Objection to planning application for Sweet Tree Fields

Objection to planning application for Sweet Tree Fields, Marsh Lane. NW7 4EY, Ref: 19/0581/RCU

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to object to the above application in my capacity as London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden. Firstly, I am concerned that the Local Authority has failed to implement the planning enforcement order following the refusal of the previous original application 17/7627/RCU, and I request an explanation for the Council’s actions and details on when enforcement action will be taken.

I object to the above application on the following grounds:

Firstly this is an Inappropriate Development: RSPB members are very concerned about the inappropriate over-development of this Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). The Applicant still appears to have ignored the site’s SINC designation and disregarded its ecological riches.

Local residents are understandably concerned that by allowing retrospective approval the Planning Authority will condone the currently unapproved and therefore illegally introduced structures and endorse the other changes and intensive uses that have degraded the quality of this Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC).

In addition, the original Planning Application included provision for 6 Four Bedroom Houses. Whist the recently revised Planning Application includes several substantial buildings far greater in size and number than the “care farming” venture might require.

The Application Site is situated in, and subject to the rules relating to:

(i) The Green Belt

(ii) A Conservation Area (per Barnet Planning Portal)

(iii) Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC).

(iv) Tree Preservation Orders

Prior to the Developer’s involvement this area was rich in biodiversity. Only a few years ago the site’s mosaic of habitats included dense vegetation which supported a large number of Whitethroats Sylvia communis, Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, and other summer visiting warblers. In addition a wide variety of resident species occur, including Song Thrush Turdus philomedos and Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, both of which are priority Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species.

The Developer appears to be sympathetic to wildlife but in clearing the area has devastated much of the Site of Importance for Nature Conservation habitat, upon which the more unusual species relied. Indeed, the Preliminary Ecology Appraisal (Report dated August 2017) suggests, quite rightly, that the area could support an enriched biodiversity. It’s a pity the Developer failed to appreciate the site’s existing wildlife riches – much cherished by the local community.

It would appear from the Tree Survey, dated October 2018, that a large number of trees will be felled in order to facilitate this exploitation of the site. This is contrary to the Arboricultural Report, dated January 2018, which stated “No trees would be directly lost as a result of implementing the proposal”. Mature and over-mature standing trees form part of the SINC’s important habitats. Although it is appreciated that unsafe trees will require attention it is the intensive use of the site that is leading to the loss of tress and destroying the unique nature of the area. The Local Planning Authority needs to therefore be mindful that there are numerous Tree Preservation Orders relating to this site.

The Preliminary Ecology Appraisal is very limited and has little to say that is site specific about the wildlife that inhabit it. As this is a private site with restricted access it is no surprise that there are very few publicly available records. The reports only site visit was conducted on the 4 August 2017 when evidence of breeding birds and other wildlife would have been more difficult to assess. Bats are understood to at least overfly the site and newts have also been reported. Over fifty (50) bird species have been recorded some of which are rare in a local or regional context. Bearing in mind that this is a Site of Nature Conservation Importance a full Ecological Survey should have been undertaken prior to the clearing of the site and introduction of the unapproved structures and vehicular access tracks.

Although the Preliminary Ecology Report recommends certain enhancements these are mainly token gestures and fail to compensate for the loss of habitat that supported the previously rich biodiversity.

NPPF requires the Planning Authority to ensure that not only is the existing biodiversity interest secured but that there should also be a biodiversity gain. The Developer has failed to demonstrate this.

Given that the Government has stated that SINC’s make a vital contribution to delivering the UK and Local Biodiversity Action Plans, as well as maintaining local natural character and distinctiveness. Local Authorities are expected to take account of the need to protect them in deciding their planning and development policies.

Whilst I believe the Applicant’s intentions towards helping vulnerable people are laudable. Indeed the RSPB (www.rspb.org.uk) and Wildlife Trusts provide opportunities, across a wide spectrum for individuals and groups to experience hands-on contact with nature, supervised by suitably qualified staff. Other high profile charitable organisations offer similar facilities, without distressing neighbours and damaging ecosystems.

Local residents are also anxious that this may be a pretext for even more development. The now withdrawn residential elements revealed the Applicant’s longer term intentions. Whilst the current retrospective application shows how the site has already been drastically changed with over-development – without planning permission.

