In forming my response I have attended the sessions at the Kingston Society meeting and the new Urban Room. I have also made FOI requests for clarification on some issues. I believe that the problems faced by the borough are enormous and the Policy 10 falls short of what is required to address the problems.
Generally, the Local Plan is comprehensively written as it is taken from the London Plan but omits the required emphasis on protection making ‘exceptional circumstances’ to destroy, become the norm by the use of phrases such as: –
KN3 B …’and only pursue offsite provision where it can be demonstrated that this is not feasible or compatible with the intended uses of the site.’
KN3 G ‘Proposals to improve access to SINC’s could be supported where it could be demonstrated that the development…’.
KN3 10.36 ‘Offsite compensation will only be acceptable when it has been demonstrated that the need for and the benefits of the development, clearly outweigh any losses.
KN4 F ‘Existing street trees shall be retained as part of any development and proposed removal – without any justification – will be refused.
KN6 B ‘Inappropriate developments within the Green belt will not be permitted unless very special circumstances….’
In fact, effort has been made to make the protections elastic rather than proffering them as safeguards for biodiversity. Nature spaces can therefore include access infrastructure KN3 G (ref. the road that was put through the Pipe Track). This is management for people, leisure and amenity not protection for biodiversity in crisis.
KN1 Blue and Green Infrastucture
The Environment Agency remit and certain NGO’s do place constraints on the river corridor. In the Let’s Talk pre-amble introducing the Draft Local Plan, the public have stated they want to see the rivers protected. The Hogsmill particularly is under a lot of development pressure and increased development increases the potential for sewage in the river. There are few signs that the council are taking responsibility for the river in its entirety (see photo below). There are plans to construct heating systems involving infrastructure across the Hogsmill with partners that have found themselves in court with hefty fines for law-breaking.
The concepts of ‘No Net Loss of Biodiversity’, and a ‘Net Gain for Biodiversity’ are not new. They have been mandated in the National Planning Policy Framework and built into Supplementary Planning Guidance but this has not been enforced in Kingston. The concern is that Kingston might exploit the trend for biodiversity offsetting. This will increase the communities living in desultory, concrete landscapes. Offsets from past developments have already been earmarked for new development and are not dependable.
The mitigation hierarchy diagram 10.6 is not referenced. In the Defra Consultation 2022, a similar diagram was produced referenced ‘adapted from BBOP’s adaptation from Rio Tinto and government of Australia’ see page 17. It is unlike the Mitigation Hierarchy produced by Natural England. It should be removed as the green portion on the ‘Offset’ seems to give a ‘green light’ to Biodiversity Offsetting which should be a last resort. Offsetting is not equitable and like the CIL payments removes the benefits from the community that has suffered the harm.
Giving this ascent to ‘offsetting’, would be a developers dream but it would run counter to the ten tenets of Biodiversity Net Gain (not referenced in the document). These include EQUITY & TRANSPARENCY.
The borough is already the most deficient in Access to Nature south of the Thames with the exception of Lambeth according to Greenspace Information for Greater London. So, if offsetting biodiversity was seen as permissible and desirable by the ‘green colour’- in the diagram at 10.6 (a complex system not well understood by officers) then it might remove even more green spaces from those communities with poor access to nature.
This has been the modus operandi of the council in recent years, allowing development on Moor Lane school playing fields, Kingsmeadow, etc. It could lead to a disconnect of those communities with nature as well as the destruction of green networks through which urban wildlife can transit.
The council may well prefer to have an offset, which would act as a distraction to the concrete towers of late. It has all to do with PR and not biodiversity. It can lead to what Professor Milner terms ‘the zooification of nature’. The diagram at 10.6 and the ambiguous language should be modified to be unconditional.
KN3 – 10.31
It should be made very clear what the delivery of 30% Net Gain should look like. The Defra Metric applies to ‘habitat types’ and not just green infrastructure. The mix needs to be made clearer or habitat will be lost, (vast areas of unimproved grassland have been lost in the Greenbelt). Birds cannot nest in green walls. Development in Kingston in recent years has been total footprint in iterations such as Harlow Gardens. Losses of ancient hedgerow with veteran oak standards, such as Pear Tree Close where buildings were sited too close to trees and removed after four years. Losses of 25 semi -mature London Plane and Norway maples at the former Homebase -almost a copse – now site look like this. Monitoring
New habitat/green infrastructure should last for 30 years, but who will monitor this. There is very little enforcement of planning conditions as the council is too short-staffed to check. Most environmental conditions state adherence to vanished ecological reports from the planning website, so residents don’t have a clue whether the developer has carried out the conditions. It is a recipe for neglect and benefits only the developers again BNG is about TRANSPARENCY.
