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Natural England is a non-departmental public body. Our statutory purpose is to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced, and managed for the benefit of present and future generations, thereby contributing to sustainable development.
Habitats Regulations Assessment
To date Natural England has not been consulted upon the Habitats Regulations Assessment Report (HRA). We note that you have undertaken a HRA Screening exercise and concluded that there are likely significant effects due to the amount of growth proposed and therefore the plan will need to be subject to the appropriate assessment stage. We may therefore need to amend our advice in light of any future HRA work. We would like to request to see a copy of the screening report and would also advise that you liaise with Natural England as soon as possible (and before the next formal consultation stage) to agree the methodology, sites to be included and the issues and policies which will be subject to the appropriate assessment.
PART ONE: SHARED STRATEGIC PLAN
Strategic Objectives paragraph 2.29 - Natural England advises that to ensure the Local Plan is consistent with paragraph 156 of the NPPF it should include a high level strategic objective / priority which addresses the need to protect and enhance the natural environment, including landscape, and the challenges surrounding climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Policy SP1 - SP1: Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development - does not refer to para 119. The presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply where development requiring appropriate assessment under the Birds or Habitats Directives is being considered, planned or determined.
Policy SP4 Infrastructure and Connectivity - This policy proposes the dualling of the A120 between the A12 junction and Braintree A120 / A12 junction. Marks Tey Brickpit Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is in close proximity to these proposals and we would not wish to see any adverse impacts on the SSSI as a result of these proposals. We would also recommend that the policy could be expanded to ensure that any road transport schemes incorporate biodiversity
enhancements and the creation of habitat corridors where possible. We would expect the Sustainability Appraisal to identify any potential impacts and any mitigation measures which may be required. Natural England has been engaged in initial meetings around the dualling proposals and will continue to be involved in discussions around the issues and options for the scheme.
SP5 Place Shaping Principles - Natural England generally supports this policy but would recommend that the policy should be strengthened to ensure that new development also incorporates biodiversity creation and enhancement into its design.
SP6 Spatial Strategy for North Essex - Natural England generally supports this policy pending the HRA findings. We would welcome early consultation on the mater plans.
Policy SP7 Development and Delivery of New Garden Communities in Essex - Natural England welcomes the planning principles in this policy, particularly the requirement for all garden communities to be subject to master planning and to ensure green infrastructure is incorporated and the natural environment is to be celebrated as part of the approach. The policy could be further strengthened by requiring these new communities to deliver green infrastructure which is in line with Natural England's Accessible Natural Greenspace Standards (ANGsT). Please see Annex 1 for further information on green infrastructure and NE's ANGst standards
We have not yet been consulted on the HRA Report for Colchester Local Plan, therefore we may require this policy to be strengthened or amended to include any mitigation or avoidance measures to address potential adverse impacts on European protected sites. This also applies to Policies SP8, SP9 and SP10.
Policy SP 8 East Colchester/West Tendring New Garden Community Strategic Growth Areas & New Garden Communities - Natural England welcomes the fact that a considerable amount of the Garden Community will be green infrastructure and a country park. We would also like to see this policy make specific reference to the need to enhance and incorporate biodiversity into the design of the Garden Communities to specifically deliver some of the priorities / targets in the Essex Biodiversity Action Plan. The location of the proposed Garden Community doesn't appear to impact directly on any statutory designated sites or protected landscapes but they are in close proximity to a few SSSI's namely Bullock Wood, Ardleigh Gravel Pit, Wivenhoe Gravel Pit and Upper Colne Marshes. We would expect the more detailed design of the Garden Community to avoid any indirect impacts (such as recreational or water related impacts) and we would therefore like to see the policy strengthened to address this issue.
Policy SP9 West of Colchester/East of Braintree New Garden Community - Currently, the approximate location of this garden community is overlapping the boundary of Marks Tey Brickpit SSSI. We would not wish to see any development proposals (housing or transport proposals) have an adverse effect. We would expect the more detailed design of the Garden Community to avoid any impacts on this site and we would therefore like to see the policy strengthened to address this issue. In the Other requirements section, point 20. Should also include protection and enhancement of geological assets, alongside the heritage and biodiversity assets. We do however welcome the approach taken with this policy in relation to the commitment to ensuring green infrastructure is integral to the Garden Community and to protect and enhance biodiversity assets.
SP10 West of Braintree New Garden Community - Natural England welcomes the commitment to ensuring green infrastructure is integral to the development of the new Garden Community as well as the requirement for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity assets.
