SSSI bog prompts Jenrick to dismiss 500-home York green belt appeal

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has dismissed an appeal for 516 homes on York’s green belt due to the risk of damaging a nearby "irreplaceable" bog and designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick. Pic: Getty Images
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick. Pic: Getty Images

The secretary of state this week threw out Barwood Strategic Land’s appeal against York City Council’s decision last year to refuse its application for 516 homes, a local centre and sports pavilion on 40.5 hectare site at Woodthorpe to the south west of the city.  

The application also proposed the creation of a 150m wide ecological protection and enhancement zone (EPRZ) between the rest of the development and the neighbouring Askham Bog, which is a designated SSSI. 

The 10.5 hectare EPRZ includes a set of attenuation ponds, which are part of a sustainable urban drainage scheme.

Of the new homes, 35 per cent would be provided as affordable units, which is above York’s policy requirement of 30 per cent. 

The letter signed by Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) civil servant Jean Novak, authorised by Jenrick, states that the secretary of state agrees with his inspector P W Clark’s conclusion that the recovered appeal should be dismissed. 

He agrees with Clark’s conclusion that Askham Bog comprises a "precious and delicate range of habitats that requires continued human intervention to maintain it in a stable condition, or to restore it to a previous condition". 

While the development itself is likely to have "very little adverse" impact on the bog’s ‘complex’ hydrology, the proposed attenuation ponds would "greatly reduce" the site’s overall contribution to the supply of nutrients, probably leading to the deterioration of its "irreplaceable" fenland habitat.   

The letter acknowledges that the development would result in an overall 80 per cent biodiversity net gain and help to achieve York council’s objective of achieving a "green infrastructure corridor" through the city. 

But it points to paragraph 175(b) of the National Planning Policy Framework, which states that development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats should be refused unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exist.

The letter states that there are "no wholly exceptional circumstances" to justify the harm the development would cause to the SSSI. 

Jenrick also agreed with his inspector that the site should be considered as part of the York green belt, even though its precise boundaries have never been defined. His letter states that the applicant has been unable to demonstrate the "very special circumstances" that would justify development on green belt land. 

Clark’s letter says that the new housing, including its "modest excess contribution" of affordable dwellings, may be given "disproportionate value" given widespread agreement that a housing "crisis" exists in York. 

Even though the council has no up-to-date local plan and cannot demonstrate the required five-year supply of housing land, Jenrick ruled that the National Planning Policy Framework's presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply because of the site's green belt location and its proximity to the SSSI. 

The York decision is the second dismissal of a recovered appeal this week by the secretary of state. 

Against a recommendation of his planning inspector, Jenrick refused plans for 65 homes and the creation of open space to act as a suitable alternative natural greenspace (SANG) in Farnham, Surrey.  

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