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heathland “protection” or a cash cow for vested interests?

Comment 29th July 2010

I must confess a vested interest since we are affected by the arbitrary "rule" in respect of development close to heathland.

Natural England, who have acquired the role of Statutory Consultees on any planning application, have decided, in their wisdom, that there should not be any residential development within 400m of heathland and that any development between 400m and 5km should attract a levy of up to £1500 to finance the maintenance of the heath, which they assure us, are put at serious risk by the increase in visitor numbers together with their pets – apparently dog fascaes "enriches" the soil too much; cats are predatory on one the very few species that inhabit what is a very poor ecological habitat, whilst the feet of human visitors damages the fragile soil and vegetation. Despite several requests they have been unable or unwilling to provide me with the independent research that led them to their conclusions, and to the resultant significant bar to the provision of/increase in cost of much needed housing.

Interestingly the revenue from the levy, or "lizard tax" as it is affectionately known locally, is to be used in part to "improve access" for vistors to the heaths, thereby adding to the perceived problem!

Furthermore there appears to be a fundamental Human Rights issue, since the protection of the heathland is affecting land outside of the heathland boundary. That this is based on spurious, and undisclosed, evidence is undemocratic and grossly unfair. Natural England and others have a vested interest, often a very narrow interest, in promoting themselves to secure revenue and grants, which, in this instance, act directly and unfairly against other policies, most particularly the need for more housing. Using public funds to impede public interest.

Why does this matter?

The protection of the heathland is a laudible aim, but such protection should remain within the boundaries of the heathland – the application of restrictions and levies outside ot those boundaries is surely "ultra viries" and an infringement of individual Human Rights.

Narrow interest groups should not be allowed to impede progress on purely "self interested" and unsubstantiated grounds and should certainly not receive public funding to do so.

Natural England have access to significant public funding and therefore they have access to the full extent of the legal system. They say that I, as a member of the general public, have the right to appeal against any planning decision and beyond that to the High Court. However I have no right to public funds to prosecute my case whereas they use public funds to frustrate and obfuscate any genuine and reasonable request for honest answers to honest questions. That is grossly unfair since, I, like the majority of the public, cannot afford to incur huge legal fees to test whether they are acting lawfully.

Fairness and equity should be at the heart of any decision/action which affects others.

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