Lodge Hill, Chattenden Woods, Kent

Tagged with: Casework status: Open Casework type: Construction Casework type: Plans Site designations: Ramsar site Site designations: SPA Site designations: SSSI
 Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos, singing from a hawthorn bush, Minsmere, Suffolk

Overview

Lodge Hill, on the Hoo Peninsula in Medway, Kent, is the most important site in the country for nightingales, and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Importance (SSSI).

However, there has been a long-standing threat of thousands of houses being built on this important site, which if allowed would have represented one of the largest ever losses of a protected wildlife site and would set a terrible precedent for similar protected wildlife sites everywhere in the country.

With your help, we have fought hard to #SaveLodgeHill and, as a result of this pressure, we are pleased to report that the new site owners, Homes England, announced in December 2018 that they no longer plan to build within the SSSI. This is a great step forward, but it is not the end of the story as there is still pressure to build thousands of new houses in the area around Lodge Hill, which could place the nightingales under significant pressure from various urban effects.

See our campaign pages, which give you the latest situation and how you can help.

Below is some more detailed background to the case:

 

Lodge Hill: The History

 

Victorian times –1998: Lodge Hill was a large area of Ministry of Defence (MoD) land on the Hoo Peninsula in Medway, north Kent. From 1875–1961, it was an 'ordnance depot', storing explosives in bunkers ('magazines'). Subsequent to that, it was a British army training ground. It means it has been out of the public eye behind its heavily guarded fences for over a century. The idea of Lodge Hill being turned into a 5,000 house development first appeared in 1998. 

2007–2010: In 2007, the MoD produced a Planning Statement setting out a possible Masterplan for development. 

This led to surveys being undertaken by the developers to establish more clearly what wildlife and other potentially important features might be on the site.

2011: The first outline planning application was submitted for 5,000 houses at Lodge Hill.

2012: The BTO's national nightingale survey revealed that Lodge Hill supported 85 singing males, more than one per cent of the national nightingale population, making it the most important site in the country. 

2013: Given that nightingales are in steep decline in Britain, with less than 5,500 singing males left, the newly-discovered importance of Lodge Hill led to Natural England notifying it as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 2013, an extension to the neighbouring Chattenden Woods SSSI. In addition, the SSSI was recognised for its important areas of ancient woodland and unimproved grassland.

However, the local planning authority, Medway Council, persisted with a desire to see Lodge Hill developed for new housing by proposing to allocate it for development in what was called its draft 'Core Strategy'. However, an independent Inspector found that the draft Core Strategy was in conflict with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which protects SSSIs, and it was subsequently withdrawn. 

2014: Despite this,  a revised Outline Planning Application for 5,000 houses was submitted on behalf of the MoD in February. In September, Medway Council's Planning Committee approved that application. 

However given the proposal's conflict with the NPPF, the RSPB together with other conservation organisations and more than 12,400 concerned members of the public wrote to the Secretary of State, asking for the decision to be 'called in' to be decided by Government.

2015: In February, it was confirmed the application would be 'called-in'. The developers were required to do more surveys, and the next step was due to be a Public Inquiry in March 2018.

2017: In January, Medway Council included Lodge Hill in every one of its development options in its draft Local Plan. This is the new document that local authorities must draw up to show which land they intend to allocate for development across their area. Over 12,000 people wrote to the Council as part of the #SaveLodgeHill campaign to ask that Lodge Hill be withdrawn from the Local Plan.

On 5 September, it was announced that the original planning application for 5,000 houses had been withdrawn, and hence the 2018 Public Inquiry would not take place. 

However, it quickly became clear that this was not the end of the threat to Lodge Hill, and news of the withdrawal of the previous application was immediately followed by announcements from the developers and the Leader of Medway Council that a new application would come forward in the new year. 

Not long after, it was announced by the Council that they would re-run the Local Plan development options consultation in 2018, taking account of legal advice they received confirming that they must explore all alternatives to allocating damaging development onChattenden Woods and Lodge Hill SSSI.

