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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 05/06/2006
South East Plan



APPENDIX B
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

JOINT ENVIRONMENT AND LEISURE AND COMMUNITY OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE

EXECUTIVE – 5TH JUNE 2006
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Title:
SOUTH EAST PLAN: CONSULTATION ON DRAFT PLAN SUBMITTED TO GOVERNMENT - THAMES BASIN HEATHS SPECIAL PROTECTION AREA
[Wards Affected: All]
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Summary and purpose:

The South East Plan (SEP) was approved by the Regional Assembly (SEERA) at its Plenary meeting on 1st March 2006 and was submitted to the Government on 31st March. The formal consultation period commenced on 31st March and will continue to 23rd June. All responses must be submitted by 23rd June 2006.

This report deals solely with the issue of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA) as it affects the South East Plan and has been prepared jointly by all the fifteen authorities affected both directly and indirectly by the SPA. It identifies common principles which could form the basis of a composite objection on behalf of the fifteen authorities with a view to securing a place at the EiP when these issues are debated.

The report has been written on the basis of finding a solution to the impasse that has come about as a result of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgement in October 2005. The 15 authorities are anxious to see both the housing allocations met and the SPA protected. The report has not been written with a view to using the SPA as a mechanism for securing a reduced housing allocation.

Each authority will be making its own representations on the South East Plan as it affects that authority. These representations may include specific issues on how the SPA affects that authority.

Environmental implications:

There are extensive environmental implications. These set out in the report.

Social and Community implications

There are extensive social and community implications. These are set out in the report.
E-Government implications:

There are no direct e-government implications.

Resource and legal implications:

There are no direct e-government implications.
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Introduction and Background
1. The South East England Regional Assembly (SEERA) has prepared the new Regional Spatial Strategy for the region, known as the South East Plan. This document sets out the vision for the region through to 2026 and, once approved, will become a legal document which local authorities and other government agencies will have to follow. The draft Plan has been approved by SEERA and has been submitted to the Government.

2. SEERA is currently undertaking a major piece of public consultation on the submission document which ends on 23rd June. A separate report deals with the issues as they affect this Council.

3. The Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area was designated on the 9th March 2005 and is protected under the European Habitat Regulations. It comprises a series of fragmented areas of land straddling the boundaries of Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey which are home to the Dartford warbler, nightjar and woodlark, all of which are threatened species. The designated area covers some 8,400ha (20,750 acres) in Bracknell Forest, Elmbridge, Guildford, Hart, Rushmoor, Surrey Heath, Waverley, Windsor and Maidenhead and Woking. The Heathlands provide not only an important habitat, but are a high-quality recreational asset which is particularly important for informal recreation, including walking and dog exercising. The habitats are therefore both vulnerable and fragile. English Nature has identified that housing developments, through the resultant increase in recreational disturbance, may affect the integrity of the SPA. English Nature believes that this effect occurs from housing developments within a 5km linear distance from the SPA. Significant areas of land within Runnymede, and Wokingham and to a lesser extent within Basingstoke and Deane, East Hants, Mole Valley and West Berkshire, are therefore affected.

4. In all fifteen Boroughs and Districts are affected by the designation. These Districts and Boroughs lie within two of the sub-regional areas (London Fringe and Western Corridor and Blackwater Valley) and also within the area outside the sub-regions.

5. This report has been prepared jointly by the fifteen authorities and deals solely with the issues raised by the designation as they affect the delivery of housing. Each authority will be making its own representations on the South East Plan as it affects that authority. These representations may include specific issues on how the SPA affects that authority.

Context and Current Practice

6. The European Court of Justice ruling on 20th October 2005 means that UK development plans, which include the SEP, must now be tested against the rules protecting SPAs set out in the Habitats Directive.

7. In practice this means that an “Appropriate Assessment” is required to identify the potential conflict (in the case of the SEP, at the strategic level) and to identify and build in strategic mitigation measures to avoid damage to the SPA and provide long-term certainty for planners and the development industry. In short, the challenge is to find a way to plan for the housing that is needed without destroying an important wildlife resource.

8. English Nature has identified the provision of alternative open space as a method of mitigating impact on the SPA as a result of recreational disturbance. The alternative open space can comprise new areas of accessible land or improvements to existing areas to increase their capacity. Such mitigation, it is argued, would prevent the net increase in usage of the SPA. A crucial task, therefore, is to establish whether there is sufficient alternative open space which can be offered as “mitigation” to divert users away from the SPA. For this reason SEERA has appointed a firm of consultants (Land Use Consultancy) to carry out an audit of open space in public ownership in the Districts and Boroughs affected which is due to be completed in July 2006.

