UPDATE: Mid Sussex District Council has implemented similar restrictions to those imposed by Wealden District Council.
Green spaces in and around Uckfield are being identified by Wealden District Council in a bid to allow some housing development to re-start elsewhere in the town.
No planning applications for any significant developments have been approved since a clampdown to protect the Ashdown Forest came into force.
The effect of the restrictions is to prohibit development within 7km of the Forest, unless there is “mitigation”; in effect finding alternative open areas for people to enjoy to draw them away from the Forest.
Details of the policy change were announced in May. See: All building within 7km of Ashdown Forest must mitigate its own impact.
The effect has been to halt development, leading to protests from business people. See: New planning rules expected to hit business in Uckfield and Uckfield business people challenge council planning decision.
It has also led to plans for a new community hall at Buxted being put on hold. See: Plans for new community hall in Buxted are in jeopardy.
Two Wealden council officers have outlined progress to members of Uckfield Town Council.
Marina Brigginshaw, planning policy manager, said research showed the majority of visitors to the Forest came from the local area.
Dog walking and walking were the most common reasons for visiting and the closer people lived to the Forest, the greater the numbers visiting.
She said 73 per cent of people were regular visitors and the Forest was a recreational resource for the people of Uckfield, Crowborough, Mid Sussex and Lewes.
She said planning permission could be granted for new homes if it can be shown that the mitigation – known as SANGS (Suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces) – would work. Development within 400 metres of the Forest cannot be mitigated.
Wealden officer Kelly Sharp is working to identify potential SANGS in the Uckfield area.
She said the space must be as attractive, or more attractive to visitors, than the Forest. As an interim measure, in a bid to get development started again, the council is initially looking to designate SANGS on land that is already an open space or has limited public access.
Wealden is hoping to work with other landowners, including the town council, Woodland Trust, wildlife trust, RSPB, and Forestry Commission to find sites.
The district council would hope to work in partnership with other organisations to develop SANGS.
Suitable SANGS sites must be 10 hectares (although smaller areas could be linked by footpaths) and be able to provide a circular 2.5km walk.
They must be closer to the Forest than the proposed development and have spare visitor capacity. There would have to be a car park, safe routes, signposting, way markers, interpretation boards, must have easy-to-use paths, be semi-natural with unrestricted access.
It would be desirable for there to be a route map, gently undulating topography, open countryside and woodland, view-points and easy access on foot.
For a SANG to be successful developed, research would need to be carried out, including ecological surveys, to ensure the problem was not being taken from the Ashdown Forest and put somewhere else.
Enhancement work to SANGS would be needed and that cost would come from developers.
UPDATE: Natural England has a formula for working out how much SANGS land is needed to allow development: 8ha of SANGS are needed per 1,000 increase in population. A hectare measures around 2.5 acres.
*The district council has funding in place to look at air quality on the Ashdown Forest.