pretty village situated on the South Downs Way, one of the most popular National Trails, at the centre of England’s newest National Park.  What better place could you imagine to run a profitable pub?

Yet local people in Amberley are having to fight to keep their pub, the Black Horse, some of whom see it as a fight for the very future of village.  The trouble started in March when the pub closed and the owner, a national chain, started selling off various pubs around the country because it was in too much debt.  Unfortunately, the Black Horse appears to have been sold to a property developer who wants to convert it into housing, rather than someone wanting to run it as a pub.

This has led to local people fighting a spirited campaign.  However, to date they have not been helped by the system, so it would seem.  Given the significance of the application to the socio-economic development of the village, and the importance of the pub in supporting people enjoying the recreational opportunities of the National Park, it is surprising that the South Downs National Park Authority has not called this application in already.  It is currently being handled by Horsham District Council on behalf of the Park Authority, but information about the proposed conversion is hard to find on Horsham’s website.

Villagers have fought and won many battles before such as over the future of their local shop, their local school and proposals for the Wildbrooks which are now an RSPB reserve.  They deserve to succeed again, but to do so they will need the backing of the Park Authority.  It should be taking a firm stance on this development proposal which will undermine National Park purposes as well as ripping out the heart of the village community.  It’s why many people fought the battle to get a National Park.  Now the Authority needs to step up to the plate and be counted.  It can only win it friends, as well as safeguarding village life in the centre of the Park.

Secret woodland history could be revealed

The South Downs National Park Authority has successfully passed the first hurdle in its bid for Heritage Lottery Funding (HLF) for its ‘In the High Wood’ project.  It has been awarded £46,300 to develop the project in preparation for a full funding bid in Spring 2013.

‘In the High Wood’ aims to uncover the secret history of the densely wooded part of the South Downs between the River Adur and the A3, covering some 304 square kilometres, nearly 20% of the National Park.  This is an area, much of which lies under ancient forest, and of which very little is known about its past.  The plan is to use aerial survey techniques to uncover features which are impossible to see on the ground.  Then by working with local communities, the Park Authority hopes to be able to build a more complete picture as to what our ancestors have been doing here over the past 4,000 years.

The £1 million project is being led by the South Downs National Park Authority, in partnership with Chichester District Council and with the support of West Sussex and Hampshire County Councils.  The Park Authority is likely to contribute £130,000 towards the overall costs.  Its success in securing this early HLF funding should mean that it has a very good chance of succeeding with its final bid application next year and therefore of this exciting project going ahead.

Transport funding success

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) and Hampshire County Council (HCC) have both been successful in securing funding from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund with their joint bids with

the South Downs National Park Authority.  ESCC has been awarded £1.571 million over the next 3 years for its travel choices for Lewes, while HCC has been awarded £3.81 million for sustainable transport in England’s newest national parks, the New Forest and South Downs.

Last month we reported that the decision on the funding for these projects had been delayed.  Now it seems the Department for Transport has satisfied itself that the schemes are sound and deserve funding.  However, neither project received the total amount that was bid for.

Both projects are very welcome and should help promote travel by means other than the car, while reducing carbon emissions and supporting the local economy.  However, whether ultimately they will be successful is very much open to question with rail fares rising above inflation, fuel duty rebate for public transport operators being cut in August (in sharp contrast to fuel duty not now increasing in August) and West Sussex County Council cutting back on bus services including the no 62 to Midhurst.

New Park Authority member appointed

Earlier this month Diana Kershaw was appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment as a new Member of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA).  She is one of the 7 national members on the SDNPA and replaces Susan Warren who stood down at the end of 2011.

Diana Kershaw has worked as a local authority transport and town planner, primarily in East London and was Head of Planning for Newham Council where she led the Stratford development initiatives. Following ten years as Director of Planning Transport and Development at Bristol City Council she worked for a business-led initiative looking at the future of the Bristol/Bath region. She has been a member of boards of the South West Regional Development Agency, business link, a primary care trust, a theatre company, the SW National Trust region, and was a member of Exmoor National Park Authority for seven years.

The Network wishes her all the best and hopes that with her experience she will make a useful contribution to the South Downs National Park, particularly as the Park Authority looks to develop its Core Strategy over the next few years.