9. Defence Estates, with support from SEERA, is also undertaking a review of its land holdings in the whole of the South East. This work will also inform the audit and assessment of mitigation land.

10. English Nature is preparing a Delivery Plan and template Supplementary Planning Document which Local Authorities will be asked to consider, with a view to adoption. The Delivery Plan has been published in draft form on the English Nature web-site and copies of the template Supplementary Planning Document were circulated to local authorities in early May 2006. The draft Delivery Plan sets out measures to control the location of housing development and to ensure that adequate mitigation measures (which will include the provision of new and improvement of existing recreational land) are set in place, together with their funding and implementation. The Supplementary Planning Document will be considered in due course by the local authorities and will be subject to normal consultation procedures. It is unlikely that these procedures could be completed in less than 18 - 24 months. It is therefore not likely that the SPD would be adopted by most of the fifteen authorities before the middle of 2008.

11. In order to provide a degree of certainty for developers for the interim period, work is under way between the fifteen authorities to develop consistent working practices and information sheets/web-pages. Some authorities have also commenced work on their own “mini mitigation plans” and Appropriate Assessments of their own Development Plan Documents.

12. Annexe 1 sets out in summary form the current position in each of the Districts.

SEP Policies relating to the SPA

13. The specific policies in the SEP which relate to the SPA are to be found in the London Fringe and Western Corridor Blackwater Valley sub regional chapters in Policies LF11, WCBV3 and WCBV9. These policies are set out in full in Annexe 2.

SEP Housing Allocations

14. The District-level housing allocations are set out in Annexe 3 to this report. It is estimated that some 40,000 – 45,000 of these dwellings lie within the 5km zones of the SPA.

Common Themes

15. The key issue for objection relate to those policies and parts of the draft SEP relating to the SPA and its impact on the delivery of housing. As a result the housing requirements of the plan have not proven to be deliverable and the Plan has not proven to be sound. The Councils have identified the following common themes/issues:

a) Whether the policies relating to the SPA are clear and consistent;
b) Need for an Appropriate Assessment and the absence of any consultation;
c) Whether the LUC study and Defence Estates Study will deliver what is needed;
d) Whether the Delivery Plan is a practical solution in soundness/policy terms;
e) Whether the Sustainability Appraisal Report of the SEP deals adequately with the SPA issue;
f) Whether there is sufficient scientific evidence for the requirements stated in the Delivery Plan; and
g) Not all authorities are signed up to the SPD
h) Whether the consultation process is sound

a) Whether the SEP Policies relating to Housing Allocations and the SPA are clear and consistent

16. The issues surrounding Thames Basin Heaths SPA are sub-regional in nature. Not all the authorities affected by the Thames Basin Heaths SPAS lie within the two sub-regional areas (London Fringe and Western Corridor Blackwater Valley). This discrepancy is likely to lead to confusion.

17. Secondly, the two sub-regional chapters deal with the issue differently. The London Fringe sub-regional chapter deals with the matter in a single section and policy (Section E5 paragraphs 2.24 – 2.29 and in Policy LF11) whilst the Western Corridor Blackwater Valley chapter deals with the matter in two separate texts and policies (Section E6 paragraph 2.7 and Policy WCBV3 and paragraphs 2.24 – 2.29 and Policy WCBV9). This discrepancy in the way the policies affecting the SPA are set out is likely to lead to further confusion.

18. Policies LF11 and WCBV3 recognise that district level housing allocations pre-suppose that a workable approach can be found for dealing with the issues surrounding the SPA. However they also clearly indicate that should it not be possible to resolve these uncertainties, both the scale and distribution of housing allocation “will be fundamentally reviewed from first principles”.

19. Given the geographical spread of affected local authorities both within and outside the two sub-regional areas, the inconsistent manner in which this matter is dealt with and the requirement for a fundamental review should a workable solution not be found, the issue should be dealt with in a consistent manner through a “high-level” cross-cutting policy. b) Need for an Appropriate Assessment and the absence of any consultation