PART TWO - LOCAL PLAN FOR COLCHESTER
Objectives - 3.14 Natural Environment
Natural England welcomes this objective, particularly the bullet point to 'Protect and enhance landscapes, biodiversity, green spaces, air and water quality, and river corridors'. This could be strengthened by also including the protection and enhancement of designated sites, geodiversity and soils.
SG8 - Developer Contributions and Community Infrastructure Levy - Community Infrastructure Levy and S106 need to include provisions for strategic mitigation for impacts to coastal designated sites, as may be appropriate.
5. Environmental Assets Policies
Para 5.2 - Natural England would welcome early conversations regarding "the river's recreation and nature conservation values".
Para 5.3 - Should be rephrased to "likely to have a significant effect on..." in line with the Habitats Regulations.
Para 5.4 - We advise adding the word appropriate: "supported by appropriate ecological surveys" and amending the paragraph wording:
"Where there is a confirmed presence, or reasonable likelihood, of a legally protected species or Species of Principal Importance, on an application site, (or where present on adjacent land), and where the species is likely to be affected, the applicant will be required to demonstrate that adverse impacts upon the species have been avoided, and where they cannot be avoided adequately mitigated."
Para 5.9 - We advise including the following wording: "accommodating future flood waters and inter-tidal habitats through managed realignment projects..."
Policy ENV1: Natural Environment
We are pleased to see this policy aims to conserve and enhance the natural environment, protected sites and species. The Colne Estuary SPA, Blackwater Estuary SPA and Essex Estuaries SAC are specifically cited within this section, however Abberton Resevior SPA, Ramsar and SSSI are not referred to. For the avoidance of doubt, all designated sites should be listed within the policy.
The second paragraph of the policy should also be amended to include Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI'S), as well as N2K sites and AONB's. It should also include impacts upon the setting of the AONB: "In particular, developments that have an adverse impact on Natura 2000 sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest or the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or its setting will not be supported".
It is not clear from the proposals map if Local Wildlife Sites have been included. We advise clearly marking on the map all statutory and non-statutory sites to assess if there would be a direct impact from allocation proposals. For example, as outlined above the West of Colchester/East of Braintree New Garden Community is partly within the Marks Tey Brickpit SSSI. Paragraph 110 of the NPPF states that plans should allocate land with the least environmental or amenity value, having sites clearly marked on the map will help to avoid detrimental impacts to them when choosing the location of sites.
Natural England advises that this policy is either expanded or an additional policy is added for protected species, which includes the following:
Include policy seeking to create a network of wildlife corridors and avoid fragmented and isolated pockets of habitat.
Inclusion of a more specific policy requiring specialist design features in new development to provide habitat and thereby improve bio-diversity.
Inclusion in policy of measures to identify and protect species rich and local habitats of importance, including irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodlands.
This would ensure the plan is compliant with paragraphs 114 and 117 of the NPPF.
Point I: should also be amended to "reason to suspect the presence of (and impact to) protected species".
An amendment is also required to the line: "proposals likely to have a significant adverse effect on SPAs.... Will require a full appropriate assessment in line with...."
This policy may also need to be amended to reflect any impacts on European protected sites which are identified in the Habitats Regulations Assessment. We will provide a separate response to this once we have been consulted.
Coastal Areas Policy
Para 5.12 - We advise caution around use of the term "irreplaceable" in relation to natural assets (i.e. coastal habitats). This may imply that inter-tidal habitats (especially saltmarsh) cannot be replaced, and this does not align with the aspirations of the Shoreline Management Plan (one major aim of which is to replace lost saltmarsh, which cannot therefore be regarded as "irreplaceable"). We suggest that a different term is used to express the importance of coastal habitats.
Para 5.13 - with reference to the wording "obligations to protect the important natural and cultural assets have to be balanced against the wider socio-economic needs of the Borough's coastal communities", NPPF para 119 (the presumption in favour of sustainable development not applying for development requiring Appropriate Assessment) suggests that the term "balance" in this context may be inappropriate. Natural England accepts the principle of the wording, and is committed to finding solutions where competing coastal interests come into apparent conflict.
Policy ENV2: Coastal Areas
This policy includes landscape character of the coast, however, this could be strengthened to include the seascape as well.
We would like to see some policy support for the England Coast Path and we would be happy to work with you to develop appropriate wording for inclusion in the policy. Please refer to further information in Annex 1.
