«June 2007 INCLUDING AN APPROPRIATE ASSESSMENT OF THE CORE STRATEGY DPD AND AVOIDANCE AND MITIGATION STRATEGY Thames Basin Heaths SPA – Technical ...»
THAMES BASIN HEATHS SPA
TECHNICAL BACKGROUND DOCUMENT
TO THE CORE STRATEGY DPD
INCLUDING AN APPROPRIATE ASSESSMENT OF
THE CORE STRATEGY DPD AND AVOIDANCE AND
Thames Basin Heaths SPA – Technical Background Document to the Core Strategy DPD JUNE 2007 1 Thames Basin Heaths SPA – Technical Background Document to the Core Strategy DPD JUNE 2007 2 Thames Basin Heaths SPA – Technical Background Document to the Core Strategy DPD JUNE 2007 Contents Section Introduction 5 Plan level assessment 6 Relevance to Bracknell Forest Borough Council 6
STAGE 1: SCREENING EXERCISE 9Next Stages 10
STAGE 2: APPROPRIATE ASSESSMENT 12
STEP 1: COLLECTION OF INFORMATION TO IDENTIFY ADVERSE12
EFFECTSCumulative effects arising from plans or projects 13 The Special Protection Area 15 Relationship between the plan area and SPA 18 19
STEP 2: PREDICT LIKELY EFFECTS OF THE PLAN
STEP 3: ASSESSMENT OF SITE INTEGRITYImpacts arising from plan characteristics 31
STEP 4: AVOIDANCE AND MITIGATION STRATEGY 36Measures and how they will avoid or reduce adverse impacts on the SPA 38 Appropriate Assessment Findings’ Summary 40 Strategic Sites 43 Open Space
1.1 The Conservation (Natural Habitats & c.) Regulations 1994, referred to as the “Habitats Regulations” implement in Great Britain the requirements of the EC Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Flora and Fauna, referred to as the “Habitats Directive” (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) and protect areas classified under EC Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds, referred to as the “Birds Directive”. The Regulations aim to protect a network of sites in the UK that have rare or important habitats and species in order to safeguard biodiversity.
1.2 Under the EC Birds Directive, Member States are required to take special measures to conserve the habitats of certain rare species of birds (listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive) and regularly occurring migratory birds. In particular each Member State was required to classify the most suitable areas of such habitats as Special Protection Areas (SPAs). This is designed to protect wild birds, and to provide sufficient diversity of habitats for all species so as to maintain populations at an ecologically sound level.
All Bird Directive SPAs are part of the Natura 20001 network under Article 3(1) of the Habitats Directive.
1.3 Under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive, Competent Authorities have a duty to ensure that all the activities they regulate have no adverse effect on the integrity of any of the Natura 2000 sites. Therefore, the Competent Authority must assess the possible effects of the various proposals on any Natura 2000 sites. This includes screening for potential impacts on European sites. If there is a probability or a risk that there will be significant effects on site integrity alone or in-combination with all other relevant plans or projects (having regard to the site’s conservation objectives) then the plan or project must be subject to an Appropriate Assessment (AA) of its implications on the site. In the light of the conclusions of the assessment the competent authority shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and where the plan cannot pass further stringent tests described in Article 6(4). This process is clarified in Figure 1 (page 7) of Circular 06/2005 ‘Biodiversity and Geological Conservation’ reproduced in Appendix 1 (page 85).
1.4 The decision-taker must consider the likely and reasonably foreseeable effects to ascertain that the proposal will not have an adverse effect on the integrity of the site before it may grant permission.
1.5 As described above, screening and, if necessary, AA should be undertaken by the Competent Authority; in the case of the Core Strategy DPD this is Bracknell Forest Borough Council. However, the process also requires ecological expertise in order to make judgements about the implications for sites’ integrity. It also requires close working with Natural England2 in order to obtain the necessary information, agree the 1 Natura 2000 sites are a ecological network of sites (SPAs and SACs) which were established under the Habitats Directive to provide a strong protection for Europe’s wildlife areas.
2 Reference to Natural England throughout this document recognises that early consultation on this document was carried out with Natural England’s predecessor, English Nature.
process, outcomes and mitigation proposals, and to meet the requirements of the Habitats Regulations.
2. Plan level assessment 2.1 Prior to October 2005, the UK’s approach to determining any significant effects on the integrity of Natura 2000 sites was not extended to an assessment of plans. However, an ECJ Judgement 3 on 20 October 2005 ruled that this approach does not meet the requirements of Article 6 of the Habitats Directive. This requires the UK’s approach to be modified to ensure that the impacts of land use4 plans on Natura 2000 sites are properly assessed, and decisions taken in accordance with Article 6(4).
2.2 The necessary amendments are currently being made to the Conservation (Habitats & c.) Regulations, 1994, and are set out in The Draft Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2006. The Communities and Local Government (former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) have advised 5 that the amended regulations will not have a transitional provision to cover land-use plans in the course of preparation when they come into force. As a result Appropriate Assessment will be required for all land-use plans likely to have a significant effect on a European site from this date. However, guidance produced by DCLG (August 2006) states that “RPBs and LPAs are not expected to recommence AA when they have already started work on AA prior to the publication of this guide. In those instances where this guide puts forward a different approach to the AA process from that laid down in existing guidance, it is acceptable for RPBs and LPAs to have followed the latter.” 2.3 PPS 9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation and the accompanying Circular 06/2005: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation – Statutory Obligations and their Impact within the Planning System both contain guidance for Appropriate Assessment which predates the ECJ judgement. Therefore, pending specific guidance from national government on how to carry out plan level Appropriate Assessment, more weight has been given to the EC publication “Assessment of plans and projects significantly affecting Natura 2000 sites – Methodological guidance on the provisions of Article 6(3) and (4) of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC” (November 2001).