2018: In February it was announced that Lodge Hill had been transferred to Homes England, the government body which "brings together land, money, expertise, and planning and compulsory purchase powers, with a clear remit to facilitate delivery of sufficient new homes".

In March Medway Council's draft Local Plan “Development Strategy” consultation opened, with a revised set of options. This time only one option included development within the SSSI, however all of the other options continued to threaten considerable damage to the SSSI interest by building vast numbers of houses right up to its edges. Over 11,000 people responded to Medway’s Local Plan consultation asking the Council not to allocate Lodge Hill for housing.

In December, Homes England made the surprise announcement that they had reconsidered their plans for Lodge Hill, and now only propose to build up to 500 to avoid any direct loss of the SSSI. This news was widely welcomed by the RSPB and others wishing to see Lodge Hill and its nightingales protected. However, serious concerns remain about the levels of houses now proposed (by Homes England and others) around the edges of the SSSI.

 

 

Map

Why is it worth fighting for?

Lodge Hill was notified by Natural England as an extension to the Chattenden Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in recognition of the fact that it is now the most important place for nightingales in the UK. (A SSSI is the highest national designation for an area with special or exceptional wildlife features).

The SSSI supported 85 singing male nightingales in the British Trust for Ornithology's 2012 National Nightingale Survey, which demonstrates that the site holds more than one per cent of the national nightingale population. It is rare to find sites with more than a handful of pairs, showing how exceptional Lodge Hill is. In addition, the SSSI is recognised for its important areas of ancient woodland and unimproved grassland.

Although Homes England have announced that they no longer intend to promote land within the SSSI for housing, there is still pressure to build thousands of new houses on large areas of land around the SSSI which could lead to damaging levels of urban pressure that could have a serious impact on the nightingales and other wildlife interests.

Whilst national planning policy doesn't completely prevent development which damages SSSIs, there are a number of tests that have to be passed before permission can be given. These tests ensure that special places are only damaged where there really is no alternative site for that development, and where the need for the development clearly outweighs the impacts on the SSSI and the national network of SSSIs.

You can help #savelodgehill

Go to rspb.org.uk/savelodgehill to keep up to date and find out how you can be a part of the ongoing fight to save the nightingale.

Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos, side view on branch

Our position

The RSPB has serious concerns regarding significant levels of new housing close to Lodge Hill because:

  • It is a nationally important site for nightingales, the single most important site in the country.
  • Nightingale numbers in Britain are declining rapidly, down by over 90% in the last 50 years.
  • As a bird that nests on the ground, nightingales are highly vulnerable to indirect urban impacts (such as recreational disturbance and cat predation) from nearby housing. 

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) set out the guidelines that local planning authorities must follow when planning for or considering proposals for development. Although the NPPF does not completely prevent development which damages SSSIs, it contains important tests which ensure that special places are only damaged where there is no alternative to the proposed development, and where the need for the development clearly outweighs the impacts on the SSSI and on the national network of SSSIs.

An important part of that approach is the 'avoid-mitigate-compensate' hierarchy.

  • Avoid: It must be shown that there is no less harmful alternative.
  • Mitigate: If there is no alternative, consideration must be given to the way the development can be adapted or measures can be put in place so that it doesn't damage the 'interest features' of the SSSI
  • Compensate: If mitigation isn't possible, the final option is to compensate for the damage by creating suitable habitat elsewhere. This is a last resort. 

The RSPB is committed to working with developers (including Homes England) and Medway Council to ensure that proposals for new housing in the area protect Lodge Hill’s nightingales and its other special wildlife for future generations to enjoy.