Rampion offshore windfarm consultation extended

The second round of public consultation on E.ON’s proposals for the Rampion offhsore windfarm started on Wednesday, 13 June.  After much lobbying, E.ON has conceded some ground in extending the consultation from 6 to 8 weeks, but not to 12 weeks as good practice would dictate and as called for by the South Downs Network.  This means the new consultation will now end on 8 August.

E.ON has also published its draft Environmental Statement, which is split into 32 sections.  This can be downloaded from E.ON’s website or is publicly accessible at the district council offices of Adur, Horsham, Mid-Sussex and Worthing and at Brighton & Hove City Council offices in Hove and at East Sussex County Council offices in Newhaven.  This means that people will now have a chance to properly examine the proposals and see on what basis decisions have been taken.

The South Downs Network will be closely looking at this evidence to ensure that E.ON has had proper regard to National Park purposes, both in regard to the cable route and the impact on the Heritage Coast.

Park transport bids left in limbo

The South Downs National Park Authority’s (SDNPA) bids for funding under the Local Sustainable Transport Fund have been left in limbo following an announcement on 24 May about 30 projects which will receive funding.  Up to 18 out of the 53 bids received will find out ‘shortly’ whether they have been successful or not.  No reasons have been given for the delay by the Department for Transport.

The SDNPA has joined forces with the New Forest National Park Authority and Hampshire County Council to submit a bid around changing travel behaviour for people accessing the Parks for recreational purposes to boost the local economy while cutting carbon emissions.

In its other bid it is working with East Sussex County Council around improving walking, cycling and public transport for people going about their daily lives, living and working in Lewes.  The aim is to boost the local economy while reducing the impact of this activity on the National Park.  This second bid is quite different from the joint bid with the New Forest in that it is not specifically aimed at tourists and recreational travel.

Road traffic already has a big impact on the special qualities of the South Downs.  Given the Government’s seeming determination to increase bus and rail fares, the former through cuts in the fuel duty rebate that bus operators receive, this is likely to get worse.  This is exacerbated by local authorities cutting funding for rural bus services as their budgets are squeezed.  That is why it is essential that the two bids for the National Park are successful.

Call for 12 week consultation on Rampion

The South Downs Network is calling for the next consultation phase on the Rampion windfarm proposal to be extended to 12 weeks to allow people sufficient time to analyse and respond to the Environmental Impact Assessment.  Currently it is due to start mid-May but will only run for 6 weeks.  The Network believes this is too short a timescale to allow proper democratic scrutiny.

In its response to the first consultation, the South Downs Network has welcomed the extensive awareness raising that E.ON has done during this period.  It has also welcomed the recognition that any cabling on land should be put underground.

However, the Network has been critical of the lack of information released about the development so far.  This has hindered people’s ability to make informed responses to the windfarm proposals: another reason why a 12 week period is needed for the second round of consultation.  The Network has also expressed concern about the landscape impact, particularly on the Heritage Coast, and the length of the cable route through the National Park.

National Park costs us less

One of the arguments for having a South Downs National Park was that it would bring in more funding to the area, while actually saving local people money.  An analysis of the figures now shows this to be correct.

This is contrary to what one local paper said recently when it claimed that the National Park Authority was costing Sussex residents £7 each.  Apart from forgetting that the National Park extends into Hampshire, it didn’t realise that the Park Authority’s budget of £11.4 million is not paid for solely by Hampshire and Sussex taxpayers.  Instead it is funded by the whole nation in recognition of its national importance, costing around 18 pence per person nationally.

However, this ignores the fact that around £3.5 million of the Park Authority’s budget is for planning which it has taken over from local authorities. Therefore this is not an extra cost for taxpayers. Taking this into account reduces the additional cost of the Park Authority to around 13 pence per person nationally.  This figure also ignores the fact that some national funding was given to the previous body managing the South Downs.  If this was included in the calculations, the additional cost would fall further still.

Another consideration is that before we had a National Park, local authorities previously paid the South Downs Joint Committee to manage the Downs. Now they no longer have to do this. Brighton & Hove City Council for example now saves around £80,000 a year, equivalent to a 32 pence per person saving.  In the rest of the Downs, the maths is more complex due to having two tier local authorities but the principle is the same.

Therefore overall, taxpayers in Sussex and Hampshire are likely to be better off.  In Brighton & Hove, the overall saving amounts to 19 pence per person per year.

Obviously, there were many other good reasons for wanting a National Park, but the fact that we are saving money while improving the conservation and protection of the South Downs is good news indeed.