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New Forest national park director Steve Avery – area has 'reached its limit' for development

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THE prospect of shutting the door on future development in the national park has been raised by a planning chief after he warned the area had "reached its limit".

Developments were facing so many constraints that it raised doubts about the area’s ability to take much more, said Steve Avery, the national park authority's executive director of strategy and planning.

"When you are negotiating recreational impacts, nitrate impacts and transport impacts it tells you: you are really at environmental capacity," he told an NPA planning committee meeting on Tuesday.

Steve Avery, the national park authority's executive director of strategy and planning
Steve Avery, the national park authority's executive director of strategy and planning

"It’s certainly something that we will think about when we come to review the Local Plan, depending on the national planning framework we have in place at that time. I think we really have reached our limit."

He pointed out how some small-scale developments, such as commoners' dwellings and affordable housing, were being held up by limits on nitrate pollution while bigger schemes, such as the Fawley Waterside plan for 1,500 homes, were able to offset impacts on-site.

Mr Avery made the comments when the committee debated the nitrate neutrality policy it has to abide by as part of new planning guidance.

Members ultimately endorsed the policy, which is enforced and monitored by Natural England (NE) – but did so under protest.

The policy was brought in as excessive nutrients in the Solent’s internationally protected habitats, including from housing, were leading to an increase in algae growth, harming flora and fauna.

The new rules aim to stop developments making the problem worse by requiring applicants and the NPA mitigate the impact on nitrate rates across the entire Solent area.

Can the national park take more development?
Can the national park take more development?

That can be done through schemes, which must be approved by NE, either on the application site or elsewhere within the authority area or nearby, such as the Isle of Wight.

The meeting heard how land is limited in the New Forest, although the NPA is in negotiations over one site, so it often has to look to other areas.

NPA member Gordon Bailey revealed how Test Valley Borough Council bought an 80-year lease of a pig farm that cancelled operations in exchange for being granted a number of housing units which constructors could then pay for.

But stopping a parcel of land that was providing food so more people could move into an area was branded "utter madness" by NPA member Richard Clewer.

"I find this policy from government to be deeply frustrating," he said. "There is no way, with population growth and housebuilding, we can honestly be phosphate-neutral and nitrate neutral – it’s a sticking plaster at best.

"These are fudges we have got to carry on because government wants to carry on building housing at an unsustainable rate because the population is growing at an unsustainable rate."

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