Timeline

  • January 2019
    Medway Council announces that the next stage of the Local Plan consultation is being delayed until late Summer 2019 while they await the outcome of their application for £170 million infrastructure funding to support their plans for significant housing growth on the Hoo Peninsula, including on land surrounding Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill SSSI.
  • December 2018
    Homes England announce their intention to significantly scale back their proposals for Lodge Hill down to 500 or fewer houses, avoiding any direct loss of the SSSI.
  • March - June 2018
    Public consultation held into Medway Council's Local Plan, which sets out four options, all of which would seriously damage Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill SSSI.
  • September 2017
    Announcement that the original planning application for 5,000 houses has been withdrawn, and hence the 2018 Public Inquiry will not take place. News shortly followed by the announcement of a new application to follow in 2018. 
  • Early 2017
    Consultation on Medway Council's Development Options for their Local Plan - a key stage in the battle.
  • December 2015
    The Planning Inspectorate request that the applicant updates the original environmental survey data which by now is out of date. New consultants are brought on board to do this work throughout 2016.
  • February 2015
    Ministers write to the applicants, to confirm that the application would be 'called in', after 12,400 members of the public, along with Natural England, the RSPB, local MPs convince the Government that the threat to Lodge Hill is of national concern and that they must step in.
  • January 2015
    Medway Council submit further information and the RSPB and Natural England make representations on this information and sustain their requests for Government to 'call in' the decision.
  • December 2014
    The minister responsible for making the ‘call in’ decision requests further information from Medway Council on the representations made by Natural England and the RSPB.
  • September 2014
    Prior to the Planning Committee meeting, a joint letter is submitted from the RSPB, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Kent Bat Group and Kent Wildlife Trust outlining their objections. Medway Council Planning Committee nevertheless make the decision to approve the Lodge Hill outline planning application, making a decision within two hours. In partnership with the other groups, the RSPB launches a campaign to ask the government to 'call in' the decision - in other words, to make the decision at a higher level.
  • May - July 2014
    Further public consultations take place, and the RSPB and Natural England sustain their objections.
  • April 2014
    The RSPB repeats its original objection, Natural England also objects.
  • February 2014
    On behalf of the Ministry of Defence, Land Securities reactivates its dormant outline planning application, first submitted in 2011, and submits replacement planning documents and an Environmental Statement. Medway Council launch a public consultation on the new documents.
  • November 2013
    Following confirmation of the SSSI, Medway Council formally withdraws its draft Core Strategy.
  • November 2013
    Natural England’s Board confirms the notification of the Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill SSSI on the quality of its ancient woodland, grasslands and nationally important nightingale population.
  • June 2013
    The Independent Planning Inspector conducting the Medway Core Strategy Examination writes to Medway Council to say the Lodge Hill allocation is "not consistent with national planning policy" and because of the Council's failure to allow for contingencies and shortcomings in the Council's assessment of housing needs "the only reasonable course of action is for the Council to withdraw the plan".
  • May 2013
    The RSPB appears at the reopened Examination in Public of Medway's Core Strategy, where the Council, Land Securities, MoD and other stakeholders are given an opportunity to make all of their arguments in favour of and against the Lodge Hill allocation.
  • March 2013
    Natural England notify the site as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
  • January 2013
    The Medway Core Strategy Examination is reopened and the Council publishes its draft Sustainability Appraisal Addendum. The provisional national estimate from the BTO National Nightingale Survey 2012 is published, which shows that Lodge Hill holds around 1.3 per cent of the UK's nightingale population.
  • June 2012
    The RSPB appears at the Examination in Public of Medway's Core Strategy and objects to the strategic allocation of Lodge Hill for development.
  • April and May 2012
    The RSPB sustains its objection.
  • April 2012
    The applicant (MoD) submits further ecological information.
  • December 2011
    The RSPB strongly objects to the outline planning application.
  • November 2011
    An outline planning application for the development of 5000 houses at Lodge Hill is submitted.
  • October 2011
    The RSPB objects to the publication (ie final) draft of Medway Core Strategy due to the allocation of Lodge Hill for development. At this time Lodge Hill is a largely undesignated surplus MoD site, earmarked by the Ministry for development. However, it is already known to support large numbers of breeding nightingales.