20. Whilst Policies LF9 and WCBV3 accept that there may need to be a review of the scale and distribution of the housing allocation in the two sub-regions and implicitly recognise that an Appropriate Assessment (AA) needs to be carried out, there is no recognition of the judgement of the European Court of Justice in October 2005 which requires that development plans, including Regional Spatial Strategies, should undertake Appropriate Assessments and take the necessary action arising, including the consideration of mitigation. It is a matter of serious concern to all the authorities that SEERA has not recognised this issue and undertaken the necessary work in respect of any of the SPAs or SACs. The absence of this work is wholly inconsistent with the Government’s commitment to sustainable development. The approach of the Plan may therefore need to be reviewed in the light of a proper assessment of its impact on all Natur 2000 sites. Specifically, in respect of the Thames Basin Heaths SPA, an Appropriate Assessment would ascertain whether the housing allocations in the Plan would have a significant effect on the SPA, whether there would sufficient mitigation and whether there are alternatives to the proposals in the Plan. The lack of an Appropriate Assessment clearly hinders consideration of this central issue as, crucially, without an Appropriate Assessment, there is no guarantee that the strategy proposed in the South East Plan can be delivered or that the Plan is “sound”.

21. Whilst the SEP implicitly accepts that there is a need for an AA and it is understood a study is to be undertaken, , current indications are that this work will not be available until the Examination later this year. If the AA is not made available until the Examination, there will be no chance to consult the public, local authorities and other bodies on its results. Not allowing consultation on the AA is contrary to:

a) Aarhus convention;
b) Regulation 48 (4) of The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &C). Regulations 1994;
c) Paragraph 19 of ODPM Circular 06/2005/DEFRA Circular 01/2005;
d) Article 6 (3) of The Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC; and
e) Section 3.2.6 (2nd paragraph) of EU Guidance “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”. 22. The 15 local authorities affected by the SPA would welcome an opportunity to comment on the Appropriate Assessment and to revise representations on the South East Plan in the light of any findings. The timetable appears to provide no opportunity to do this or to provide for SEERA/GOSE to take due regard of these further comments. This is contrary to established practice and to Regulations and Guidance. The Government Office and SEERA should therefore give urgent consideration to ensuring that the timetable provides for a six-week consultation on the Appropriate Assessment and for proper consideration of further comments.

c) Whether the LUC Study will deliver what is needed

23. SEERA has appointed a firm of consultants (Land Use Consultancy) to carry out an audit of open space in public ownership in the Districts and Boroughs affected. This is due to be completed in July 2006. Defence Estates is also undertaking a review of its land holdings to inform the audit and assessment of mitigation land

24 These studies will provide an assessment of the potential mitigation land available in the affected local authority areas and an analysis of the ownership, acquisition and management costs. Their purpose is to help assess the impact of the SPA on housing allocations. They are not a substitute for a full Appropriate Assessment.

25. The overall aim of the project is welcomed as it intends to take a comprehensive and strategic view of the opportunities for providing alternative open space as mitigation for housing affecting the SPA. Much helpful information is expected to arise out of the project which will provide a basis for enabling the provision of much of the housing requirement identified in the draft South East Plan. However, not all authorities have the same levels of data and this may affect the robustness of the conclusions. Moreover, there are a number of weaknesses to the project and its integration into the preparation of the South East Plan, such that it will not establish the soundness of the draft Plan in respect of the SPA as intended.

26. The studies are tasked to make recommendations on the mechanisms to secure land for mitigation. The key weakness is that it is difficult to envisage at present how funding can be achieved to enable mitigation to be implemented over a timescale commensurate with the requirements for housing delivery of the South East Plan. The main option which has been considered to date is that housing developments will make commuted payments to fund the provision of alternative open space. However, the acquisition of open space, or obtaining agreement to manage it for mitigation land, is likely to take several years to achieve and will cost large sums of money. This is especially the case in view of its enhanced value in facilitating residential development, and of the large costs of maintenance. English Nature is also likely to advise that this open space must be provided before the housing is occupied. It is also questionable as to whether any developer will enter into an agreement requiring payments up front with no prospect of development for several years. The incremental accruing of funding from housing developments, and the gaining of agreement from public bodies to release land, is therefore likely to take many years before the open space can be practically provided. This will certainly prejudice the provision of housing on an annual basis as proposed in the South East Plan, and may prejudice the overall district allocations. It is considered that it will only be through significant intervention by central government in the form of providing pump-priming funds to obtain land, and in the form of coordinating the release of public land, that quicker progress can be made. However, there is every indication at present, that this intervention will not take place, and therefore the implementation of the open space, and the soundness of the draft Plan is called into question.