Policy ENV3: Green Infrastructure
Natural England welcomes the policy for green infrastructure. Provision of green infrastructure can provide recreational opportunities and may also relieve damaging or disturbing impacts on sensitive locations. Good design should enable communities to access permanent green corridors using non-motorised means of transport. Natural England produced an analysis of the adequacy of open space provision for the whole of Essex, with further details set out for each district. The report is available here: greenspace. Natural England advises that this analysis is included within the evidence base. Please see Annex 1 for more details on Green Infrastructure and Greenspace.
Policy ENV4: Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
This policy should include a point that major development proposals within or in the setting of the Dedham Vale AONB will require a Landscape Visual Assessment at the time of submission.
Policy CC1: Climate Change
We welcome the aspiration of this policy, that planned development should take account of and minimise vulnerability to climate change impacts. We note that paragraph 5.39 recognises the role of green infrastructure in aiding climate change adaptation, however, this is not included within the policy itself. We would recommend reviewing this, to include the natural environment as well as the built environment in the delivery of measures to reduce the effects of climate change. Green Infrastructure and resilient ecological networks play an important role in aiding climate change adaptation. The Authority should embrace the opportunities for climate change adaption through Green Infrastructure as part of the master-planning of the proposed 'new garden communities'. For more information, see PPG on Climate Change and Natural England's climate change risk assessment and adaptation plan (http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/216300
The following allocation sites fall within Natural England's Impact Risk Zones (IRZ's) and all direct and indirect impacts to designated sites need to be assessed, for impacts such as recreational disturbance, water quality, water dependency and direct land take of functionally linked land. This should be fully covered in the SA, which have commented on below. The policies may need to be amended after the findings of the HRA. Many of the SSSI's such as Tiptree Heath and The Roman River are open access and already show signs of being under pressure from visitors. Green infrastructure provision is essential to reduce impacts from recreational disturbance at these sites. Some sites are also within or in the setting of Dedham Vale AONB and will need an appropriate landscape assessment.
SS6 Dedham Heath Housing Sites - within or adjacent to the AONB. IRZ for Cattawade Marshes SSSI
SS11 Langham - allocations at closest point 0.6km from AONB.
SS12 Layer de le Haye - IRZ for Abberton Resevoir SPA, Ramsar, SSSI.
SS13 Marks Tey - IRZ for Marks Tey Brickpit SSSI. This policy should make reference to the Marks Tey Brickpit SSSI ("including an appropriate buffer area"), in view of the concerns in this location.
SS14 Land to the south of Battleswick Farm, Rowhedge Road - Colne Estuary SSSI, Essex Estuary SAC, Colne Estuary (Mid-Essex Coast Phase 2) SPA and Ramsar. Upper Colne Marshes SSSI.
SS15 Tiptree - Tiptree Heath SSSI.
SS17a Mersea Housing and Employment - Colne Estuary SSSI, Essex Estuary SAC, Colne Estuary (Mid-Essex Coast Phase 2) SPA and Ramsar. Blackwater Estuary (Mid-Essex Coast Phase 4) SPA, Ramsar, Blackwater Estuary SSSI.
SS17b: Coast Road - Colne Estuary SSSI, Essex Estuary SAC, Colne Estuary (Mid-Essex Coast Phase 2) SPA and Ramsar. Blackwater Estuary (Mid-Essex Coast Phase 4) SPA, Ramsar, Blackwater Estuary SSSI.
We advise that the final paragraph regarding "houseboat proposals for new moorings" should be clarified to explain that "proposals for houseboats on vacant historic moorings may also be acceptable, subject to an installation method statement which avoids impacts to saltmarsh habitats."
SS17c: Caravan Parks - Colne Estuary SSSI, Essex Estuary SAC, Colne Estuary (Mid-Essex Coast Phase 2) SPA and Ramsar. Blackwater Estuary (Mid-Essex Coast Phase 4) SPA, Ramsar, Blackwater Estuary SSSI.
Para 6.230 - We advise the wording could be improved by inserting "appropriate" before reference to "mitigation measures".
SS18: Wivenhoe - Colne Estuary SSSI, Essex Estuary SAC, Colne Estuary (Mid-Essex Coast Phase 2) SPA and Ramsar. Upper Colne Marshes SSSI.
7. Development Management Policies
Policy DM11: Gypsies, Travellers, and Travelling Show people
This policy seeks to allocate the remaining requirement of pitches, (outside of Severalls Hospital Development), within the garden communities. Consideration needs to be given to any impact this could have on protected sites, particularly within the Marks Tey area which is within/adjacent to the SSSI.
