DC Casebook: In Depth - Factory zoning wins priority over support for community woodland

A factory unit has been allowed in a County Durham woodland after an inspector decided that the policy presumption in favour of industrial development outweighed the site's ecological, educational and recreational value.

The site had once been industrial land and had remained allocated for that purpose. About 17 years previously 15ha had been planted under a woodland grant scheme. The council's reasons for refusal referred to a policy in the regional spatial strategy seeking to maximise the economic and environmental opportunities of woodlands, support community forestry and expand tree cover to provide leisure, recreational and educational opportunities.

The inspector observed that the plantation had been established and named with the full involvement of local people and was cherished and enjoyed by the community. He acknowledged that the trees were growing and absorbing carbon dioxide. However, he noted that the local plan had been adopted, and the land allocated, after the trees were planted.

He recognised that a national objective in PPS9 is to conserve and enhance biodiversity where possible and that local people and organisations had cogent objections to the scheme. He pointed out, however, that the area was not statutorily protected, was not ancient woodland and had no geological interest. Neither the Environment Agency, the county wildlife trust nor Natural England objected to the proposal.

The inspector found that restrictions and mitigation measures would maintain biodiversity interest and avoid harm to wildlife. He did not underestimate the community's commitment to the land they had helped to reclaim. Even so, he found that the statutory development plan established a strong presumption in favour of the industrial development. He held that this was supported by the economic benefits of providing suitable premises and employment.

DCS Number 100-064-488

Inspector Nicholas Hammans; Hearing

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