27. There are a number of other concerns over the project which call into question its effectiveness. These include:

a. that the studies concentrate very heavily on identifying public land which could be used for open space, and do not explore the opportunities for using private land which may be available;
b. the studies are heavily reliant on identifying more natural and semi-natural land, and omit identification of opportunities for improving the access and habitat management within the SPA itself and mitigation on more formal land such as recreation grounds;
c. similarly, whilst the Brief identifies the opportunities from linear routes, it is not clear to what extent the improvement of the public footpath network is to be examined.

d) Whether the Delivery Plan is a practical solution in soundness/policy terms

28. The Delivery Plan (which is still not yet formally published) is anticipated to be only a 3-5 year pilot. If the Delivery Plan is to be a practical solution in terms of the SEP, it should demonstrate that it can deliver to 2026, otherwise the SEP cannot rely on its results.

29. As the results of the LUC and Defence Estates audits are not yet complete there is no evidence that sufficient land of the right quality and in the right location will be available or could be made available to meet Delivery Plan standards to mitigate for amount of housing proposed to 2026 and beyond.

30. A number of authorities affected by the SPA are considering the adoption of “mini plans” as an interim solution. Others have identified solutions for particular development projects. Neither demonstrates that a long-term solution to 2026 can be found.

31. If the Delivery Plan is not a Practical Solution, it cannot be relied upon as evidence towards implementing the AA. Because the Delivery Plan is, by itself, not a practical solution and cannot be relied upon as evidence towards implementing the AA, this in turn prejudices establishing the soundness of the SEP.

e) Whether the Sustainability Appraisal Report of the SEP deals adequately with the SPA issue

32. The Sustainability Appraisal Report (SAR) acknowledges issues of biodiversity, and the need for appropriate assessments for European sites. Specific mention of the constraint of the Special Protection Area is made in the SA on the Sub-Regional Policy Framework in the sections on the London Fringe and the Western Corridor and Blackwater Valley. However, it is considered that the SAR does not properly recognise the significance of the impact of housing on the SPA, and therefore the constraint of the SPA on the strategy of the South East Plan and the Regional and Sub-Regional Policy Frameworks. The wording of the SA does not acknowledge the uncertainty of the implementation of mitigation measures such as through the provision of alternative open space. A proper appraisal of the impact of the regional and sub-regional housing strategy on biodiversity has therefore not been made.

33. Although the SA acknowledges the need for an Appropriate Assessment (see Biodiversity section in para 5.2.5), this Assessment should already have been undertaken to inform the preparation of the SAR. In the Appraisal of the Regional Policy Framework (see Table 7.1), the comments on objective 13 on conserving and enhancing the region’s biodiversity should recognise the potential need for mitigation following an Appropriate Assessment. It is noted that paragraph 8.5.7 on the Western Corridor and Blackwater Valley acknowledges the need for an Appropriate Assessment in the Biodiversity section; however there should be a similar reference in the London Fringe section.

34. The Sustainability Report is deficient in its examination of the social, economic and other environmental implications of providing the quantity of mitigation required. For example, providing large areas of semi-natural open space may have negative impacts on social objectives if less S106 money is available for education, transport, affordable housing etc. These issues have not been addressed at all in the SAR.

f) Whether there is sufficient scientific evidence for the requirements stated in the Delivery Plan

