GERSTON POINT – THE HEADLINES
The government proposes to strengthen the Local Authority’s enforcement powers and sanctions against intentional unauthorised development, consider higher fines and look at ways of supporting enforcement activity.
(See ‘Planning for the Future‘ )
NOT A REGULAR ROOST – MORE A ‘BED AND BREAKFAST’ SHORT STAY
Back in September 2019, South Hams District Council decided that the large garage, tennis court and skateboard bowl, built without planning permission at Gerston Point, in the highly protected South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, should be demolished. It still has not happened!
In March the building’s owners submitted an assessment to the Council that suggested the unauthorised garage might have become an important regular roost for very rare Grey Long-eared Bats. That helped to put the demolition on hold.
But now a new report, by a second ecologist engaged by the owners, casts doubt on the suggestions made in the first report! After analysing some of the bat droppings from the garage, the second ecologist found that they are not rarities at all, but were ‘produced’ by the Common Long-Eared bat. And, far from being an established regular roost, the relative scarcity of bat droppings indicated that the ‘common’ visitors had probably only used the building as a bed and breakfast stopover!
The original assessment had pointed out that before it could be confirmed that the garage was a regular roost, an expert survey to count the bats would have to be done during this summer. The summer has come and gone but despite the second ecologist’s visit, that “necessary” survey still has not been done, so no one knows for certain if any bats are currently using the ‘stopover’.
Only 20 or so bat droppings (from 2019) were identified in the original assessment report. The normal size of a colony of Brown Long-eared bats is between 10 to 20 bats and can be up to 50. The latest expert bat survey notes that, like the first report, only around twenty droppings were found in the ‘unauthorised’ garage.
So, with no bats counted, just 20 droppings and no “important” permanent rare bat roost, what’s stopping the Council from enforcing the law?
Where have all the droppings gone – long time passing
So, you might now be wondering why the illegal building is still standing. Well, the first appraisal , found that it was: “evident from the examination of some surfaces in this storage area, that brown or grey long-eared bats used that part of the building as a roost during summer and autumn of 2019“. So, the engines on the bulldozers were turned off!
The original appraisal report also noted that: “Tests could be carried out to determine which species are using the building to roost” and added: “It will be necessary to carry out emergence surveys during the late spring to early summer of 2020, to confirm the status of mezzanine storage area as a bat roost. If bats return to roost, it would be unlawful to disturb them.”
The appraisal prematurely and misleadingly claimed: “It has been demonstrated clearly that the outbuilding provides an established bat roost.” and indeed went further and described the “shed” as an “important roost”.
Back in May, we publicly raised our concerns about some of these ‘inconsistencies’ with the Applicants Agent and the appraisal’s author , but ‘silence was their stern reply!’ Then, on the 2nd July 2020 – some 14 months on from the “summer and autumn of 2019” when the bats had, apparently, visited the “shed”, a new ‘Bat Survey’ was undertaken by an experienced ecologist.
That second survey found: “the presence of a moderate number of droppings (about 20)” on the upper level of the building. Some of the droppings were removed for DNA analysis, which later confirmed that the building had “been used for roosting by “by a small number” of bats, and: “probably as an ‘occasional/transitional’ roost.” for Common Long-Eared Brown bats.
So hardly the “important” and “established” roost claimed in the original appraisal report.
Nevertheless, one bat is one bat! And all bats are protected. But while the first report may have overstated the case, and misleadingly claimed there were “overwhelming” strong ecological and habitat factors that would constrain any proposed removal of the accommodation provided by the outbuilding. The assessment report also clearly indicated that, so long as appropriate “alternative provision” was made for roosting bats, then the building could be demolished.
Having, misleadingly described it as an “important” and “established” roost, the first report had also made it clear that: “It will be necessary to carry out emergence surveys during the late spring to early summer of 2020, to confirm the status of mezzanine storage area as a bat roost.” Having engaged a second ecologist and revisited the site in June, the question has to be asked, why was the “necessary” emergence survey and counting not undertaken as proposed?
Sure, the DNA tests on the droppings have established that the samples examined came from the “occasional” long-eared visitor to the building. But remember, the photographs (in the planning file) taken in February 2020 of the previous seasons’ droppings, only show about 20 bat droppings. In other words, no more droppings were found on the second survey than were deposited in the “summer and autumn of 2019”
It is clear, in the images submitted for the Applicant, that ‘overwhelmingly’ it is birds that are the regular overnight visitors to the “shed”. That, in itself, reduces the buildings attractiveness to bats. That fact just might explain why no significant additional droppings were found during the second survey than were apparently ‘deposited’ in 2019 and photographed during the first ‘assessment’ visit to the building.
As any provision for an alternative roosting area would need to be approved by Natural England and the South Hams District Council, it also would be necessary to demonstrate that bats were using the alternative roost – before the existing “occasional” roost could be removed. So, why was that counting survey not carried out during this summer?
Earlier this year the Leader of South Hams District Council remarked: “It’s a question of whether the offer of 1,000 trees is enough to offset the damage being done by what is a big shed, almost a warehouse, in the back garden where they must have known it wouldn’t be allowed.”
In short, it is indisputable that harm has been caused to the highly protected area; and that extraordinary mitigation measures have been proposed to ‘compensate’ for, and hide, the harm caused by the unauthorised development.
We also point out that if the Applicants wished to provide the landscape enhancements, tree planting, and the other improvements, such as alternative bat roosts at Gerston Point, they certainly could, irrespective of the decision the Local Authority finally takes about the Retrospective Planning Application.
Many in the South Hams community are very concerned about the signals being sent out to those, who might be willing to ignore local, national planning procedures and law, if the South Hams District Council planning enforcement regime appears unable to control unauthorised and harmful development in our highly protected areas.
Simply the long delay in resolving this outstanding and notorious contravention of planning law is seriously undermining public confidence in the Local Authority and the planning system – all at a time when the government promises to increase the protection in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
It really is ‘a long time passing’ – and the Council surely must complete the enforcement procedures without any more unreasonable delay.
|Planning Application Ref: 0848/20/FUL|
|Applicant Name: Mr & Mrs S Thomas|
|Description: Retrospective application for change of use of land to domestic use with carport and storage building with proposed additional landscape and ecological enhancements (resubmission of 0042/19/FUL)|
|Address: Gerston Point Gerston Farm West Alvington TQ7 3BA|
|Officer Name: Cheryl Stansbury|
|Agent Name: Mr Mark Evans Mark Evans Planning Limited Cedar House Membland Newton Ferrers PL8 1HP 01752 872162 https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-evans-25a8ba62/|
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