Nature conservation interests harmed by two-bedroom flat

The conversion of offices in west Sussex to create a two-bedroom flat failed to secure permission after an inspector decided that it would adversely impact on nature conservation interests.

The site lay within seven kilometres of a special protection area, special area of conservation and a SSSI which formed a complex of heathlands designated in part because of their breeding bird populations. The council stated that the scheme should provide suitable alternative greenspace and an access strategy into the protected area because, under regulation 48 of the Habitats Regulations 1984, future residents in the flat were likely to have a significant adverse effect on the protected areas.

The appellant proposed no mitigation and claimed that it was unlikely to have a significant impact since there was little evidence to demonstrate that visitors to the heathlands were affecting breeding birds.

The inspector had to determine whether the scheme was likely to have a significant effect on an internationally important wildlife area. On an individual basis the number of recreational trips by residents in the flat would be small. But it was necessary to consider it in combination with other developments and Natural England had commented that it could not conclude that no significant effects would result.

The conservation objective of maintaining the favourable condition of the heathland would be prejudiced unless some mitigation was proposed since human activities in the form of walking, cycling and exercising dogs were pursuits likely to lead to an adverse impact. In his opinion it was therefore necessary for the appellant to make a financial contribution towards providing alternative greenspace where residents could pursue recreational activities instead of within the heathland. Since no planning obligation had been submitted the appeal failed.

In so concluding the inspector decided not to make a full award of costs in favour of the council. The council had drawn the appellant’s attention to the need to make a financial contribution, including to a range of appeal decisions. Nonetheless, the appellant was entitled to claim that the small size of the flat was unlikely to give rise to a harmful impact given the fact that the site lay within the core centre of a large settlement.

Inspector David Harmston; Written representations

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