In my previous article, I railed against the planning system which serves us badly when it comes to protecting and enhancing biodiversity. In this article, I look in more detail at the Fishmore Quarry housing development where the one of Ludlow’s richest areas of biodiversity has been bulldozed. It is far from clear whether the tree and shrub clearance is within current planning consents, though the developer insists it is. What is clear is that technical changes to this scheme have led to a significant loss of biodiversity. One of the biggest losses we have seen in Ludlow.
We can’t keep allowing this. We should not have allowed it here. Biodiversity can’t be instantly replaced by scattering seeds or planting quicks and saplings. Biodiversity areas take decades to mature. We must change the way we assess planning applications to ensure this doesn’t keep happening.
The meadow on Castle View Terrace overlooks the quarry cliff face. The photos above show the before and after picture. The top of the quarry edge is shortly to be graded to 45 degrees.
Over the last few days, we have seen the destruction of one of Ludlow’s most important urban wildlife corridors. The developer will replant but it will be many years before bugs, beasties, small mammals and all the stuff of biodiversity feel at home.
Shropshire Homes is developing the Fishmore Quarry site for a high density housing development. Our town needs the sort of housing going up there.
What we don’t need is the scorched earth actions currently underway on the former quarry cliff edge. After days of discussion, at times heated, it is still not resolved that the work is within planning permission. Some officers within the council think it is not. But that will matter not one jot. The trees have gone.
We did not know when the outline application for 74 homes was submitted in 2016 that the development would lead to the brutal clearance of most of the quarry face (16/03096/OUT). The plan was initially for walling and gabions at the bottom of the slope. But when the scheme was approved in 2019, there was no mention of how the quarry face would be stabilised. That would be dealt with in a subsequent report to Shropshire Council.
A revision to the scheme was submitted in 2019 changing the layout and adding an additional home (19/05374/FUL). Again, stabilisation of the quarry face was deferred to a later report though the plans indicate that the developer had abandoned gabions and a wall at the base of the quarry face in favour of a retaining fence. Shropshire Council’s tree team, which had not been consulted on the earlier applications, said the revised scheme would lead to further erosion of the landscape and a tree protection and maintenance plan should be submitted. This request was not taken up by council planners.
Details of planning applications are resolved under what are known as reserved matters. The reserved matters application for the Fishmore Quarry included a landscape plan which asserted “existing naturalised trees & shrubs on former quarry face to be retained” (19/02060/REM). However, a caveat was added “subject to final details”. An assurance was also given by Shropshire Homes that trees would be retained or coppiced where possible.
All planning applications are accompanied by conditions and these must be formally discharged before or as a scheme progresses. One such discharge application provided details for protection for five trees on the quarry face but once again gave no clue that the quarry face was to be reprofiled (20/01094/DIS).
Further changes were made in 2020, increasing the number of homes (20/01326/FUL). The council’s tree team objected but this seems to have been ignored by the planners.
A subsequent application was made to discharge the condition requiring plans to be submitted for stabilising the quarry face (20/02050/DIS). This application proposed devegetation of significant parts of the slope crest and upper part, along with a soil nail array with erosion protection matting and steel mesh. The extent of the work did not however become apparent until other applications were submitted (20/04228/DIS; 21/00752/VAR). The second of these seems to have extended the working area to the very edge of the meadow on Castle View Terrace, another site that Shropshire Homes wants to develop. This takes the work outside the area outside the area with existing planning permission.
If you think this is getting confusing, it is. Last year there were up to fifteen applications for permission, variation of permission and discharge of conditions for Fishmore Quarry being considered by Shropshire Council at the same time. Some applications seem to contradict others. What is clear that the complexity of the applications meant that it was difficult to have clear oversight of what was being proposed.
Significant changes have been made to this development. They were barely visible to residents and councillors. I have concerns that planning officers did not always recognise the implications of what was being proposed for the extensive biodiversity that was once on the quarry face.
And therein lies a major problem. Biodiversity and landscape protection are nearly always second place to bricks, mortar and tarmac in planning considerations. Too often that means that biodiversity and environmental protection is below the radar.
We urgently need a major upgrade to local and national planning policies to ensure that biodiversity is one of the primary matters considered when assessing planning applications.