Soil and land quality
There is currently no policy for the protection of soils. Natural England advises the inclusion of a policy which aims to protect soil quality during development to protect good quality land and to protect the ability of soil to allow water penetration by avoiding compaction, should be undertaken.
The Plan should recognise that development (soil sealing) has a major and usually irreversible adverse impact on soils. Mitigation should aim to minimise soil disturbance and to retain as many ecosystem services as possible through careful soil management during the construction process. The Authority should refer to the Defra Code of practice for the sustainable use of soils on construction sites. Please see Annex 1 for further details on Soils.
Best and Most Versatile Agricultural land (BMV)- The plan should safeguard the long term capability of best and most versatile agricultural land (Grades 1, 2 and 3a in the Agricultural Land Classification) as a resource for the future in line with paragraph 112 of the NPPF.
We therefore advise that the plan take a holistic approach to the assessment of sustainable development sites in respect of agricultural land quality. We recommend the inclusion of a specific Policy on Best and Most Versatile Agricultural Land. Retaining higher quality land enhances future options for sustainable food production and helps secure other important ecosystem services. In the longer term, protection of BMV land may also reduce pressure for intensification of other land.
We would request that reference is made to the information in the Sustainability Appraisal regarding the impacts on soils to support the statement in para 8.28 "Whilst the Council will seek to develop poorer quality agricultural land, it is inevitable that due to the significant increased housing provision requirement, this will lead to unavoidable development on 'best and most versatile agricultural land', as there are insufficient brownfield sites to meet this demand.". It would also be helpful if the plan could confirm that the selection of sites has been undertaken using a sequential test to develop the poorer quality agricultural land. For more information, see the PPG on Soils and agricultural land
Sustainability Appraisal (SA)
Natural England's comments for the Local Plan Part 1 SA relate only to Colchester.
Part 1 Local Plan SA
4.3.4 Landscapes - we recommend using the National Character Areas which divide England into 159 natural areas, each defined by a unique combination of landscape, biodiversity, geodiversity and economic and cultural activity. The new NCA profiles provide an integrated, locally specific evidence base that can be used for making decisions about the natural environment. The NCAs highlight the significant opportunities in each area and therefore provide a useful planning tool that can help guide the design of projects so that they are appropriate to the locality and deliver the maximum benefits for the natural environment. Colchester falls within NCA Profile: 86 South Suffolk and North Essex Clayland, NCA Profile:111 Northern Thames Basin, and NCA Profile: 81 Greater Thames Estuary.
Natural England is generally supportive of the Sustainability Objectives used in the SA of the Part 1 Local Plan.
The assessment of GCWC1 needs to acknowledge the proximity of Marks Tey Brickpit SSSI to the road and dualling proposals around Marks Tey and the potential for significant impacts on the SSSI.
Policy SP4 - Infrastructure and Connectivity - has identified 0 for Sustainability Objective 5, however this has not taken into account the impacts to Marks Tey Brickpit SSSI.
Table 18: Impact on Sustainability Objectives: Policy SP9 states that, paragraph 6.11.2 Significant and Temporal Effects states that - 'Despite requirements ensuring the protection and/or enhancement of biodiversity assets within and surrounding the site including the Domsey Brook and Roman River corridors, there will be only minor impacts associated with impacts on sites of nature conservation interest; this is due to no specific mention of Marks Tey Brickpit SSSI. Any site option explored in Policy SP6 would have some degree of impact on this designation, as indicated by being in the SSSI's Impact Risk Zone (IRZ) which requires consultation with Natural England.' Natural England disagrees with the assessment of only minor impacts, due to no specific mention of the Marks Tey Brickpit SSSI. The allocation has been located partially within/in very close proximity to the SSSI. This needs to be appropriately assessed. GCWC1
Indicators - we would not recommend using SSSI condition as an indicator, a better indicator would be impacts (direct and indirect) on designated sites.
From the information provided the strategic locations for growth in Colchester appear to be broadly located in areas which are likely to have the least impact on nationally and internationally designated sites and landscapes.
Part 2 Local Plan SA
Natural England would expect further commentary on the SSSI's in the area. The SA should identify all SSSI's, what the impacts will be to each and what mitigation will be required to avoid impacts, or if there isn't an impact, it should identify which ones are low risk.
Natural England advises the Table 4: The Sustainability Appraisal (SA) Framework Objectives should be strengthened to include an objective which aims to conserve and enhance protected landscapes. Currently the Assessment Criteria only says 'Will it maintain and enhance the landscape character of the borough?' Which doesn't take into account Dedham Vale AONB.