35. The Delivery Plan has not yet been published, however informal drafts have been circulated and are on the English Nature web-site. There is considerable concern from local authorities and others that the scientific evidence (so far available) that English Nature has used in drafting its Delivery Plan is unsubstantial and has not been satisfactorily tested. The basis of the mitigation standards set out for Zones B and C (16 ha and 8a / 1000 new residents respectively) appears to be based solely on the levels set down for the Queen Elizabeth Barracks development proposal in Hart District Hart District Council refused the planning application for the Queen Elizabeth Barracks site because of uncertainty over the effect on the SPA. A Public Inquiry into the appeal is due to commence in May 2007.. English Nature has accepted that the 16 and 8 hectare standards have no scientific basis, and may be altered in the future. 36. The Thames Basin Heaths local authorities have been consulted by English Nature several times on various drafts of the Delivery Plan but EN has failed to respond adequately to the comments made by the authorities. Of particular concern for local authorities is whether the level of mitigation being sought can be provided. It is a particular concern that the present focus of attention is on publicly owned land. It cannot be assumed that local authorities will either be prepared or be able to release their land holdings for mitigation because of other calls on those land holdings and the duty to achieve the best value on disposal. Moreover, purchasing land at agricultural values is an unrealistic assumption within any of the 15 local authority areas. It is particularly questionable whether land could be purchased at agricultural values if the underlying purpose was to enable housing development to proceed and there is no recognition in the Delivery Plan of the timescale, legislative and cost implications of using the Compulsory Purchase Order route to acquire land. 37. There is strong evidence that the level of dog ownership is declining nationally in line with the decline in the average household size and the increase in the number of households living in flats and apartments rather than houses. There is no reason to believe that this national trend is not being reflected locally in the Thames Basin Heaths area. 38. Similarly, there is highly likely to be a significantly different level of dog ownership for flat dwellers as opposed to house dwellers. However, the Delivery Plan does not distinguish between the two. The HBF has indicated that covenants on pet ownership in flats is enforceable by managing agents, and this has been supported by some inspectors at appeal. 39. Evidence from visitor surveys in both Rushmoor and Elmbridge suggests that English Nature’s assumptions are questionable. For instance, surveys from Aldershot Urban Extension suggests that the number of people travelling the two/three kilometres from the postcode area GU11 to the Ash-Brookwood Heaths SSSI is very minimal (0.021% of the population). Furthermore, visitors to the SPA sites recorded as travelling from Elmbridge post code areas, only 40% came from within the 5km zone and 60% from beyond . This survey information suggests that the English Nature presumptions regarding the number of people travelling up to five kilometres to visit SPAs is at best, variable. 40. The evidence provided for the draft versions of the Delivery Plan was based on surveys of the Dorset Heaths SPA, an area very different and subject to very different pressures to the Thames Basin Heaths. A visitor survey of the Thames Basin Heaths was not carried out until 2005, well after the establishment of the Delivery Plan’s mitigation standards. 41 A particular point that has been made several times to English Nature is that it has drawn the 400 metre, 2km and 5km isochrones from the SPA as the crow flies. However, access to the SPA – especially for visitors coming beyond 1500 metres is generally by car and therefore the distance/length of journey to car parking locations by road is of primary importance. Furthermore the zones pay no regard to local features and barriers to movement such as major roads and motorways which may deter users.
42. Finally, the draft versions of the Delivery Plan take no account of the reduction in population and reductions in household sizes in some of the local authorities affected. In some cases, although household numbers are increasing, populations are falling. The net impact of these trends means that there may be a reduction in the impact on the SPA in parts of the area which the Delivery Plan should take into account.

g) Not all authorities are signed up to an SPD

43. Several of the 11 local authorities affected significantly by the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area are not anticipating progressing English Nature’s proposed Delivery Plan as a Supplementary Planning Document as they do not believe it is the most appropriate way forward. There is also the possibility that those authorities that do pursue the Delivery Plan SPD route may amend the SPD for their individual areas and this may result in several different versions of the Delivery Plan.

44. The point was made strongly at the meeting with SEERA on 20th March 2006 that an SPD must hang from an existing local plan or LDF policy, and that it must go through the proper consultation and sustainability appraisal process. 45. In addition, Local Authorities will need to demonstrate that the proposals are implementable, and until the SEERA open space work has been satisfactorily completed there is no evidence that this achievable.

46. For these reasons it has been suggested that the matter should be taken up at regional level.

h) Whether the consultation process is sound

47. Whilst this concern is a generic concern of all authorities, it also has specific relevance to the SPA issue and has therefore been included in this objection. The local authorities are concerned that the consultation process currently under way does not accord with the statutory requirements. Regulation 13(2) of the Town & Country Planning (Regional Planning) Regulations 2004 indicates that when consultation on a revision to the Regional Spatial Strategy commences, each local planning authority must make copies available from its principal offices. It is understood that copies of the SEP were not available at each of the offices of the15 affected authorities from the start of the consultation period (31st March 2006). It appears that most authorities did not receive their copies until a few days before Easter, nearly two weeks into the Consultation period.

48. Furthermore, whilst the Government is allowing 12 weeks consultation on the SEP, part of this period overlaps with the run up to local government elections in a number of authorities. Regulation 13(5)(b) allows the regional planning body to increase the period for consultation to compensate for this. An extension to the timing may have been appropriate to enable the affected authorities greater time to ensure community involvement in the process. This would therefore ensure compliance of the SEP with PPS1. With regard to allowing consultation during an election period, it is noticeable that the Government avoids such periods when it seeks views from the wider community. The Government should have followed the same principles for the SEP.

Conclusion

49. An objection to the South East Plan by the 15 affected authorities can therefore be made on the following grounds. The objection has been formatted to accord with the objection comments form:

50. It is the following Sections B, C and D2 alone which are the subject of the joint response. Section D1 does not form part of the joint response, but is attached to explain the background to the views put forward in the other sections.

