I was one of the Councillors on the County Planning Committee who, on 7 February this year, refused planning permission for 430 houses at Woodham Bridge. To be honest, I had initially thought permission would be given, but was convinced by the Planning Officers’ argument that the site is a ‘valued landscape’.
TWO REASONS First, I was persuaded that the site provides a ‘strategic separation’ between Newton Aycliffe and Woodham Village – a ‘green wedge’ which the proposed housing estate would destroy. Secondly, however – and in my opinion more importantly – I saw that the site is an integral part of the Woodham Burn corridor, and as such indeed a highly valuable landscape. Woodham Burn is a wildlife corridor of immense local importance, connecting – right through the centre of our town – the unique Carrs environment to the east of Aycliffe to the unique limestone escarpment to the west. Along that corridor travel roe deer, kingfishers, water voles, green woodpeckers, short eared owls, pipistrelle bats, otters and maybe badgers, as well as many smaller organisms including seeds, pollen, spores and insects. The corridor thus brings the countryside to within 400 metres of the town centre, and is an environmental ‘trachea’ for our town. 95% of animals use riparian corridors for travel, and 60% of migrating birds. Best of all are wooded riparian corridors, because they provide cover – they are rated zero impedance for wildlife.
PARAGRAPH 109 This function of the Burn is in fact just one of what are called ‘ecosystem services’ provided by riparian corridors – including help with nutrient cycles, and snow and wind protection. It also provides outdoor recreational and educational settings, and helps define our sense of place. The Appellant has looked at our Burn corridor and declared it unremarkable environmentally … actually, for Newton Aycliffe, it is impossible to understate its importance for our environmental health – carrying a self-replenishing ecology, not just along the Burn itself but (via our many walks and ‘green fingers’ through and between estates) outwards to all the town’s green spaces. We must not allow it to be severed. Moreover, when the Planning Officers showed me the map of the proposed housing estate, I saw that the Woodham Bridge application site is not just an integral part of the Burn corridor, but is a wide ‘mouth’ to its eastern end, funnelling wildlife along a viable corridor through the heart of the town. And therefore, on account of the ecosystem services it facilitates, I decided that the site was indeed a ‘valued landscape’ for Newton Aycliffe, and that Paragraph 109 of the National Planning Policy Framework applied – the commitment “to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks”. I will be writing, therefore, to oppose the appeal and to support the Council’s decision to refuse planning permission.
John D Clare