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Queensway Decision Delayed

Queensway Decision DelatedCuriously - as they say - on the same day that Blackpool has forwarded a suggested approval of planning permission for 584 houses on Marton Moss to the Secretary of State, that same Secretary of State has today announced that he won't be giving his decision on Kensington's Queensway application on 9th April as planned.

Instead, it looks as though it will now be 30th June when his decision on the 1,050 house Queensway development is known.

He says the delay is caused because he considers that "before coming to a decision, he needs to undertake an Appropriate Assessment of the proposed development in consultation with Natural England, in accordance with regulation 48(1) of the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations 1994." (We'll get to that in a minute)

So he's written to Natural England to initiate the Assessment process, and he will be asking some people - including QED we understand - for their comments the draft Assessment in due course.

As a result of the need to allow time for the Assessment to be completed, the Secretary of State says he will not be in a position to reach a decision by the previously specified date of 9 April 2010, and using powers available to him, he has given notice that he has varied the timetable previously set ,and he will now issue his decision on or before 30 June 2010.

He has copied the letters to all the other people and bodies who asked to be advised of the decision to tell them of the timetable variation.

These people will also be informed of the Secretary of State's eventual decision on the appeal and of any further intervening timetable variations if there are any.

But if any of the people who get copy letters want to be consulted on the draft Appropriate Assessment and to receive any further correspondence arising before the Secretary of State makes his final decision, they should let him know separately.

So what has he said to Natural England about this 'Appropriate Assessment' and what's one of them when its at home anyway?

Well, in the run up to the Public Inquiry, Natural England recommended that the 'competent authority' should complete a full Appropriate Assessment in order to ascertain that the proposed scheme would have no adverse effect on the integrity of the site.

They also confirmed that Natural England would maintain their objection until such an Assessment had been completed.

Subsequently, they also signed the Statement of Common Ground in relation to Ecology, and submitted it to the Inquiry.

This showed they were satisfied that sufficient information was available to enable an Appropriate Assessment to be carried out.

But (probably) because Natural England had said the "Competent Authority" needed to carry out the Appropriate Assessment and, since receiving the Inspector's report (with as yet unknown recommendations), the Secretary of State has himself become "The Competent Authority" for the purposes of the Act, then he feels he has to do it irrespective of whether Natural England felt they had seen enough or not.

So he thinks he needs to undertake an Appropriate Assessment before coming to a decision

He has also asked Natural England to advise him how the Appropriate Assessment process and its execution should be undertaken, with a view to producing an agreed document.

In simple terms, an Appropriate Assessment is the technical name given to a study  to ensure that sites of European importance are protected as part of the planning process.

The requirement to have such studies done is set out in  Article 6(3) and (4) of the European Communities (1992) Council Directive 92/43/EEC (only the most euro-geeky will be able to follow it, but the directive is readily available on the web from that link if you want to try).

It concerns the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (and is otherwise known as the "Habitats Directive" - and that link's a bit easier to read :-))).

So what does all this mean for Queensway?

Well, obviously a delay.

And that means the decision will be after the election. And that might mean the Conservatives are (just?) in power as Government. And if they are, they have said they will scrap the regional housing targets and much of the regional planning that is driving planning applications such as this, so that could mean a conservative minister making the decision. And we think that's more likely to be a "No" than a "Yes".

That said, as our  readers will follow, some of the links here are a bit tenuous.

As to why?   Well, it's difficult to see why the Assessment is being done.

It could be as a 'technical' piece of work, dotting i's and crossing t's to make sure there are no grounds for appeal to Europe by those who object (though we think we know some possibilities here already)

It might be that this delay was a convenient way of leaving the Minister more time to focus on the election campaign that is building behind the scenes at Westminster, and he's happy to dump it into the "IN" tray of an incoming Minister.

Or it may be that he's genuinely concerned about the birdies and whatnots that the Moss is so important for, and he wants to be sure everything is OK for them.

At this stage, readers can take their pick of what fits best.

If we find out more we'll let you know.

But we're prepared to bet that Kensington are less happy than most of the bunnies you'll see hopping round over the next week or two.

Dated:  25 March 2010


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