Section B (list of polices/issues subject to representation)

51. The Policies and parts of the draft South East Plan (March 2006) that are objected to are:
a. Policy LF11: London Fringe Sub-region: Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area;
b. Policy WCBV3 (para 3 only): Western Corridor Blackwater Valley Sub-region: Scale and Distribution of Housing Development;
c. Policy WCBV9: Western Corridor Blackwater Valley Sub-region: Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area;
d. The Sustainability Appraisal Report;
e. That there should be a specific cross-cutting policy to address the constraint of the SPA as it applies to districts other than those just within the London Fringe and Western Corridor Blackwater Valley Sub-regions.
52. The key objection is that those policies and parts of the draft Plan relating to the Thames Basin Heaths SPA and its impact on the housing strategy and allocations set out in the draft Plan have not been proven to be sound and the housing requirements have not been shown to be deliverable for the following reasons:

ii) The Delivery Plan does not appear to be a practical solution in soundness or policy terms; nor has the scientific evidence supporting the Delivery Plan been properly demonstrated to be adequate to justify the Plan’s requirements (soundness criteria (vi) relating to a robust evidence base, (viii) relating to availability of resources and implementation, and (xii) relating to implementation).

a) The necessary Appropriate Assessment work and consultation should be completed in response to the objections raised in Section C in order to demonstrate the soundness of the draft Plan in time for the Examination. This option should pay particular attention to the identification of the resources and land necessary to provide the alternative open space needed to mitigate against the impact of housing on the SPA. b) The Government Office and SEERA should take the lead in developing, with English Nature and in consultation with the affected authorities, a comprehensive, integrated and consistent approach to the delivery of mitigation land, including the provision of appropriate pump-priming funding to obtain and improve mitigation land.

c) The SPA issue should be dealt with in a cross-cutting policy

Recommendation:

It is recommended that a joint objection to the South East Plan be made for the above reasons.

Background Papers (DoPD)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Peter Hartley Telephone: 01483 523297

E-mail: phartley@waverley.gov.uk
Comms/o&s3/2006-07/108
Annexe 1

Current position in each of the Districts (at April 2006)

Basingstoke and Deane


Bracknell Forest

Currently all planning applications and appeals, which are deemed to have a significant impact on the SPA, are being addressed on a case-by-case basis. This involves requesting information from applicants on potential mitigation measures and completing an appropriate assessment pro-forma accordingly. As a result most applications are being refused. English Nature removed their objection to Bracknell town centre redevelopment after suitable mitigation measures were proposed and a detailed appropriate assessment was carried out.

The Core Strategy and Site Allocations DPDs are being taken forward together and are currently due to be submitted in July 2006. As part of the appropriate assessment for these documents, the Council is in the process of classifying existing open space according to:
- levels of visitor use
- perceived 'busy-ness' of site (by current users)
- access in terms of car parking facilities, entrance points and length of footpath - type and quality of habitat
This study should identify any capacity in existing open space and where/how this can be increased by various enhancements (e.g. parking provision, expanding footpath network). Any sites which have the capacity to provide mitigation will then be linked to relevant developments within the Site Allocations DPD. A specific SPD relating to the SPA is not in Bracknell Forest's LDS. It is envisaged that the most robust way to proceed is by a policy in the Core Strategy DPD, identification of mitigating land in the Site Allocations DPD and a detailed chapter in the Limiting the Impact of Development SPD (relating to Section 106 contributions) which is underway.

East Hants

Elmbridge
Planning Applications
The Council is consulting English Nature on all applications for net additional residential units within the 5 km zone and, where recommended, refusing permission where it is impossible to ascertain there would be no adverse impact on the SPA. Potential applicants are being advised to defer submission of applications until a mechanism for providing mitigation is in place.

LDF Policy Approach
There will be an appropriate strategic policy in the Core Strategy DPD re habitat protection/enhancement and textual reference to the SPA. It is intended that the SPD route to incorporating the Delivery Plan into the statutory framework will be progressed unless the need is removed through regional policy. We have submitted a revised LDS which includes a programme for preparation of a Thames Basin Heaths SPA Mitigation SPD, linked to a current saved Local Plan policy, to be adopted in April 2007.

Proposed Interim Mini-Plan
In order to attempt to overcome the immediate impasse, work is being undertaken on a proposed interim mitigation plan which will be informed by the template SPD and further guidance prepared by English Nature. The proposal centres on two schemes – a new community park, opening in December, which will provide some 22 ha of publicly accessible semi-natural recreational and dog-walking terrain – and a habitat management plan for the 358 ha Esher Commons which will see over 22 ha cleared for open heathland/grassland/wetland restoration, allied to some access improvements.

