Potential impact of residential occupation on environmentally sensitive Pebblebed Heaths justifies council’s tough preventative action
In an unprecedented move to safeguard the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, which have triple designated status - as a Special Protection Area (SPI) , Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – East Devon District Council has taken out an injunction to prevent the unlawful development by the gypsy owner of a remote plot of land that adjoins the Pebblebed Heaths, which are protected by the highest levels of European Law.
The impact that unauthorized residential development of this site (Plot 406, Hawkerland) would have on this exceptional part of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is significant. The Pebblebed Heaths is a highly sensitive area of land and acutely important in both planning and environmental terms. Residential development of this site, poses increased risks in relation to activities such as cycling and dog walking and the inevitable effect this would have on the wildlife, together with greater risks of fires, fly tipping, soil compaction and erosion.
It was clear to the council that, given the extraordinary level of protection covering the site, together with the blatant breach of planning control, the requirement for this pre-emptive injunction (the first that the council has had to apply for) is highly expedient and undoubtedly in the public interest.
The injunction demonstrates the zero tolerance approach that planning officers will ultimately take when faced with persistent and flagrant breaches of planning law and the Local Plan, particularly when East Devon’s protected environment is so clearly threatened.
Council officers have been monitoring the site for a number of years now due to its untidy condition and the planning enforcement team has been involved consistently on persistent issues relating to the site, raised by residents who were (and still are) concerned about the land’s development and use.
Plot 406 has a long and contentious history - the gypsy owner has already persistently flouted a number of planning laws, but now with the recent dumping of hardstanding and the installation of a caravan, with the intention to ultimately live on the site, he is in serious breach of policies within both the adopted Local Plan (EN1 and S5) and the new emerging East Devon Local Plan (Strategy 47).
The work that he has carried out is significantly detrimental to the visual amenity and character of this AONB, and is completely unjustified in view of its remote and unsustainable position away from services and facilities. The concerns of the planning team have now been completely confirmed by the court.
1) It prevents the owner from using any part of the land for residential purposes - including putting caravans or mobile homes on site, domestic storage and the storage of vehicles or equipment - unless planning permission has first been granted.
2) Critically, the injunction also forbids the owner from undertaking any development on the land without planning permission, including installing materials to form a hardstanding for a caravan(s).
Unauthorised dumping of hardcore, together with the unlawful positioning of a caravan, have been taking place at Plot 406 since 2009 and since then the owners have been served with two stop notices, an enforcement notice and a section 215 notice (untidy land notice) which have ordered the removal of all waste building materials and any caravans, as well as restoration of the land to its original condition as an agricultural field.
The evidence that justifies the injunction is extensive, not least because the historic orders obtained by the council were not complied with. Most importantly, though, the intention to develop protected land of acutely sensitive environmental importance, in an unsustainable location in open countryside is completely without justification and contrary to the Local Plan.
Our officers have tried to get the owner to comply with the legislation on numerous occasions. They have taken every reasonable step possible to explain the seriousness of his consistent and sustained breaches of planning control. However, it is our view that it is now entirely in the public interest for this injunction to be put in place to prevent any further work being carried out to the detriment of the land. It is quite clear that the site is unsuitable for occupation and use as a gypsy and traveller site. Moreover, there are highly important ecological issues in relation to the location, which attract the highest level of protection under European Law. To ignore these, as the owner has done, is to give rise to a significantly adverse impact in planning terms. It is our clear duty to uphold these laws in the public interest.