In April 2019 the South Downs National Park Authority resolved to grant a further temporary planning permission, for another 6 years, to the Matterley Estate to change the use of approximately 2 square miles of downland from solely agriculture, enabling a music festival and a sports event to be held every year. In so doing they ignored Government advice not to grant more than one temporary planning consent and Government Policy that major development such as this should not be located in National Parks
This new permission will extend a similar 3-year temporary permission granted in 2016. The permission covers over 1,200 acres (over 500 hectares) of open downland and woodland including an SSSI. The site includes the route of the South Downs Way (diverted during festivals).
To see how the Hampshire Chronicle reported the news CLICK HERE The decision now means the site at Matterley Farm in the South Downs National Park, can carry on hosting the annual festival, which has dramatically increased in scale over recent years (last year’s attendance was 65,000 and the new consent gives plenty of room to double that at least) as well as an annual sports event until the end of 2024. The new consent will be in addition to the existing, pre-National Park, consents for an international level motocross circuit, which attracts tens of thousands and a tank-driving course.
The site is by the main western Gateway to the National Park, high up on the Downs above Winchester and commands breath-taking views across the beautiful Downland. It is centred on a natural bowl in the landscape and includes a large SSSI. At about 2 square miles, the area exceeds the size of the Glastonbury festival site (900 acres). It is located where the A272 joins the A31 just outside Winchester.
Over a number of years, ‘Glastonbury’ style concert events have been held here, but the environmental impacts have never been properly monitored. The main event organisation who hold events here is Boomtown Fair, which presents a themed festival that is unrelated to the National Park.
The Friends of the South Downs believe Thursday’s decision was a black day in the history of decision making by the South Downs National Park Authority.
The members heard pleas on behalf of at least 6 parish councils and a Planning expert that the festival should not be given further temporary planning permission. Parish Councillor David Pain, said that he had had to make FoIs to obtain information from the National Park which exposed that the applicant had not been providing annual ecology reports to the NPA (as required by a condition on the temporary consent) and that the NPA had not been monitoring the effects on the Park and had no criteria for doing so. Martin Hendry, a highly experienced Chartered Planner who had worked at Hampshire County Council, said that the application was for EIA development and contrary to the EIA Regulations had not been accompanied by an Environmental Statement, which would have exposed its impacts on the environment. The National Park Authority had also ignored Government advice not to repeat temporary consents.
A letter was read from Mr. Terence Jones, a respected local ornithologist, pointing out that the ecology site walkovers had been undertaken at the wrong time of the year and no counts of birds or bats had been done. He gave an example of the importance of this site in that it’s one of the only two sites in Hampshire where corn bunting breed. He was concerned that ecology surveys had not been carried out properly.
Speaking in support of the application were the owner of the land and one of his sons, and a representative of Boomtown, who said it was the only major festival site in any National Park. From a National Park point of view, I think this is hardly an accolade they will want to promote.
When the National Park Planning Officer described the development, he assiduously avoided mentioning the importance of ecology and the effect on the SSSI. It seemed the justification for the 6-year extension is that it would be ‘give time for the effects of holding a series of such large events to be measured against the effect on the local ecology’. Only one member spoke up reminding the others about the importance of the National Park purposes saying that the development did not seem to relate to these two important purposes. Unfortunately, at the end of the debate he and all the other members voted in favour of the development.
This photo was taken in April 2019. As you will see this is a very special landscape. You can see in the lower part of the bowl a tarmac roadway, which along with other such roadways may not have planning permission. Apparently, the National Park Authority considers them to be required for agricultural purposes and hence consented by the General Permitted Development Order. This seems very odd as most farmers are happy using a countryside track and in any event, there are modern way of disguising parking and trackways suitable for consistent use which allow grass to grow in a mesh layer.
The Society believes the case for another (6-year) temporary permission has not been made. This is a proposal for major development in a National Park, which Government policy firmly states should not be permitted except in exceptional circumstances, none of which apply in this case. A further temporary consent may eventually lead to the permanent establishment of a large-scale entertainment arena. Permission will also act as a precedent, encouraging others to bring forward injurious applications for events within the South Downs National Park.
The Society believes that this type of development could be stopped from gaining a foothold by the issue an Article 4 directive. In summary, the Society believes that this permission flies in the face of the purposes and duty of National Parks which are as follows:
The Environment Act 1995 complements the original1949 legislation by setting out two statutory purposes for national parks in England and Wales:
- To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
- To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public
When national parks carry out these purposes, they also have the duty to:
- Seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the national parks
This proposal conforms with neither of the statutory purposes and does nothing positive for national park communities. Its approval sets a very worrying precedent for the future.