Saturday, January 14, 2012


More on the attempt by Newcastle City Council, assisted by developers Persimmon and Bellway, to surround Gosforth Nature Reserve with bricks and mortar and make even more inroads into the city's Green Belt.

A map is good place to begin:

(Oh, dear ... This official map shows a 'wildlife corridor' that comes down the Ouseburn, including the 'battlefield' site, a site specifically omitted from the Council's National Lottery bid for the Ouseburn Wildlife Corridor. Why was that?)

The map forms part of a detailed and compelling argument against plans to build 500 new homes alongside Gosforth Nature Reserve.

The map was part of a detailed submission. Here in full is Natural History Society of Northumberland's chair Dr. Chris Redfern's letter to Harvey Emms, Director of Planning.

"Harvey Emms,
Director of Planning
Newcastle City Council
Civic Centre
Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8PD

3rd January 2012

Dear Harvey

NewcastleGateshead Consultation on Core Strategy, Strategic Land Review and Green Belt Assessment

The Natural History Society of Northumbria is one of the oldest institutions in Newcastle, having been formed from the Lit & Phil in 1829. During our long history we have sought to advance scientific knowledge of the natural world, protect the flora and fauna of the north-east and to provide opportunities for people of the city and surrounds to study and learn about it. We own the Great North Museum: Hancock and its natural history collections.

We currently have around 1,000 members, the majority living in Newcastle and neighbouring areas. Our members include experts on wildlife and conservation, many of them academics working at the Universities of Newcastle, Northumbria and Durham. We publish the regions only scientific journal on natural history, the Northumbrian Naturalist. We carry out research and conservation work across the region and are represented on the Newcastle & North Tyneside Biodiversity Action Partnership as well as the management committees for Holy Island and Coquet Island. We played a leading role in establishing the Wildlife Trusts in our area and continue to work closely in partnership with them.

The Society has managed Gosforth Park Nature Reserve since 1931 and the main thrust of our response to the City Council’s consultation on the Core Strategy and Strategic Land Review relates to the proposed Salter’s Lane Neighbourhood Growth Area. However our scope is broader than this nature reserve and in our response we also provide our views on other aspects of the Council’s Strategy.

You are already aware that we object to the proposal to create a Neighbourhood Growth Area at Salter’s Lane as we believe that sites 4667 and 4926 do not meet planning guidelines due to the unacceptable impact on local wildlife and a nationally important nature reserve that can not be mitigated against, as well as your own Green Belt, Green Infrastructure and BAP objectives [BtB emphasis added]. There are also a range of significant secondary problems that would be associated with developing this site which provide further evidence against development including flooding/ hydrology/drainage, traffic congestion, loss of amenity and subsidence. On their own each of these issues would be a concern, but in combination it is clear that this is not an appropriate site for development. There are many sites available on the fringes of GatesheadNewcastle that do not threaten important wildlife sites and wildlife corridors or are at risk from flooding – these sites should be developed ahead of Salter’s Lane in line with planning guidance.

Indeed this was also the conclusion that council planning officers came to when this site was first assessed as part of the greenbelt review. For reasons that we do not fully understand  [BtB emphasis added] this site was later “combined” with that for Gosforth Golf Course for the purposes of re-assessment and consequently this combined parcel of land then scored sufficiently highly to fall though the sieve, but then with only site 4667 being designated for possible development due to no apparent physical or policy constraints (contrary to its initial assessment [BtB emphasis added]). We believe there is not a logical or reasonable basis for council officers to have taken this approach and as a result the assessment in this case is flawed and these sites should be withdrawn from the Core Strategy.

Gosforth Park Nature Reserve and the surrounding countryside is one of the city’s greatest natural assets. It is a place that local people value highly and is unique in the city. There are few such important wildlife sites in the UK’s major cities and Newcastle should be proud of this asset. In 2011 the reserve has featured on BBC Springwatch and in publicity surrounding Newcastle’s title of Sustainable City. We, along with most of the people living in North Newcastle, have a different vision for this part of Newcastle and we call upon the Council to align its plans with the community [BtB emphasis added]. Instead of building homes and damaging the city’s finest natural asset we want to see the reserve and wildlife corridor protected, celebrated and improved for wildlife and people, to act as one of the “jewels” in the city’s Green Infrastructure. A place that will attract and retain families and middle-income households to NewcastleGateshead.

As the Minister for Planning spelt out in his introduction to the draft National Planning Policy Framework in 2011 [BtB emphasis added]:

“Our natural environment is essential to our wellbeing, and it can be better looked after than it has been. Habitats that have been degraded can be restored. Species that have been isolated can be reconnected. Green belt land that has been depleted of diversity can be refilled by nature – and opened to people to experience it, to the benefit of body and soul."

We are very disappointed with the approach taken by the Council in putting this site forwards for development. Firstly we were not adequately consulted  [BtB emphasis added] about the criteria used for the Council’s greenbelt assessment (it is depressing to note that whilst Gateshead Council consulted with local councillors and the local community in developing its plans Newcastle Council did not). Secondly there has been no attempt (either before or during this consultation) by council planning officers to make contact with the Society and meet with us at the reserve to see the site for themselves and some of the issues at stake. [BtB emphasis added] It is simply not sufficient to view the site from the road, as the most sensitive part of the reserve is not visible. In the absence of any request for a site visit our Director did invite Councillor Murison and Catherine McKinnel MP and both have had a tour of the site, as have Persimmon Homes, Nick Brown MP and other Newcastle councillors. Freedom of information requests have shown that council officers were prepared to engage in detailed discussions with Persimmon Homes about the future of the site. [BtB emphasis added] If the planning process is to be fair and open this approach should also extend to other stakeholders. We hope that in future the Council will attempt to pro-actively engage with all partners and stakeholders at an early stage on issues that are of importance to the City, rather than consult selectively and publish your own views, setting up confrontational dialogue.

We have taken considerable time and effort [*] to provide a detailed and evidence based response as we feel that during informal discussions some council officers and councillors have not fully understood the issues we have raised or the ecological sensitivity of Salter’s Lane.

Below we set out our detailed response to your consultation on a Core Strategy for NewcastleGateshead and the corresponding Strategic Land Review and Greenbelt Assessment in 5 sections:

Section 1: Planning Assumptions & Comments on Approach Taken
Section 2: Response to Policy CS3 (1a) Neighbourhood Growth Area - Salter’s Lane
Section 3: Other Core Strategy Comments

We trust that Newcastle Council will consider our response and act accordingly and we look forwards to working in positive partnership with you in future.

Dr Chris Redfern

* I have not included the lengthy and highly detailed documents the Society have provided. These list protected national and internationally important species found or associated with the reserve.

BtB Comment: It is pellucidly clear from this document (written with patience and a complete lack of rancour on Dr Redfern's part) that Newcastle City Council is up to its old tricks again. It behaves in bad faith over planning matters, something of a tradition.

Find out more from Natural History Society of Northumbria.

For latest news and details of how to support the campaign against the destruction of Gosforth nature reserve there is a dedicated web site here.

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