Planning is at the forefront of many people’s thoughts at the moment, both locally as we move to the final stages of the preparation of Ashford’s Local Plan, and nationally as the Government ponders changes to the National Planning Policy Framework. While housing numbers inevitably dominate both sets of consideration, there are other issues which need to be carefully considered.
One of these is the provision of small-scale green spaces in and around urban areas. When I went to the Singleton Environment Centre’s Open Day I was struck that the fields and woods around the centre are becoming increasingly important as the houses grow in number in the surrounding areas.
It is possible to strike a balance between the need for new houses and the preservation of good access to green areas and the countryside, and although it is always difficult to get it right, places like the Singleton Environment Centre are vital in helping to preserve that balance.
Another key element on the green side of this balance are Local Wildlife Sites, which are areas with substantive nature conservation value, and have a key role to play in preserving threatened species and habitats. There are dozens in the Ashford area, from the Rother Levels to Denge Wood, and from Longbeech Wood to Orlestone Forest.
The Kent Wildlife Trust can guide landowners about looking after these sites, and the Wildlife Trust nationally is very keen that the NPPF does not weaken their protection. Unlike Sites of Special Scientific Interest there is no protection in law for Local Wildlife Sites.
This means that the planning system needs to protect them. I very much support the creation and preservation of these sites, and will make this case to Ministers as they consider future planning policy.