Guildford

A report is to be considered by the Council's Executive on 25th May recommending that agreement is given to preparation of a "mitigation mini-plan" which will cover the interim period until the SPD is adopted. This approach involves the identification of sufficient land around the urban areas that would constitute mitigation open land and a programme of work that will enhance the recreational potential of it to attract new residents. It is hoped to have the mini-plan in place by the summer 2006. The effect of the mini plan will be to end the moratorium on new residential planning permissions which is at present affecting the Council's ability to meet its housing targets and deliver new affordable dwellings.

Prior to agreement of the "mini-plan" Guildford is advising applicants not to submit applications which involve a net increase in residential units up to 5 km from the SPA. Applications which are submitted are being refused on the basis that it is not possible to ascertain "no impact " on the SPA.

With regard to the Council's LDF, it is intended that the Draft Core Strategy Preferred Options which includes a policy addressing the SPA issue, will go out for public consultation in June/July 2006.

Hart

Where a planning application is submitted to Hart District Council which has the potential to affect the SPA (i.e. for plus one residential development within 5km of the SPA) English Nature is consulted. Unless there are overriding reasons, if English Nature objects to the application then Hart will refuse the application. If mitigation is proposed for the development then this will be taken into account, and if the Council is considering approving the application then it will go through an Appropriate Assessment.

In addition, the Council is reconsidering all outstanding applications which have the potential to affect the SPA which have been agreed subject to the completion of a Section 106 Planning Obligation but where the obligation has not been completed. These are to be considered at a meeting of the Planning Committee on 26 April 2006. This meeting will also undertake a review of applications in line with Regulation 50 of the Habitats Regulations.

The Hart LDF will incorporate a Supplementary Planning Document covering the issue of the SPA which will utilise as far as possible the document to be produced by English Nature in the near future. The contents of the draft Delivery Plan will also inform the production of the other LDF documents.

Mole Valley
Mole Valley’s current position on the SPA is as follows. Mole Valley is termed a ‘peripheral authority’ by English Nature and has only recently been contacted by EN, since the outer edge of the 5km zone proposed in their Delivery Plan touches on the north west corner of the built-up area of Bookham. In the Council’s estimation this small section of the District’s built-up area is not likely to deliver much more than a limited number of small-scale infill and redevelopment housing schemes over the next 10 years.

Mole Valley met with English Nature for the first time on 21st April and is currently exploring the possibility of producing a ‘mini plan’ in conjunction with EN, similar to those being prepared by Woking and Waverley. This would set out improvements to existing areas of open space and provide an interim basis for securing a financial contribution for each development through a Section 106 agreement to provide the necessary mitigation. The Council is considering how the ‘mini plan’ could be progressed to become SPD as part of the LDF.

Runnymede

The 5 km mitigation zone of the Thames Basin Heaths SPA affects 68% of the Borough, within which planning applications for residential development are currently being refused if the required alternative open space is not provided as part of the proposal.

The Council completed an Open Space Audit in April 2006. This has identified potential mitigation open space in the Council’s ownership that could be improved to provide public access for dog walking, and would go some way towards providing the mitigation required to meet at least the first 5 years of the Borough’s housing allocation. Commuted sums would be sought to fund the improvements, secured by a Section 106 agreement attached to residential planning permissions.

Runnymede will draft an Open Space SPD guided by the advice in English Nature’s Delivery Plan, to provide the required open space standards to serve as mitigation. It is anticipated that this will be completed for consultation in late 2006.

Rushmoor

Rushmoor has accepted on the balance of probability that very large scale developments (e.g. Westgate Site and Aldershot Urban Extension) are likely to have an impact on the SPA and is prepared to carry out AA and pursue mitigation. A mitigation package has been accepted in principle on the Westgate site which received committee approval on 26th April.

With regard to smaller residential sites Rushmoor Borough Council is not convinced by the assertions supporting EN objections, by the substance of their representations in individual cases, nor by the suggested mitigation ‘solution’ in the draft Delivery Plan. Currently therefore Rushmoor Borough Council is not prepared to refuse planning permission on SPA grounds in most cases.

Surrey Heath

The whole of the Borough is within 5km of the SPA. The Borough Council is therefore currently refusing all planning applications for housing in the whole Borough unless adequate mitigation is provided. The Council is following the advice of English Nature that mitigation must include the provision of alternative open space. Virtually all planning applications for housing are therefore being refused as there is currently very limited scope for providing alternative open space.

The Council has approved its own “SPA Mitigation Study” dated January 2006. This Study has identified minor improvements to its own recreation grounds to provide mitigation for up to 131 dwellings. It is intended that these improvements will be funded by commuted payments secured by a Section 106 legal agreement attached to a planning permission for housing. However, as it is envisaged that only 131 dwellings can be mitigated by these improvements, this Study only provides a very small contribution to meeting the housing requirements of the Borough.

