Inspector Finds Significant Failings in Wealden Local Plan, including Flawed Approach to Ashdown Forest SAC

Following Aspect Ecology’s involvement with the Wealden Local Plan Examination Stage 1 hearing sessions in May and July last year, we have been eagerly awaiting the response from the Inspector to see whether this provides clarity in regard to air quality matters at Ashdown Forest SAC. The Inspector’s letter has now been released, and has found the plan cannot be taken forward to adoption as it has failed one of the requirements for legal compliance, namely the Duty to Co-operate (DtC), whilst there are significant failings in regard to soundness.

Whilst the response largely focuses on the DtC matter, the Inspector makes some helpful conclusions in regard to Ashdown Forest and assessment of air quality:

  • The reliance on an emissions model which shows no improvement in emissions is considered to be flawed, and lacking in scientific credibility. Instead, it is appropriate to use an alternative emissions model based on partial reductions in emissions, and this is consistent with the precautionary principle established in relation to HRA;
  • The findings of the ‘Dutch Nitrogen’ cases (CJEU C-293/17 and C-294/17) are not considered to be equivalent, and therefore do not preclude an approach which takes into account anticipated improvements in air quality when establishing the future baseline of emissions over the Plan period.

The Inspector’s response therefore indicates that the highly precautionary approach to assessment taken by Wealden Council is incorrect, and a more realistic approach aligned to that of the surrounding authorities should be adopted. However, it does not address to what extent any retardation of air quality improvements arising from proposed development is acceptable. Accordingly, detailed assessment of this matter would be needed for any planning applications. Aspect Ecology has extensive experience of such assessments, and would be pleased to assist with any queries on this matter.

The Inspector’s conclusions and response from Wealden Council are available at: Wealden Local Plan Examination