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Representation 2720 on Preferred Options Local Plan by RSPB (Mark Nowers)

Support / Object: COMMENT
Document Link: Preferred Options Local Plan - Sustainable Settlements, Mersea Island, SS17b: Coast Road
Representation: Policies SS17b Coast Road and SS17c Caravan Parks should also note the requirement to screen projects with regard to the Habitats Regulations 2010 (as amended).

Original submission

1. Introduction - Local Plan: the process
Para. 1.21 states that Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) screening has been carried out, with a full Appropriate Assessment (AA) to be published alongside the submission version of the plan. The HRA screening does not appear to be available as part of this consultation, although para. 1.22 states that all evidence is publically available.

Under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) ('the Habitats Regulations') local authorities have a duty to ensure that Local Plans have no adverse effect on sites of European importance - Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) (collectively known as Natura 2000 sites). It is government policy that the internationally important Ramsar sites are also considered within a HRA.

At this stage of the Local Plan process, we would expect to see a full, up to date HRA that assesses all proposed policies - unfortunately this has not been presented for consultation. This fails to demonstrate that adverse effects on Natura 2000 sites will be avoided. The benefit of HRA at this stage is that it also objectively assesses the council's preferred options and identifies amendments now to strengthen the policies where appropriate and ensure that the most appropriate policies will be taken forward to the submission stage (i.e. policies will be justified and effective).
Critically, it is important to ensure that the evidence base for an HRA is available, specifically with regards to visitor use of particular areas to understand recreational pressure. Where evidence gaps exist this may require survey work to be undertaken.

As a full, up to date HRA has not been presented at this stage, which is a fundamental element to such a strategic approach, the RSPB considers the plan is not consistent with national policy or justified given that the evidence is currently absent and therefore cannot be considered to be sound at this time. We therefore request the opportunity to comment again before submission of the final AA.

SP5: Place-shaping principles
After "Provide public open space or larger scale green infrastructure", we recommend the addition of the following: "which contributes to the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity", in line with paras. 109 and 114 of the NPPF.

SP6: Spatial Strategy for North Essex
We note the statement that "Beyond the main settlements the authorities will support diversification of the rural economy and conservation and enhancement of the natural environment." Whilst we welcome the support for conservation and enhancement of biodiversity beyond the main settlements, we consider that certain measures would be possible within the main settlements. There are three bird species which have undergone steep declines in numbers (Starling, House Sparrow and Swift)1 whose breeding success and conservation is intimately linked to the built environment. Simple measures as part of the green infrastructure (GI) network, can be incorporated within an SPD to benefit these species (and many species of bats and hibernating insects). We refer you to Appendix 2 of Exeter City Council's award-winning residential design SPD.2

SP7: Development and delivery of new garden communities in North Essex
We welcome principle xi, "Secure a smart and sustainable approach that fosters climate resilience and a 21st century environment in the design and construction of each garden community to secure net gains in local biodiversity, highest standards of technology to reduce impact of climate change, water efficiency (with the aim of being water neutral in areas of serious water stress), and sustainable waste and mineral management." We consider that this principle would be more fully reflected in the subsequent site-specific policies (SP8, SP9 and SP10) if the requirement within those policies to protect and/or enhance biodiversity assets were reworded to require the protection and enhancement of biodiversity assets.

SP8, SP9 and SP10 regarding Garden Communities
In addition to the above, we recommend that the sections on masterplanning specify that green infrastructure provision should be described at this stage.
We also recommend that the clause requiring "appropriate and sustainable long term governance and stewardship arrangements for the new garden community including provision for management and maintenance of the public realm and community assets" should include reference to the need to secure management of biodiversity assets.

SG8: Developer Contributions and Community Infrastructure Levy
We recommend that this policy (and subsequent development of SPDs) should include provision for developer contributions to a strategic mitigation package for recreational disturbance impacts on Natura 2000 sites. Councils in Suffolk are currently developing a package of measures to address in-combination impacts identified by HRAs at the Plan and individual project level on the Stour and Orwell Estuaries SPA and Ramsar site which would be funded through developer contributions. As allocations within this Plan have the potential to affect Natura 2000 sites (the Colne Estuary SPA and Ramsar, Blackwater Estuary SPA and Ramsar, Abberton Reservoir SPA and Ramsar, Stour and Orwell Estuaries SPA and Ramsar and the Essex Estuaries SAC) through increased recreational pressure, we would advocate that the Council should take a similar approach. We would be pleased to offer further advice if this would be helpful.

5. Environmental Assets Policies: Natural Environment Policy
We recommend rewording para. 5.3 to reflect the protection afforded to internationally designated conservation sites more fully, for example as follows:
Plans or projects which may have a likely significant effect on a European site will require appropriate assessment under Reg. 61 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) ('the Habitats Regulations'). Accordingly, local authorities can only consent plans or projects where it can be ascertained that they will have no adverse effect on the integrity of a European Site, unless the exceptional requirements of Regs. 62 and 66 of the Habitats Regulations relating to the absence of alternative solutions, imperative reasons of overriding public interest and provision of compensation have been met.

Para. 5.9 states that "A major threat to the low lying coastal and estuary areas is rising sea levels as a result of climate change. This will be addressed through increasing the network of green corridors and sites to aid the dispersal of species that will need to move as climate change renders their existing habitat unsuitable." We query how the Local Plan will achieve this; what evidence has been used to identify vulnerable species and the necessary corridors to enable them to disperse and how will developers will be able to contribute to such measures?

ENV1: Natural Environment
We welcome point iv), that development will only be supported where it "Incorporates beneficial biodiversity conservation features and habitat creation where appropriate."

For clarity, we recommend that the statement that "Proposals likely to have an adverse effect on Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Ramsar sites will require a full assessment in line with European legislation" should be amended in line with our recommendations for para. 5.3, above.

We also consider that provisions should be made within this policy to address para. 117 of the NPPF regarding the need for planning policies to promote ecological networks:
"To minimise impacts on biodiversity and geodiversity, planning policies should:...
o identify and map components of the local ecological networks, including the hierarchy of international, national and locally designated sites of importance for biodiversity, wildlife corridors and stepping stones that connect them and areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration or creation;
o promote the preservation, restoration and re-creation of priority habitats, ecological networks and the protection and recovery of priority species populations, linked to national and local targets, and identify suitable indicators for monitoring biodiversity in the plan;..."

ENV3: Green infrastructure
This policy (and the preceding section) refers to the Colchester Orbital route as a key element of the Council's green infrastructure network. We are concerned that this is limited in geographical scope as well as having a strong focus on access, without sufficient recognition of the other functions of green infrastructure. We recommend that greater reference is made to the potential for green infrastructure to contribute to ecological networks (see our comments on ENV1 above). This policy should also be used to address the aims in para. 5.9; to use green corridors as a method of aiding the dispersal of species in response to climate change.

We welcome the provision to require developer contributions to provide additional green infrastructure, but we also consider that reference could be made to the potential for provision of green infrastructure as mitigation to reduce recreational pressure on designated sites, with links made to the findings of the HRA. As above, we also recommend that new provision by developers is aimed at providing multiple benefits (for wildlife and people) rather than having a sole focus on access.

Climate Change Policy
This section should make reference to para. 5.9, which explains how impacts of climate change on the ability of species to disperse can be mitigated through the green infrastructure network. Para. 5.39 discusses climate change adaptation through green infrastructure, but omits any reference to biodiversity. We recommend that this paragraph, and Policy CC1: Climate Change incorporates the measures described in para. 5.9.

Para. 5.41 explains that renewable energy projects would be supported provided there are no adverse effects on a Natura 2000 site or AONB. Whilst we welcome this statement, we recommend that this should be extended to include SSSIs, in line with the guidance in para. 118 of the NPPF, that development likely to have an adverse effect on a SSSI should not normally be permitted.

WC4: West Colchester
We support the policy regarding the development of an Ecological Management Plan and Mitigation Plan to enhance the ecological value of the orchard and recommend that provisions are made to secure the long-term ecological management of the site.

SS1 Abberton and Langenhoe Housing Sites
It should be acknowledged that these sites will require screening under the Habitats Regulations 2010 (as amended) due to proximity to the Abberton Reservoir SPA and Ramsar site, and that, if required, mitigation for in-combination impacts could be provided through developer contributions to a strategic mitigation scheme (see comments on SG8, above).

SS2 Land East of Birch Street
It should be acknowledged that the site will require screening under the Habitats Regulations 2010 (as amended) due to proximity to the Abberton Reservoir SPA and Ramsar site, and that, if required, mitigation for in-combination impacts could be provided through developer contributions to a strategic mitigation scheme (see comments on SG8, above).

SS6 Dedham Heath Housing Sites
It should be acknowledged that these sites will require screening under the Habitats Regulations 2010 (as amended) due to proximity to the Stour and Orwell Estuaries SPA and Ramsar site, and that, if required, mitigation for in-combination impacts could be provided through developer contributions to a strategic mitigation scheme (see comments on SG8, above).

SS12 Layer de la Haye
It should be acknowledged that the site will require screening under the Habitats Regulations 2010 (as amended) due to proximity to the Abberton Reservoir SPA and Ramsar site, and that, if required, mitigation for in-combination impacts could be provided through developer contributions to a strategic mitigation scheme (see comments on SG8, above).

SS17a-c Mersea Island
Para. 6.215 acknowledges that Mersea Island is situated at the confluence of the Colne and Blackwater Estuaries. Both of these estuaries are internationally important wildlife sites, designated for their breeding little terns, wintering waders and wildfowl, saltmarsh habitats and invertebrates and are potentially vulnerable to increased recreational disturbance resulting from housing development in the area. We recommend that their designations as SPAs and Ramsar sites should therefore be referenced in the text.

Policy SS17a Mersea Housing and Employment also lacks reference to the Natura 2000 sites. Due to the potential for development to result in increased recreational pressure on these sites, reference should be made to both the findings of the HRA for the Plan and the need for HRA at the project level for both these allocations. As mitigation is likely to be required for these allocations for recreational disturbance impacts (from the projects alone and/or in-combination), reference should also be made in this policy to the need for developer contributions towards a strategic mitigation scheme (as discussed under policy SG8, above).

Policies SS17b Coast Road and SS17c Caravan Parks should also note the requirement to screen projects with regard to the Habitats Regulations 2010 (as amended).

DM15: Design and Amenity
Point i) refers to the integration of built/landscape/heritage assets - we recommend this is expanded to include biodiversity assets.

DM24: Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems
We are supportive of the policy promoting the use of SuDS and recommend that opportunities are sought to enhance biodiversity through this provision.

DM25: Renewable Energy, Water, Waste and Recycling
We suggest that the following should be reworded to better reflect the protection afforded to Natura 2000 sites:
"Within internationally designated sites and nationally designated landscapes (Dedham Vale AONB) renewable energy schemes, will only be supported in exceptional circumstances..."

This could be amended as follows:
"Renewable energy schemes with potential for adverse effects on internationally designated sites or nationally designated landscapes (Dedham Vale AONB), will only be supported in exceptional circumstances..."

We would be happy to discuss any of the issues we have identified, specifically regarding biodiversity and protected areas. We look forward to seeing a copy of the HRA at the earliest opportunity and would be pleased to meet to discuss its development.


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