“The Preferred Options of the Core Strategy were published in September 2005, which contain a policy addressing the SPA. The Submission Document will be published in January 2007, with adoption in March 2008.

The Surrey Heath LDS includes a Thames Basin Heaths SPA SPD which is intended to be a local version of the Delivery Plan. A draft is expected to be published in January 2007 with adoption in March 2008.

It is expected to allocate any large, alternative open space mitigation sites in an Infrastructure DPD. Issues and Options are to be published in July 2006 with adoption in May 2009”.

Waverley
Waverley is currently producing, in conjunction with English Nature, a 'mini plan' prior to the SPD similar to that being produced by Woking. This will set out improvements to existing areas of open space and will provide an interim basis for a financial contribution (to be secured through a S106 agreement) per development to provide the necessary mitigation. It is anticipated that the Council will enter into a separate legal agreement with English Nature to ensure that the mitigation, as agreed with the S106, will be provided. As yet we do not have a Committee timetable.

Prior to agreement of the “mini plan” Waverley will continue to consider individual planning applications on their merits. A few applicants have started to offer their own mitigation land. These are considered on their individual merits with advice from English Nature. As yet no proposals supported by applicants’ own mitigation land have been considered by Committee.

Waverley is currently undertaking an “appropriate assessment” on its Core Strategy.


West Berkshire


Windsor and Maidenhead

Planning Applications:
The Council is refusing planning applications proposing a net increase in residential development within 5km of the SPA. To date there have been four appeals all of which have been refused. One of these appeals was not dismissed on grounds relating to the SPA. The Council is reviewing this decision in consultation with English Nature. A number of further appeals are pending. The number of planning applications for residential development within the SPA ‘sphere of influence’ has reduced.

LDF:
The Council’s Core Strategy and Policies DPD proposes a strategic policy on the Thames Basin Heaths SPA. The policy has been framed using the Habitat Regulations. The Council propose to submit the Core Strategy and Policies DPD in September 2006. The Housing and Employment Policies and Major Site Allocations DPD is current scheduled for it’s preferred options consultation in October 2007, however discussions have been held with GOSE concerning revisions to the timetable to allow for the completion of supporting studies. The preferred options consultation is likely to be undertaken in the first quarter of 2007, with submission in the autumn of that year.

The Council has yet to amend the Local Development Scheme to incorporate the proposed Supplementary Planning Document on the SPA. The Council understands that GOSE are relaxed about changes to the LDS to accommodate this area of work.

A review of open space is within the Council’s work programme, however, resources have yet to be confirmed to this project. In the absence of such a review, the Council is currently unable to demonstrate that further residential development can be delivered within SPA sphere of influence without harm to the integrity of the site.

Woking

Woking is currently producing, in conjunction with English Nature, a 'mini plan' which will set out improvements to existing areas of open space and provide the basis for a financial contribution per development. This will be secured through a S106 agreement, to provide the necessary mitigation. In addition the Council will enter into a separate legal agreement with English Nature to ensure that the mitigation, as agreed with the S106, will be provided. It is intended to take the mini plan to the 1 June Executive meeting for approval.

Prior to agreement of the mini plan the Council is considering individual planning applications on their merits. Where an applicant offers a financial contribution to provide mitigation consideration is being given as to whether, on the basis of the contribution, it can be concluded there would be no likely significant effect. Where this is the case, and applications are considered to be acceptable in all other aspects, Officers are recommending to the Planning Committee that they be approved subject to the completion of a bilateral legal agreement. A meeting has been arranged for 26 April to discuss this approach with English Nature.

With regard to the Council's LDF, we recently consulted on our Core Strategy Preferred Option which included a draft policy to address the SPA. We have also identified in our LDS production of a SPA SPD with adoption timetabled for October 2007.


Wokingham

Wokingham District Council (WDC) reflecting English Nature (EN) advice that all proposals for net increase of 1 unit within 5 km of the Special Protection Area (SPA) require an Appropriate Assessment (AA). As WDC does not have information to undertake an AA it is refusing applications.

LDF – Core Strategy preferred options consulted upon 9/11/05-21/12/05. Due to submit in August following Exec & Council on 27/7/06. Submission document to include an AA.
Initial options for Sites document due August 2006.
SPA SPD – WDC consulted upon Scoping Report for SEA until 12/4/06. Due to consult on draft SPD from August-October.





comms/o&s3/2006-07/108