A Personal View by Nigel Pearce
Sorry about the long title. I’ll get on to that in a minute. First this:
We have spent so long prising ourselves out of nature and looking down on the rest of creation from an assumed height that we now find it hard to work our way back into a structure of thought which fits the structure of nature . . .
These words were written over twenty years ago in a book called Truth: A History and a Guide for the Perplexed, by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto.
I attended, via West Oxfordshire District Council’s equivalent of Zoom, every day of the Public Examination, in late June and early July. It seemed to me that it would be good to test the Council’s Area Action Plan (AAP) for Salt Cross against the quotation above. Were the Council’s proposed policies in the AAP up to scratch in addressing the climate and ecological crises? Would the developer, Grosvenor, attempt to water them down? Would the Planning Inspector uphold the policies or cave in to Grosvenor?
We won’t know the answer to the last question for a while yet. He kept his cards close to this chest, and there will be further modifications to the AAP. The Council’s proposed policies on net zero carbon and a biodiversity net gain of 25% are pretty good, although there are no guarantees that any gain will be local, where the damage is taking place. Grosvenor, predictably and consistently, tried to make the Council’s text less detailed, less prescriptive and less obligatory. One of their main arguments was that the Council’s policies were inconsistent with national policies.
Accordingly, much of the Public Examination was a polite struggle between the Council, Eynsham Parish Council and Eynsham residents on one side against Grosvenor on the other. What will the Planning Inspector decide? Probably some sort of compromise. Even if the Inspector upholds the ambitious net zero carbon and biodiversity standards, recent experience shows that Secretary of State will not agree.
The trouble is that environmental legislation and enforceable law is lagging behind existing guidelines and positive announcements from the Government. Actions are lagging behind words. Developers can still exploit the gap. Not all developers are insensitive or only pay lip service to the climate and ecological emergencies. Grosvenor themselves are clearly concerned, but even for them, that concern cannot overcome their requirement for a certain level of profit for themselves and the landowners they represent. They and the Council call this requirement 'financial viability considerations' It affects the provision of affordable homes as well. All this in what is meant to be an 'exemplar' development. The progress of our 'garden village' is being followed closely by many who are concerned about the future of life on our planet.
Many ordinary citizens have been working their 'way back into a structure of thought which fits the structure of nature' for some time now, but the planning system has not caught up with them, despite the obvious threats to our and wildlife’s future.
The AAP gives good coverage to the Nature Recovery Network ('NRN' appears 12 times in a word search), but it is clear that citizens have to lead the way persuasively and by example until local and central government are spurred into catching up and prioritising biodiversity and NRNs. In the end we will all have to work together if the recovery of nature is to be secured for the long term.
If you would like to see all the documents related to the AAP, following this link to West Oxfordshire District Council’s website:
Salt Cross area action plan examination - West Oxfordshire District Council (westoxon.gov.uk)