The former Chattenden military barracks and associated land at Lodge Hill, on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent, became surplus to MoD requirements in the late C20th and began to be mooted for major redevelopment in high level regional strategies through the 1990’s and into the 2000’s.
Medway Council, struggling to find sites for housing delivery, joined up with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s (DIO’s) development partner Land Securities to promote and secure a strategically critical site allocation in the emerging Local Plan, and prepare a planning application for a new settlement of 5000 houses and a similar amount of employment provision. Rather late in this process it was recognised by the Council and the developers that the site held exceptional numbers of nightingales (as well as other rapidly declining species such as turtle dove) and even later that it was a repository for significant areas of unimproved neutral grassland. Local and national conservation groups, including Medway Countryside Forum (MCF), Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT), and the RSPB, staunchly opposed the planned loss of this site, but they became joined by a number of strategic developers who recognised that the delivery of much of the Council’s housing quota on this one unsuitable site would impact on development prospects for their own land portfolios. One of these developers instructed Bioscan to bring their ecological and ornithological expertise to bear in the Local Plan Examination to ‘knock the site out’.
Working collaboratively with the RSPB, MCF and KWT and alongside legal counsel, Bioscan successfully exposed an attempt to misuse the emerging concept of biodiversity offsetting to justify destruction of a nationally important site, as well as challenging other claims. Ultimately the Local Plan was found unsound, the site was designated a SSSI and the development proposals were shelved, albeit they remain an aspiration in a substantially scaled down form.
Image attribution: Warrieboy, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons