Main argument for refusal

(This forms the relevant part of the report to the committee 06-381 of July 07, in which it says that we satisfy the other low impact criteria)

Woodland Management Plan

The objective of the woodland management plan is to produce adequate timber for wood crafts and fuel for one low impact smallholding whilst enhancing the environmental qualities and biodiversity of the woodland. The woodland is part owned by the Roundhouse Trust and part owned by the Ysbrydol Trust.Woodland Management Plan

The objective of the woodland management plan is to produce adequate timber for wood crafts and fuel for one low impact smallholding whilst enhancing the environmental qualities and biodiversity of the woodland. The woodland is part owned by the Roundhouse Trust and part owned by the Ysbrydol Trust.

The woodland is divided into four zones; an area of 0.5 hectares of young trees that have encroached onto the Roundhouse field; an easterly facing slope of predominantly oak and ash; the floor of the valley predominantly of ash, alder and hazel and being very boggy; and an area to the east side of the Afon Clydach known as Bowen’s Meadow and comprising dense unmanaged undergrowth and ash and alder. Zone 1 is currently managed but the rest of the woodland is largely unmanaged at present. The aim is to maintain the ancient semi-natural broadleaved woodland in a favourable condition which will involve monitoring current tree canopy cover with an objective canopy cover of 80% with gaps of approximately 0.1-0.2 hectares every year. A higher rate may be employed in Zone 1 to achieve a working coppice and to benefit ground plants and protected and biodiversity action plan species.

Natural regeneration of native species with canopy gaps over 20 years should be a target of 100 saplings per 0.1 hectare of gap. Selective thinning will be carried out and 20% of felled timber shall be retained as dead wood to aid biodiversity. Standard trees in open conditions will be encouraged and extraction of timber will be done by horse. The coppice and thinning rotation carried out in Zone 1 will be extended to the other zones. The management regime will also take account of the need to protect and encourage lichens, dormice and bats and to protect the visual appearance of the woodland.

It is stated that the needs of the holding for fuel and crafts are 4 tonnes in total. The management regime set out will allow for this quantity to be taken and will be below the quantity needing a felling licence. All felling will be done in winter by hand tools and the footpath will be maintained.

Information has also been provided with regard to the standing timber volume, and the annual increment of the standing stock which has been estimated at 3-4 cubic metres per hectare, and with plans to thin/coppice/fell approximately 4 cubic metres for the total area, per annum, and it is stated that felling will take place at a sustainable level.

Consideration of Criteria Within Policy 50 of the JUDP

i. The proposal will make a positive environmental, social and/or economic contribution with public benefit

The SPG relating to low impact development states with regard to this criteria that “A positive contribution or net gain will be required to be demonstrated in terms of how biodiversity is protected and enhanced on site”.

With regard to the social and economic benefits it is stated “An overall gain will need to be demonstrated. An assessment of these benefits will need to consider what the proposal will provide both on site and as a wider public benefit….. Examples of socio-economic contributions with wider public benefit could include; the provision of skills training; provision of local facilities; provision of services to the local community including making natural and locally produced food available; positive health recreational development through public access e.g. opening footpaths or educational visits through practical demonstration of more sustainable technology; provision of local employment.

Advice has been sought from the Authority’s ecologist and woodland officer with regard to the environmental implications of this proposal taking account of the Management Plan, Ecological Assessment and Woodland Management Plan. In addition, reference has been made to the aerial photographs taken in 1983 and 1992 and the Phase 1 Habitat Survey carried out by the Countryside Council for Wales in the early 1990s. It should be noted that any application falling to be considered against policy 50 of the JUDP would be assessed in terms of its likely impact/changes on/to existing habitats and flora and fauna through an assessment of the species in situ at the time of the application and the predicted effect that a proposal would have on these. In this instance, as the application is partly retrospective it is possible to ascertain whether any changes have already occurred to habitats and species diversity on the site which could be a direct result of the development on the site. These changes could be either positive or negative.

In this instance from the historical evidence and the current evidence on site, it is clear that there have been changes to the habitats within the site. The aerial photographs from 1983 and 1992 showed the area to be of undisturbed semi-natural vegetation comprising woodland edge and unimproved marshy grassland. The evidence from the Ecological Assessment shows that two new habitats have also been created; namely arable (this being the fruit and vegetable areas) and marginal/swamp created from the reed bed system dealing with the grey water from the site. The Authority’s ecologist describes these as “wholly artificial having arisen from that development”. These two habitats have replaced part of the semi-natural habitat through the construction of the roundhouse, the creation of a “garden”, the reed bed system, and the nutrient enrichment caused by both the reed bed and the composting of the areas used for the growing of fruit and vegetables, all contributing to a loss of marshy grassland which is a UK and Local Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitat and woodland habitat. It is also your ecologist’s view that the proposals are likely to have an impact on protected species such as dormice, bats and invertebrates through the encroachment into these important semi-natural habitats which make an essential contribution to the biodiversity of the area.

It could be argued that the creation of two new habitats is beneficial to increasing biodiversity in the area. However, it is not considered that the arable and marginal/swamp habitats that have been created have the same value to local biodiversity as the semi-natural habitats that they have replaced. These habitats would not have ever existed in this location in the absence of this development and does result in a negative effect on the ecological footprint of the area. It is therefore considered that this development does not and cannot make a positive environmental contribution due to the impact that it has (and will continue to have) on the semi-natural habitats that exist in this location.

In light of the above, consideration needs to be given as to whether the negative effect of the footprint of the development and its resulting change in habitat can be “offset” by a positive environmental benefit directly arising from the development being present. In this respect, the applicants have obtained a further area of woodland and have submitted a woodland management plan as summarised above, to identify how the management of this woodland will both provide their sustainable livelihood, but also make a positive environmental contribution as required by policy 50.

In this regard, the Authority’s Woodland Officer does not consider that the woodland can yield the timber that has been identified without causing deterioration of the overall woodland in the longer term. She is of the opinion that the quantity needed for fuel and timber crafts cannot be extracted to meet demand and continue to provide the full range of woodland habitats that exist on the site. As a result the woodland management regime proposed could lead to further habitat degradation and again the proposal must fail when considered against criteria 1 of policy 50 as it fails to make a positive environmental contribution.

Notwithstanding the above, should the applicants be able to change the management regime to meet their demands and provide some positive woodland management, there is concern at the small area of woodland that is being used to provide a case for making a positive environmental contribution. The overall woodland is significantly larger than the area forming part of this application, which as a whole provides an extremely important contribution to the overall biodiversity and habitat links throughout the area. This small portion of the woodland, however positively managed cannot, in your officers view, be a reason to grant permission for a development that causes other negative impacts. To offset those negative impacts it is considered that the whole woodland should be positively managed which could provide a very positive environmental contribution to the locality, habitats and the wider National Park. The argument that a small portion of woodland, appropriately managed justifies the erection of a low impact dwelling which will inevitably result in an impact through its ecological footprint could be used over and over again and could result in severe degradation of the National Park landscape.

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