Talbot Heath

Tagged with: Casework status: Closed Casework type: Construction Site designations: Ramsar site Site designations: SAC Site designations: SPA Site designations: SSSI
Dartford warbler, Arne RSPB reserve, Dorset

Overview

A housing development which could have spelt disaster for the unique, wonderful and protected wildlife of Talbot Heath has been turned down by the Government.

The Talbot Village Trust wanted to develop a site for 378 houses and other uses on farmland in Poole.

The site is immediately adjacent to Talbot Heath, which is designated as a Ramsar Site and a Special Protection Area for its bird populations. The heath is also designated as a Special Area of Conservation for its reptile populations and heathland habitats. These designations represent the site's international importance for wildlife and are the highest level of legal wildlife protection available in Britain.

We were very concerned about the Trust's proposal and the impacts they could have on the wildlife of Talbot Heath.

Poole Borough Council resolved to grant planning consent for the proposal in June 2010, despite vigorous opposition. We had objected to the proposal on the basis of the risks to the wildlife of Talbot Heath.

Following lobbying by the RSPB and others, the proposal was 'called in' by the Secretary of State and was debated at a public inquiry held in July 2011. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government refused permission on 27 February 2012. The Talbot Village Trust has six weeks to challenge his decision in the courts.

 

Map

Why is it worth fighting for?

Talbot Heath lies on the edge of Poole and Bournemouth. It's one of a number of urban heaths with which the conurbation is blessed, and is home to some rare wildlife. Dartford warblers sing their scratchy songs from the coconut scented gorse while numerous reptiles, such as the small but nonetheless exotic sand lizard, bask in the southern sun.

It's a unique and wonderful wild space enjoyed by those who live nearby.

Minsmere RSPB Reserve, view across Minsmere from Dunwich,

Our position

Common sense prevailed in the Secretary of State's decision to refuse permission for what we felt was a poorly conceived project which 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 which deserve our highest levels of protection.

This site is so important 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 which 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) which 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 integrity of 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. 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.

Timeline

  • 27 February 2012
    The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government refused permission for the development.
  • 12 July 2011
    Inquiry opened
  • 16 March 2011
    Pre-inquiry meeting
  • 27 September 2010
    The development has been called in by the Secretary of State
  • 9 June 2010
    Poole Borough councillors resolve to grant a planning application to build 378 homes and 450 student units next to Talbot Heath.
  • 2001
    Designated part of Dorset Heaths Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
  • 1998
    Designated as part of Dorset Heathlands Special Protection Area (SPA)
  • 1998
    Included in Dorset Heathlands Ramsar
  • 1995
    Area of SSSI extended
  • 1984
    Talbot Heath declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Outcome

Thank you to everyone who added their voice to the call for a public inquiry into the Talbot Heath development proposal.

This inquiry was held in July 2011 and we worked with Natural England on the case against development. We are delighted to say that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government refused permission for the development on 27 February 2012.