I saw through social media that some netting had been put up along the cliffs at Bacton, North Norfolk last Monday.
It had caused an outcry as returning sand martins had been seen perching on the netting in a vain attempt to get back to their burrows in readiness for the breeding season.
This prompted me do do some further investigation and having some knowledge about the planning process, the first place to look was the North Norfolk Councils Planning portal on the web.
I wanted to see if or what planning conditions were in place relating to the works.
It took me to a page where all of the documentation was stored that had been submitted for planning approval. Along with these documents were comments back from consultees. Natural England are a Statutory Consultee and the RSPB are a non-statutory consultee. The most important point here is that they had read and commented upon the documentation.
It would appear that North Norfolk District Council is the applicant for the works, so it is effectively appealing to itself for Planning Permission.
One of the key documents is the Environmental Statement this is a huge document that highlights the impact of the work on the environment and provides information on how those impacts can be mitigated. The mitigation measures are key to consultees forming their opinion and determining whether they will object to the scheme or not. Statutory consultees have the power to impose planning conditions to ensure that mitigation works are carried out before, during or after the works.
A key extract from the Environmental Statement is here
Key comments from Natural England are;
Key comments from the RSPB are;
The Council then imposed a Planning Condition based upon the advice they had been given.
Planning condition 5 is set out in full below;
Once the parameters have been set the 'rules' if you like they are set down in black and white. They are there to be followed and it is the role of the Enforcing Authority (The Council) to ensure the rules are being followed. Itis quite evident that the rules in this game have not been followed and the consequences to the sand martins are clearly quite damaging.
Once the rules are set it should be a simple process of following them step by step in order to protect whatever was required to be protected in the first place,in this case the sand martins.
Planning Condition 5 is known as a condition precedent that is to say work cannot start until the requirements of the Condition have been approved by the Local Authority(NNDC)
The advice from the council was that all of the documentation relating to the project was located in a single place, however having looked through it there was no evidence to suggest that the Planning Condition had been discharged nor was the Construction and Environmental Management Plan available for perusal. I queried this with The Council and they replied by sending me a link here that took me to the documentation specific to Condition 5. In their response they also told me that 'this has not yet been agreed'.
That sent alarm bells ringing
One look at the documents on the link revealed a very well put together CEMP but crucially no letters of conformation that the Condition has been discharged.
The pre-commencement condition has not been discharged which means the work has started without planning permission-contrary to national planning protocol.
I have written to NNDC asking why the work had commenced without the Condition being discharged.
They rather disingenuously passed on my email to another department who sent some cut and pasted response giving a vague overview of why the works were being carried out, who they had spoken to and that some agreements had been made.
What they didn't do was respond to the black and white.
Why have the works been allowed to start without the pre-commencement conditions being approved?
Why did the Council permit circa 1.6km of netting to be erected when the Environmental Statement said 20-50m would be installed?
Why did the council permit the use of netting at the lower levels when geotextile (which is more rigid and less prone to entanglement) was specified?
Why did the Council go out to Natural England and the RSPB then ignore their recommendations?
The Council need to come clean on this. They claim it has taken 5 years to plan the work, maybe it has but clearly 5 years wasn't enough.
Imagine the cost of all of putting up all of that netting. someone has sanctioned this it has been done with the knowledge of the project team.
There will be a further significant cost in taking it down.
No doubt this will now have caused a delay to the project and as the nesting sand martins are quite rightly protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, any disturbance to those birds will now amount to a criminal act. It is most likely this will cause even further delays.
I'm not certain who is funding this, however given that there is close involvement with the NNDC you can bet a substantial amount of the funding has come from public money.
It is clear that the black and white, was was written down and agreed has not been followed here. What has happened is not right it's wrong, where answers should have been yes they have been no.
This process has caused serious damage to the publics faith in the planning system it is now up to the Council to put right the wrongs, go back to black and white and re-plan the work so that it is carried out ensuring a) their own protocols are properly followed and b) the project is managed with as least damage to the environment as practically possible.
The good news is that NNDC had made a U-Turn, they have started taking down the netting and already sand martins have began to visit the burrows.
The fact remains that if NNDC had stuck to the black and white, none of this would have happened in the first place.
Thanks for reading.