Common sense prevailed in the Secretary of State's decision to refuse permission for what we felt was a poorly conceived project that did not meet the Government's objective of truly sustainable development.
For the past 40 years we and other conservationists have worked hard to help people understand that these heaths are rare and precious habitats that deserve our highest levels of protection.
This site is so important that it is included under the global Ramsar convention, is designated a Special Protection Area under the EU Birds directive and a Special Area of Conservation. It is also part of the Bourne Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which is protected under UK law.
So how could a decision be made to build a huge housing development next to it? There are well-known major risks attached to building next to heaths, and you need to be sure that the pressure from people, their pets, from fire risk and a myriad of other things won't have a huge impact on the creatures that live there.
The 'appropriate assessment' carried out by the council's consultants, a legal requirement when internationally important protected sites are threatened, begged to differ. In a highly surprising conclusion and despite well-documented evidence to the contrary, it found that with a range of mitigation measures, such as a pet proof fence, the development would be okay.
The trouble is, these mitigation measures are not reliable and we don't think they are up to the job. Poole Borough should know this too. In April 2010 Poole Borough Council signed up to The Dorset Heathlands Interim Planning Framework.
This document, co-signed by a number of other Dorset councils, provides guidance on how damage to heaths might be reduced (you can download a copy from this page). This is an important agreement and we believed it would secure a safe future for places like Talbot Heath. Signed by all the local authorities, it clearly states that for development proposals within 400m of a heath, like that proposed by the Trust:
...it will not be possible for a local planning authority undertaking an appropriate assessment of a proposal for residential development to be certain that any adverse effects could be avoided or alleviated. [Our emphasis]
Now compare this with the actual wording of the appropriate assessment (available on the Council's website) that paved the way for the approval of the planning application:
Taking into account the proposed mitigation and proposed changes to the scheme it is concluded that the plan will not adversely affect the integrityof the European designations. [Our emphasis]
The planning authority's own guidance states that it is not possible for an appropriate assessment of a planning application to state with any certainty that a development within 400m of a heath would not affect the site's integrity.
This is why the decision to approve the scheme came as a shock. We really thought that Poole Borough understood the implications of developing land next to heathlands.
Because of this poor decision we welcomed the decision to hold a public inquiry to examine this decision in detail. And this is not simply a local matter. Heathlands across southern England might be affected if a precedent is set in Poole to allow development immediately adjacent to heathland sites.
At the inquiry RSPB and Natural England gave evidence over the importance of Talbot Heath for wildlife and the risks associated with the Trust's proposal. We showed that the mitigation measures offered by the Trust would not stop there being harm to the heathlands and indeed in some cases could actually increase damage on the site.
Our full statement of case can be found as a download on this page.
In February 2012, we welcomed the Secretary of State's decision to refuse permission because, among other reasons, the proposed mitigation measures could not be relied on to avoid damage to the sensitive heathlands and their wildlife.