3 Relevance to Bracknell Forest Borough Council
3.1 The current Bracknell Forest Borough Local Plan is being replaced by the Bracknell Forest Borough Local Development Framework; a collection of documents (Local Development Documents) containing policies and proposals to guide future development within the Borough. The Local Development Scheme (LDS) is a three year project plan, prepared by the Borough Council, which outlines every Local Development Document that the Council intends to produce over the next three years, along with timetables for their preparation.
3 Judgement C-6/04 of the European Court of Justice, 20 October 2005.
4 Land-use plans are synonymous with Development plans and refer to Regional Spatial Strategies, transitional plans and Local Development Documents (both Development Plan Documents and Supplementary Planning documents).
5 In a letter dated 9 March 2006 to Local Planning Authorities from Lisette Simcock, ODPM
3.2 As explained in the previous section the Local Development Documents are now subject to the requirements of the Habitats Regulation. The LDS currently states that in the first round of plans the following DPD will be taken forward and therefore will be
subject to assessment:
The Core Strategy DPD – This will set the long-term vision, objectives and strategy for the spatial development of Bracknell Forest and provide a framework for promoting and controlling development. The Core Strategy DPD will provide a strategic direction to the LDF preparation process and will be an umbrella document informing the preparation of the other Local Development Documents.
3.3 The Preferred Approach for the Core Strategy DPD was produced for consultation in February 2006. Subsequently, the Core Strategy document was refined and amended into the Submission document, which was submitted to government in November 2006 and available for public participation for six weeks from this date.
4 Integration with the Sustainability Appraisal and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SA/SEA) process 4.1 Plans and programmes that have been determined to require Appropriate Assessment pursuant to the Habitats Directive, are also subject to an assessment procedure under the SEA Directive (Article 3(2)(b)). Therefore a combined process can be carried out provided it fulfils the procedural steps required by the SEA Directive and the substantive test regarding the effect on protected sites required by the Habitats Directive.
4.2 However, as the SA/SEA for the Core Strategy Development Plan Documents was already advanced, the Screening stage and Appropriate Assessment have remained separate to the SA/SEA process. For subsequent DPDs or SPDs a screening exercise will be carried out in line with the approach in Regulation 9 of the SEA regulations, which requires key stakeholders to be consulted. If no significant effects are identified the Screening Statement will be included in the SA Report.
5 ethodology M
5.1 The Appropriate Assessment process is made up of four key stages as set out below:
Stage 1) Screening exercise (Regulation 48(1)).
Stage 2) Appropriate Assessment (Regulation 48(1)).
Stage 3) Mitigation and alternatives (Regulation 48(6)).
Stage 4) Imperative reasons of overriding public interest (Regulation 49).
5.2 This report sets out the findings of stages 1) to 3) above and enables the competent authority to conclude that components of the Core Strategy DPD would not adversely affect the integrity of any Natura 2000 sites, with regard to the implications of the plan on a site’s ‘qualifying features’. This report goes further, in as much as it includes an SPA Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy, which provides evidence of how any measures identified during stage 3) above will be secured and implemented.
5.3 This Appropriate Assessment has used information from Natural England’s Delivery Plan (26 May 2006) and draft Supplementary Planning Document (28 April 2006), whilst modifying certain elements to give the document a more local perspective.
5.4 The methodology and content of this report has been subject to 4 stages of consultation with Natural England, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Wildlife Trust, in addition to a wider public consultation. The report has also been scrutinised by an independent ecologist to verify the approach taken and its effectiveness.
6.1 This first stage examines the likely effects of a project or plan, either alone or in-combination with other plans or projects, upon a Natura 2000 site and considers whether it can be objectively concluded that these effects will not be significant. This screening comprises of 6 steps.
6.2 A screening exercise was carried out to establish the impacts of the Core Strategy DPD on Natura 2000 sites within the Borough and to establish whether there is a likelihood of significant effect arising from the DPD upon other Natura 2000 sites outside the Borough. This was based upon best information available to Bracknell Forest Borough Council at the current time.
6.3 Regulation 48(1) of the Habitats Regulations 1994 requires this screening opinion, which makes an initial determination of likely significance, to be submitted to the appropriate nature conservation body and have regard to any representations.
6.4 Therefore, relevant stakeholders were consulted on the screening opinion to ensure all elements of the plan are considered which, either alone or in-combination, have the potential for a significant effect on relevant sites. This helped the Council identify potential effects, likely pathways for those effects and key indicators to be used. The screening therefore looked at the significant effects of the plan objectives and of each individual policy.
The following responses were received from the consultees.
Table 1. Screening opinion consultation responses
Following consultation, the relevant changes were made to the Screening Statement and this amended version can be found in Appendix 2 (page 86).
The screening opinion concluded that, as the Preferred Options DPDs were drafted, they were likely to have a significant effect on the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area. No significant effect was identified on the integrity of any other Natura 2000 sites.