With regard to Traffic & Highway Safety, the blind entrance to the site is situated beside the Rising Sun PH near the intersection with Marsh Lane & Highwood Hill. This is a very congested junction particularly during school & business rush hours. Furthermore, the entrance is opposite the green triangle where turning traffic halts awaiting access to the descending slope of Highwood Hill (towards The Ridgeway & / Lawrence Street, NW7). More intense use of the Application Site will only exasperate the position.

In view of these concerns a Transport Plan should have been provided for the Planning Authority and consultees to fully consider and evaluate. Residents will readily testify that the local transport links are less than ideal.

Although ancillary buildings are allowed in the Green Belt in support of certain exceptional uses, such buildings must not affect the Green Belt “openness”. It is clear from the neighbour’s comments that the “openness” of the site has been compromised by the introduction of unapproved constructions.

There is also an impact on neighborus that must be considered, such as the noise and disturbance neighbours have reported, which is affecting their right of quiet enjoyment. They have also stated that they no longer enjoy their right of privacy due to the overlooking nature of the constructions and associated activities. The introduction of a variety of animals, including a Pigsty, without apparent regard for the sanitary requirements (and smell) suggests a disregard for the animals well-being and for the occupiers of neighbouring properties. In fact the number and variety of animals exceed the grazing capability of the available grassland. Over stocking will be harmful to the site’s biological interest and result in further degradation of the SINC biodiversity interest.

Mill Hill residents and visitors have expressed concern regarding the unsightly visual impact of the (unlawful / illegal) constructions. Additionally, due to the sloping nature of the site, the numerous roadways etc. have dramatically changed the natural character of the area. Although trees may lessen the impact this will not be so in the winter months and in any event the “openness” of the protected Green Belt has been compromised.

I understand that the alterations already made to the site have increased the flood risk. The introduction of hard surfaces and changes to the historical field ditch system and water bodies has resulted in more flooding incidences. The topography of the site is such that most of the surface water flows in a south &/or south westerly direction towards the adjoining neighbours gardens.

The SINC should be protected and enhanced (as per NPPF) by ensuring that the field ponds and water courses are maintained to a high ecological standard, especially for amphibians. All water courses should be kept free from pollution by restricting the positioning of any buildings or structures that might lead to agricultural runoff of chemicals or waste products.

The ecology and biodiversity of the SINC must be protected and enhanced by the provision of an ongoing Nature Conservation & Landscape Management Plan. This should include as a minimum all of the ecological enhancements recommended in the Preliminary Ecology Report. Such Plan must be approved and its implementation overseen by the Planning Authority.

This should include: a) Restriction as to the use of the site so as not to compromise the SINC designation. Low level seasonal grazing only by appropriate species as directed by Natural England (e.g. English Longhorn – as used on nearby Totteridge Fields NR – will help maintain the biodiversity of this ancient meadow.

(b) Restriction as to the use of Fertilisers, Herbicides and Insecticides to protect the SINC biodiversity.

(c) Restrictions as to the use and movement of vehicles and the use of equipment and the lighting of fires (for agricultural purposes only) etc. to normal working hours (say 9am – 5pm *Monday – Friday or less) to provide quiet enjoyment for neighbouring properties. *Excluding use or work on Bank & Public Holidays to avoid nuisance to neighbours.

(d) Restriction as to the type of that may be brought or kept on the site so as to avoid damage to the ecology and biodiversity. No animal or animals may be brought or kept on site that may emit any excessive noise, odour or excrete any substance that may affect the neighbouring properties. Pigs should be specifically excluded as their rooting actions are detrimental to the SINC biodiversity.

(e) No unsightly constructions, pens, enclosures etc. to be allowed that would detract from the aesthetic ambience of the SINC and Conservation Area.

(f) Lighting should be restricted so as not to affect foraging Bats or produce extraneous light that might affect neighbouring properties. No overnight accommodation or residency.

(g) No alterations to the site’s water systems, both above and below surface, that would be detrimental to the SINC designation and site’s biodiversity or adversely affect neighbouring properties. Except, with the approval of the Local Authority, to restore the SINC natural ecosystems.

In conclusion, the current Planning Application is substantially the same as that previously evaluated and REFUSED by the Planning Authority. Consequently I can see no reason why the previous decision should not be upheld.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Dismore AM

London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden

City Hall

The Queen’s Walk