Renewed hope for precious land at Lodge Hill

Friday 13th February 2015

Nightingale © Bill BastonNightingale © Bill Baston

Area is the only one in the UK to be designated for nightingales

The calling-in1 of a decision to build on one of the most important wildlife areas in the country, home to the largest population of nightingale in England, is today welcomed by The Wildlife Trusts.

A public inquiry will be held into the Lodge Hill case and according to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG): “ministers’ decision will be made after consideration of a planning inspector’s report and other relevant matters.”

Stephen Trotter, The Wildlife Trusts’ Director, England, said: “We are pleased to hear the Lodge Hill decision has been called-in and hope for the right outcome from ministers in due course. The protection and recovery of the natural environment should be at the heart of all planning decisions.

John Bennett, Kent Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive, said: “Kent Wildlife Trust welcomes this decision. We have put in a huge amount of work over a long period to draw Medway Council’s attention to Lodge Hill’s real value – its wildlife. Development here would be a big step backwards in environmental protection.

“We remain convinced that Medway should be working with the Government and its advisors to find a sustainable solution to their housing need, and we remain willing to help them achieve this.”

In September The Wildlife Trusts expressed astonishment at the council’s approval of a planning application for up to 5,000 homes on Lodge Hill and Chattenden Woods - an area officially recognised for its wildlife value and designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Lodge Hill contains ancient woodland and important grassland which are home to rare Duke of Burgundy butterflies, badgers, owls, bats, reptiles, amphibians and many other species. The area is the only one in the UK to be designated for nightingales, a summer visitor to the UK and famed throughout history due to its melodious call.

Stephen continues: “As we said last year, this is not a case of the environment versus the economy. Places such as Lodge Hill - and Rampisham Down in Dorset - are special, legally protected wildlife sites which are few and far between. Decisions to allow planning permission on them go against the statutory obligations of local authorities to protect important designated wildlife sites for future generations.

Rampisham Down in Dorset is a similar case to Lodge Hill. It is a legally protected area of lowland acid grassland under threat from planning permission being granted to develop a solar station. Although the decision to build on one of the largest areas of this flower-rich habitat in England has now been put on hold by the Department for Communities and Local Government – which means West Dorset District Council will have to gain special authorisation to grant planning permission - the decision has not been over-turned and The Wildlife Trusts continue to urge The Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, to call it in.

Rampisham Down is one of the largest remaining areas of special acid grassland in lowland England which supports an abundance of flowers such as lousewort and eyebright. It is an area which supports a range of wildlife from adders to skylarks and waxcap fungi. Find out more about Rampisham Down at http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/RampishamDown and ask Eric Pickles to call in this decision here.

Contact information:
Anna Guthrie, Media & PR Manager, The Wildlife Trusts: 01636 670075 / 07887 754659 / aguthrie@wildlifetrusts.org

Ray Lewis, Media and Events Officer, Kent Wildlife Trust: 01622 357832 / 07740 182877 / Ray.Lewis@kentwildlife.org.uk

Sally Welbourn, communications officer, Dorset Wildlife Trust: 01305 264620 / 07436 158 325 / SWelbourn@dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk

1‘Calling-in’ a planning application
‘Calling-in’ of a planning application refers to the power of the Secretary of State to take the decision-making power on a particular planning application out of the hands of the local planning authority for his own determination. This can be done at any time during the planning application process, up to the point at which the local planning authority actually makes the decision. If a planning application is called-in, there will be a public inquiry chaired by a planning inspector, or lawyer, who will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can choose to reject these recommendations if he wishes and will take the final decision.