Green Infrastructure - The lack of a specific green infrastructure (GI) objective is disappointing and we strongly suggest one is included in the report. Natural England considers that the environmental SA Objectives, and some of the social and economic objectives could be improved by emphasising the importance of GI and its multifunctional benefits, which would assist in the delivery of a range of SA topic areas, e.g. biodiversity, landscape, health and wellbeing and climate change. This would assist in ensuring that GI is an integral, cross-cutting theme. Good quality local accessible green space, ecosystems and actions to manage them sustainably offer a range of benefits, e.g.
Access to local greenspace can reduce health inequalities
Increased and improved accessibility to greenspace can help increase
Contact with greenspace can help improve health and wellbeing
Green space contributes to functioning ecosystem services that can have a positive influence on health. Ecosystem services can assist in adapting to the extremes of climate change, e.g. green areas have less heat-island effect than built up areas.
Greenspace can also help improve air quality and respiratory irritants. Function ecosystem services can also mitigate the risks associated with flooding from extreme rainfall events.
Indicators - along with the advice above to look at impacts to designated sites rather than SSSI condition, we also recommend the following:
Protected species - Quantified data might include numbers of applications where protected species are considered, numbers with conditions imposed to ensure working practices and works to protect/ enhance protected species, and numbers of planning applications which result in need for protected species licence in order to be carried out . This will indicate that protected species are being given appropriate consideration within the planning system and begin to build up information on their occurrence within the plan area. Updated information following the publication of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 is available from our website.
BAP habitat - created/ managed as result of granting planning permission (monitored via planning obligations) and which meet Biodiversity Action Plan targets.
Landscape Character and Quality - Indicators/targets could be established from assessing changes in landscape character for National Character Areas (as measured by Countryside Quality Counts data).
We would be happy to comment further should the need arise but if in the meantime you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact us. We would also be happy to meet with you in particular to discuss the Habitats Regulations Assessment of your plan, as well as any other issues which we have raised in this response.
For any queries relating to the specific advice in this letter only please contact Kayleigh Cheese on 02080 260981. For any new consultations, or to provide further information on this consultation please send your correspondences to email@example.com.
We really value your feedback to help us improve the service we offer. We have attached a feedback form to this letter and welcome any comments you might have about our service.
Miss Kayleigh Cheese
Essex Local Delivery Team
ANGSt aims to address the spatial distribution of natural greenspace, its accessibility at different size limits and the hectarage of Local Nature Reserve per head of population with the aim of securing access to natural greenspace close to where people live. These standards recommend that people living in towns and cities should have an accessible natural greenspace: (ANGST): two kilometres of home; on
More information on the Accessible Natural Greenspace Standard can be found http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/40004
The plan should give appropriate weight to the roles performed by the area's soils. These should be valued as a finite multi-functional resource which underpins our wellbeing and prosperity. Decisions about development should take full account of the impact on soils, their intrinsic character and the sustainability of the many ecosystem services they deliver. Soils of high environmental value should also be considered as part of ecological connectivity
England Coast Path
We do not believe that the Essex stretch of the England Coast Path has been mentioned in the Local Plan preferred options. Natural England is charged with implementing the England Coast Path, which is due for completion as a whole project by 2020. This new long-distance trail will eventually allow people to walk around the whole English coast. Work on the Colchester section of the Path is currently underway with our team of coastal path advisers, and Natural England would seek to achieve Policy support for the Coast Path in the Council's Local Plan.
The England Coast Path is possible because of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. As well as a long-distance walking route, there may be areas of 'spreading room' beside the route where people can explore, relax and admire the view. The Act also means that for the first time, where existing footpaths erode into the sea, a replacement route can be quickly put in place - securing people's right to walk around the coast forever. The new path will avoid certain areas such as private houses and gardens, major ports and in some locations, areas that are important for sensitive species.
Designating the route as part of the England Coast Path will bring more support for local services like shops, hotels and pubs through increased visitor spending where additional visits are made, and therefore aligns well with the Council's proposed approach to tourism. As we have already commented above, the Coast Path does present challenges in certain locations, where access to the coast may cause recreational disturbance to some of the interest features of sites designated for their nature conservation interest. The Path will be subject to the same tests of the Habitats Regulations, and will therefore seek to achieve consistency in its approach to safeguarding sensitive features of these sites as any other plan or project. We would be pleased to discuss this with you in more detail should you wish. Colchester Borough covers both the Salcott to Jaywick and Mersea Island England Coast Path stretches. Further information can be found in the following links: