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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 31/10/2006
16th March 2006


16th March 2006

1. In October 2005, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Appropriate Assessments must be carried out on all land use planning documents in the UK. Waverley Borough Council had already produced the Core Strategy by that time, and had intended to submit it to the Secretary of State by the end of the year. In view of the ruling, submission has been delayed to allow for the Appropriate Assessment to be carried out.

2. The method adopted is based on the guidance published by the European Commission and written by Oxford Brookes University, in a document “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 92/43EEC.” (2002).

3. The Natura 2000 sites actually in Waverley are:

q The Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area made up of thirteen SSSIs one of which, the Bourley and Long Valley SSSi is partly in Waverley Borough. q The Wealden Heaths Phase1, made up of Thursley and Hankley and Frensham Commons SSSI which is contained in Waverley Borough. q The Wealden Heath Phase 2 Special Protection Area which is made up of four SSSIs one of which is the Devil’s Punch Bowl. q The Thursley, Hankley and Frensham Commons SSSI is part of the Thursley, Ash, Pirbright and Chobham Special Area of Conservation which is also a RAMSAR site.

The Guidance on carrying out an Appropriate Assessment

4. The guidance available at this date is limited to:

5. The third document, the EC guidance on assessment, is closer to the ECJ approach, so this Appropriate Assessment relies mainly on that document.

The reason for an Appropriate Assessment

6. The reason for an Appropriate Assessment is that it is required by the Habitats Directive Article 6 paragraphs (3) and (4) which state that:
Approach to decision-making 7. The European Commission guidance sets out a number of principles as to how to approach the decision making during the process. The primary one is “the precautionary principle which requires that the conservation objectives of Natura 2000 should prevail where there is uncertainty” (Section 2.2) 8. When bearing in mind the precautionary principle, “The emphasis for assessment should be on objectively demonstrating with supporting evidence that: there will be no significant effects on a Natura 2000 site (Stage 1 Screening); there will be no adverse effects on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site (Stage 2 Appropriate Assessment ); there is an absence of alternatives to the project or plan that is likely to have an adverse effect to the integrity of a Natura 2000 site (Stage 3 assessment of alternative solutions); there are compensation measures that maintain or enhance the overall coherence of Natura 2000 (Stage 4 assessment of compensatory measures). (Section 2.2). Stages in the assessment 9. The guidance states that there are four stages in producing an assessment of a project or plan: Stage 1: screening for the likely impacts; Stage 2: if there is a significant effect carry out an Appropriate Assessment; Stage 3: if there is a significant effect considering alternatives in the Plan; Stage 4: if there is a significant effect considering whether there is an overriding public interest. STAGE 1: SCREENING THE WAVERLEY CORE STRATEGY 10. The guidance states that this stage should examine the likely effects of a plan either, alone or in combination, with other plans upon a Natura 2000 site and considers whether it can be objectively concluded that these effects will not be significant. However “where without any detailed assessment at the screening stage it can be assumed (because of the size and scale of the project or the characteristics of the Natura 2000 site) that significant effects are likely it will be sufficient to move directly to the Appropriate Assessment (Stage 2)”(Para 3.1.1.). 11. Nonetheless, a clear audit of all 21 Core Strategy policies in relation to each Natura 2000 site is included in Appendix 1. 12. The Core Strategy is likely to have a significant effect on the Natura sites because of the proposals will focus development in the four main settlements. This would mean additional development in Farnham which will have an adverse effect on the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area. Development in Haslemere, Godalming, Witley and Milford could affect the Wealden Heaths Special Protection Area and the Thursley Ash Pirbright and Chobham Special Area of Conservation, though it will not have as big an impact as Farnham on the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area. In any event, English Nature has only asked to be consulted within a 1 km zone date for the SPA and a 2 km for the Special Area of Conservation. 13. Therefore it is considered that the Core Strategy will have a significant effect and an Appropriate Assessment is required. It is entirely valid to move on to the next stage. 14. The steps in the process are as follows: Step 1 Information about the Core Strategy and the sites. Step 2 Impact of the Core Strategy on the sites. Step 3 Conservation Objectives of the Special Protection Area. Step 4 Mitigation measures. 15. Using the information in checklist Box 6 of the European Commission guidance, the following data is produced: 16. Full characteristics of the Core Strategy which may affect the sites. Policy CP2 Location of Development
Policy CP15 Housing Provision
Policy CP8 Biodiversity 17. Policy CP2 on the location of development is relevant because it sets out where new development is to be built. Farnham and Haslemere are included. Development in Farnham in particular, but also in Haslemere to some extent, would have a significant effect on the Special Protection Areas, because both are sizeable towns close to the SPAs/SAC.(see the Audit Appendix 2) Maps showing the potential urban development sites are included in Appendix 2. 18. Policy CP15 sets out the number of dwellings that are to be built in the Borough overall at 187, between April 2001 and March 2018 and from this the degree of pressure from development on the SPAs can be assessed. It is estimated that 70 dwellings per annum will be built in the Farnham area based on previous trends. 19. Policy CP8 states that the biodiversity of the Borough will be protected conserved and enhanced. This means that the Special Protection Areas and the Special Areas of Conservation will be safeguarded. This Policy will have a beneficial effect and can be screened out.
Other specifications of the plan
27. At the request of English Nature a 5km zone has been drawn round the Thames Basin Heaths, because English Nature has evidence that development is likely to have a significant effect on the site.The Borough Council acting on its own initiative has drawn a 5km boundary on a precautionary basis round the Wealden Heaths Phase 1 and 2 and the Wealden Heaths Phase 2 in East Hampshire District Council. This zone has been devised to prompt the Council to consider on a case by case basis development that may affect the sites. Much of the west side of the Borough is affected. 28. (This approach is based on the European Commission guidance) 29. The reason for designation of the Special Protection Areas is the protection of the woodlark, the Dartford warbler and the nightjar. The reason for the SAC designation is the area is an important example off wet and dry heath land. a. Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area
b. Wealden Heaths Phase 1 and 2 Special Protection Area
c. Thursley, Ash, Pirbright and Chobham Special Area of Conservation The existing baseline conditions of the sites
32. Lowland heath with woodland 33. Both the Special Protection Areas have more than 1% of the British population of nightjar, woodlark and Dartford warbler. The Special Area of Conservation is listed in Annexe 1 for the heathland habitat 34. The open heathland habitats of all three sites overlies sand a gravel sediments that give rise to sandy or peaty acidic soils supporting dry heathy vegetation on well drained slopes, wet heathland on low lying shallow slopes and bogs in valleys. 35. The heaths are affected by large scale fire damage and erosion to paths, and by invasion of pine and birch. 36. The most significant natural change is likely to be invasion by trees 37. The likely significant effect of the Core Strategy on the Special Protection Areas and the SAC will be the impact of development proposed within the five kilometre zone in the Core Strategy, especially the amount of housing to be built per year. If the Thames Basin Heaths Delivery Plan can be used as an indication of the future approach adopted by English Nature for Special Protection Areas, (which may include the Wealden Heaths), then either dwellings cannot be built within a certain distance of the sites or else there has to be effective mitigation. When a Delivery Plan is produced for the Wealden Heaths and the mitigation measures to be sought are known, then the impact of the policies can be assessed for the Wealden heaths. 38. This section is included as a safeguard in case the mitigation proposals are not carried out. 39. An assessment has to be made as to whether there will be adverse effects on the integrity of the sites as defined by the conservation objectives and status of the sites. The precautionary principle must be applied. 40. Box 10 of the European Commission guidance provides a checklist. This is used to make sure the process is gone through comprehensively. 41. Does the plan have the potential to: 42. There would be an increase in the population visiting the Special Protection Area and this would affect the safeguarding of the sites, 43. The mitigation measures proposed will avoid the adverse impacts of additional population on the sites because they will offer alternative locations for walking and dog walking. Looked at from the point of view of developers, there are three options: provide new land themselves; buy into provision of new land assembled by the local authority; buy into the upgrading of an existing site owned by the local authority;

44. At this point the significance of the role Waverley Borough Council can play becomes apparent. The requirements for mitigation arising from the Core Strategy relate to the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area, so mitigation sites are mainly being sought in the Farnham area. The current indications are that the Waverley Open Space Audit will indicate that there are few areas of informal open space land within the built up area of Farnham, but one sizeable area that does exist is Farnham Park.

