Plans to submit a Planning Inspectorate (PINS) application to install fencing on Yateley Common have been approved by Hampshire County Council.
The purpose of fencing on the County Council-owned part of the Common would be to enable livestock to be re-introduced, which would enhance the management of the site.
The County Council has to submit the PINS application because as registered commonland, the Commons Act 2006 requires Secretary of State consent to be obtained before carrying out most works, including fencing. This is in order to ensure that the correct balance is struck between works necessary for the positive management of the common, and maintaining commoners and other users' rights. The Secretary of State has delegated these decisions to the Planning Inspectorate.
Yateley Common is covered by both national and European nature conservation designations, recognising the importance of the site in its provision of habitat for a range of specialist and rare species, including Nightjars and Dartford Warblers.
Hampshire County Council has worked closely with Natural England to ensure best practice is followed in maintaining and enhancing the biodiversity and recreational value of the Common. Natural England indicated positive support for the introduction of livestock on the Common, and following this support Hampshire County Council undertook community engagement and consultation, which is now complete.
The consultation considered management techniques available for the heath, including grazing, burning, mowing and turf stripping, and grazing was the preferred option. The fencing requirement needed in order to introduce livestock safely and enable their effective management, was then considered.
There was broad public support for the proposals and support from Yateley Management Committee.
Yateley Management Committee unanimously voted in support of a motion to proceed with the proposals to for a PINS application. However, the Committee made clear the vote was in support of proceeding with the PINS application, not indicative of total support for the fencing proposals. The committee also made clear that they did not want to jeopardise the common land status of the site.
Councillor Keith Chapman, Hampshire County Council's Executive Member for Culture, Recreation and Countryside, said: "We will continue to work closely with members of the public and other interested parties, to ensure they are kept up to date with the application process. Issues raised as part of the consultation process will be presented fully to the PINS Inspector.
"Enabling the reintroduction of grazing on this site, which would historically have been grazed by local commoners, will enhance the effective management of these internationally important lowland heaths. Adding grazing to the range of tools available for management will increase the mosaic of habitats and habitat structures, which are so essential to healthy heathland. It will reduce costs associated with the reliance almost solely on mechanical means, and will see the important cultural landscape link between commons and livestock re-established."
The PINS application will be submitted as soon as possible with a view to receiving a decision within six months of submission. If consent is granted the fencing works could go out to tender for installation by the end of 2014 and the grazing of cattle could start in 2015.