Who is the arbiter of those threats to nature? Few threats are mentioned in the Draft Plan (lighting and noise) yet many were raised in the public consultation. Dogs cause untold damage to the river corridors and local ponds as well as running uncontrolled off leads on nature spaces. Where are the recommendations for buffers between the development and existing habitats. Where is the understanding that biodiversity doesn’t come out of a packet of seeds and it is the old growth that needs protection. The boundary hedgerow where life supporting webs linger is so indispensable.
Lack of permeability is a massive threat to small animals like hedgehogs, yet concrete soil boards have become the norm. Plastic turf the death knell to even the smallest invertebrate community is used by the council. The correct place for these details is the Supplementary Planning Guidance for Biodiversity, which is very out of date as it hails from a time when developments were undertaken in a less destructive way to fulfil the needs of a community rather than disrespect and dominate it.
KN4 Urban Greening and Trees
There is insufficient detail in this section. This is an important section where the council has been under much public scrutiny. Trees should be assessed using value metrics, such as CAVAT, to allow evidence-led assessment of value according to the London Plan. The Kingston iteration of this is not at all clear.
One tree can equate to £thousands but the 2 for 1 recipe gives no weight to the role of trees. Again, there is a sense of ‘give us the money for our trees’ and so our well-being is ‘traded’. No sense of where the money might go, and for those who don’t know about CAVAT, the Piper willow on the Cambridge Road Estate was valued at £38,000 a lot more than the cost of 2 trees. More information needs to be provided.
There should be clear statements about the tree root protection zones and the application of British Standards in the development context. The council are not applying the BS in their development of Cambridge Road Estate, using proprietary mesh so that they can build on top of the tree root protection area.
A clear statement should be produced for when tree felling is acceptable, details are required for the sake of transparency not for expediting a development.
All developments should minimise the impact on existing trees, HEDGEROW and other significant vegetation within the red line plan and the adjoining land. Sufficient space should be provided for root protection and the developing crowns of these trees. We have seen many new total footprint developments ruin hedgerow and trees on adjacent land, such as the Hampden Road development on the hedgerow in Gladstone Road.
Significant pruning of trees to allow tall buildings to be constructed should not be allowed and there should be a harmonious relationship between the trees and buildings.
Replacement of trees in pots should not be allowed as the trees only last 5 years and the BNG should last for 30 years. The trees in troughs outside the Vibe development are already dead.
KN6 Green Belt
The map of the Green Belt fig 10.10 shows a green southern cone of the borough suggesting a functioning greenbelt. The reality is very different as this is a densely developed area with massive car parks, access roads, an air field, gas and electricity infrastructure, busy roads and poorly managed, overgrazed fields. Several nature reserves, priority and European Protected Species have taken the brunt of these activities, particularly from infrastructure development, inappropriate lighting, shooting clubs and other business interests that were subject to grants of planning. Sixty Acre Wood, a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation has lost hundreds of trees and continues to do so.
Many inappropriate activities are tolerated with no realistic compensation (sometimes passing into obsolescence after planning conditions are deemed ‘fulfilled’). The few lines stating how the Greenbelt and its nature reserves will be protected in the future is therefore inadequate.
We need Public Space Protection Orders to support Dogs on Leads on Nature Reserves with the increase not only of people but the sheer number of animals that people own.
Building for a lot of extra people requires greater scrutiny and a Green Infrastructure Quality Monitoring officer must be top of the list to make sure we actually do get a Net Gain.
Practice species and habitat conservation, not default to endless rounds of licenced removals, unscientific translocations and tree removals. Tree planting is a waste of time, nothing is surviving in our changed climate.
Remove the multiple opt out clauses from Local Plan (e.g. ‘unless justified’, special circumstances, unless demonstrated’).
Finally ban Astroturf, concrete soil-boards in new development and up your game generally on the environment.