45. Farnham Park is owned by Waverley Borough Council and is 130ha in area. It is situated to the north of the town centre, and is a mediaeval deer park associated with Farnham Castle. It extends northwards up to Hale, and the northern boundary is about 800m from the Special Protection Area boundary. The Park is well placed to provide mitigation for Farnham.

46. In January 2004, Waverley Borough Council published the document “Farnham Park: Historic Landscape Survey and Restoration Management Plan” prepared by Land Use Consultants. The document has a section on Infrastructure Improvements. The most important proposal from the aspect of increasing the capacity of the Park to take walking visitors is the scheme to provide interpretation at Park Lodge. However the other projects such as a new picnic area and interpretation boards will all contribute to encouraging visitors.

47. The Thames Basin Heaths Delivery Plan sets out the criteria for new mitigation space to be successful (para 4.7) but it can be applied equally well to existing space.

48. New sites must be:-
easily accessible;
provide for an attractive peaceful walk;
provide for letting dogs of the lead;
provide a qualitatively similar experience to the Special Protection Area ie semi natural and informal;
open in character where possible.

49. Farnham Park has some formal areas, but it also has extensive areas of open rough pasture which is not grazed, and it would be feasible to increase the numbers of people using that part of the Park. Overall, the Park meets the criteria very well. The Miniplan (the next item on the agenda) explains the position in detail.

60 ha at Farnham Quarry at Badshot Lea;

15 ha to the east of Farnham Park;

2.3 ha at Riverside in the Town Centre, extending past the East Street site to the A31 Bypass and onto the south side of the Bypass;

23.5 ha at the water meadows between West street and the A31 Bypass in Farnham ;

spaces that may be offered to developers by landowners.

54. Continue the approach of the Local Plan focussing development on previously developed land and provided flexibility to meet specific needs including exceptions for affordable housing in rural areas.
55. Focus on development within Farnham, Godalming, Haslemere and Cranleigh and within the villages on the principal roads and railway lines.
56. Development in the four main settlements only.
57. A comprehensively planned new settlement.

58. Following public consultation the preferred option was a combination of Option 1 and 2 i.e. focussing on the urban areas and villages with transportation links and the provision for making exceptions for affordable housing. No allocation maps are included in this document because there are no allocations identified in the Core Strategy or the Housing Development Plan Document.

59. Looking at the Miniplan it is evident that mitigation can be provided and the consideration of alternates is not required further.

60. The need to provide housing within the zones of constraint cannot be regarded as being of public interest, and in any case the matter does not arise because mitigation can be provided.

61. Farnham Park will provide mitigation for development within 5km of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area at least until 2018 and other sites may also come forward. There are no Delivery Plans with standards for mitigation for the Wealden Heaths and Special Area of Conservation at present. Therefore, the AA of the Core Strategy shows that although proposed development in Farnham would have a significant effect on the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area it will be possible to provide mitigation for developers.

    CP1 Community Facilities
    CP2 Location of development
    CP3 Green Belt
    CP4 Countryside
    CP5 Infrastructure
    CP6 Travel
    CP7 Water
    CP8 Biodiversity
    CP9 Heritage
    CP10 Pollution
    CP11 Landscape
    CP12 Townscape
    CP13 Design
    CP14 Housing need
    CP15 Housing
    CP16 Affordable housing
    CP17 Employment
    CP18 Leisure
    CP19 Town centres
    CP20 Visitor economy
    CP 21 Communications