Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document
Meeting of the Executive held on 06/02/2007
ANNEXE 1 - DRAFT INTERIM MINIPLAN FOR THAMES BASIN HEATHS SPECIAL PROTECTION AREA
Waverley Borough Council
DRAFT INTERIM MINIPLAN FOR THAMES BASIN HEATHS SPECIAL PROTECTION AREA
1 The purpose of the Interim Miniplan
1.1 The purpose of the Interim Miniplan is to give guidance to developers when making planning applications on the requirements of the Council for the provision of avoidance measures to offset the pressure of a net increase in population within 5km of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (“SPA”) on that SPA’s conservation interests. It is issued to ensure that developers are clear as to how Waverley intends to approach its legal obligations under the 1994 Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations (“the Habitats Regulations”).
1.2 Under the Habitats Regulations, the Borough Council is the “competent authority” to consider applications for development which are “likely to have a significant effect on a European site”, of which the Thames Basin Heaths SPA is one. On completing an appropriate assessment of such a development proposal, the Council shall agree to a plan or project (such as an application for residential development) only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the European site. Whether a proposal is likely to have a significant effect on the SPA, meaning an appropriate assessment is required, must be ascertained when considering the proposal both alone and in combination with other plans or projects. In practice, Natural England advise that
application for residential development resulting in an increase in the number of dwellings within 5km of the SPA will, without avoidance measures, be likely to have a significant effect on the SPA within the meaning of the Habitats Regulations.
1.3 To comply with its requirements, the Borough Council has devised this “Interim Miniplan” for avoidance measures as an appropriate interim solution. This miniplan has been completed in consultation with Natural England, the Council’s statutory consultee on matters of nature conservation.
1.4 The Borough Council is very concerned to find a way to consider planning applications for residential development in the Farnham area that will avoid an adverse effect on the SPA.
1.5 This miniplan relates only to proposals for residential development. There are likely to be some cases where non-residential development could have a significant effect on the integrity of the SPA. This miniplan does not provide a solution to such development. To address the requirement of the Habitats Regulations, proposals for such development may therefore require an appropriate assessment in consultation with Natural England.
2 The Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area
2.1 The Thames Basin Heaths was designated on 9th March 2005 and, from then on, the site was protected by the Habitats Regulations. The Special Protection Area has several conservation objectives, but in particular it is a European designation for wild birds, and on the Thames Basin Heaths protects woodlark, Dartford warbler and nightjar, which are particularly subject to disturbance from walkers, dog walkers and cat predation because they nest on or near the ground.
3 The Thames Basin Heaths Draft Delivery Plan
3.1 On 26 May 2006, English Nature produced a revised draft of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area Delivery Plan. The aim of the Draft Delivery Plan is expressed as follows:
“The Delivery Plan aims to safeguard the Special Protection Area through developing and establishing a strategic, sub regional approach to avoidance and mitigation of the impact of housing development across the 15 local planning authority areas around the Thames Basin Heaths SPA consistent with the law and planning policies” (para 2.2.1.).
3.2 Rather than dealing with applications on a case by case basis, the Draft Delivery Plan is intended to provide clear strategic guidance on residential developments across the whole of the Thames Basin, including that area of Waverley that is subject to the Habitats Regulations. That plan is still in a draft form, but it has been used by other Local Planning Authorities to formulate interim miniplans based on its technical guidance and evidence. Waverley’s miniplan is based on the same approach.
3.3 Whilst there is much controversy about the details of the Draft Delivery Plan, the Council has taken a cautious and precautionary approach, considering that to adopt Natural England’s guidance at this time would place the Council (as the Local Planning Authority) in a safe position in considering planning applications against the requirements of the Habitats Regulations.
4 How the Delivery Plan affects Waverley
4.1 The part of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area in Waverley is only about 80ha in area, and is situated to the north of Sandy Hill in Farnham, but the zones of impact extend right across Farnham down as far as the Bourne. (See Plan 1.) These are the zones close to the SPA wherein Natural England’s advice is that to allow new residential development will lead to recreational impacts on the SPA adversely affecting its conservation objectives. As a result, Natural England advises, through the Draft Delivery Plan, that no new residential development should be permitted in the absence of securing avoidance measures.
4.2 There are three zones:
from the boundary of the Special Protection Area out to 400m (Zone A);
400m to 2 kilometres (Zone B);
2 kilometres to 5 kilometres (Zone C).
4.3 The zones are summarised in the Draft Delivery Plan at section 7, and relate to the different distances people walk and travel by car to visit the Heaths. Different avoidance standards for the provision of Suitable Accessible Natural Green Space (“SANGS”) are attached to each of the zones, to try and attract people away from the Heaths.
5 The avoidance standards
5.1 The Draft Delivery Plan currently provides the following avoidance standards for development:
TABLE 1 Natural England’s Avoidance Standards
EXTENT OF ZONE
MAX DISTANCE FOR LOCATION OF SANGS FROM DEVELOPMENT
PROP OF TOTAL SANGS PROVISION BY AREA
No effective mitigation possible
No effective mitigation possible
No effective mitigation possible
16ha per 1000 population
within 400m from development
Max 5% all sites < 4ha
within 2km of development
Max 20%all sites <12ha
within 5km of development
Max 25% all sites <20 ha
within 5 km of development
Min 75% all sites >20ha
within 5 km of development
Min 25% all sites >40ha
8ha per 1000 population
within 2km of development
Max 25% all sites <20 ha
within 5km of development
Min 75% all sites >20 ha
within 5 km of development
Min 75% of all sites <40ha
6 Options for a developer to meet avoidance requirements
6.1 Through the Draft Delivery Plan, there are three options open to developers for meeting avoidance requirements:
provide new green space themselves;
buy into provision of new green space assembled by the local authority
buy into the upgrading of an existing site owned by the local authority or a third party.
6.2 At this point, the significance of the role Waverley Borough Council can play in enabling avoidance measures becomes apparent. The Open Space Audit
Thames Basin Heaths SPA: Audit & Assessment of Land to Mitigate Effects of Housing Development, report by Land Use Consultants prepared for SEERA, DCLG, GOSE, DEFRA and EN Steering Group, 24 July 2006
shows that there are very few areas of informal open land within the built up area of Farnham that are potential SANGS and only one area that is within the Council’s ownership, i.e. Farnham Park.
6.3 The Draft Delivery Plan sets out, at paragraph 4.13, its conclusions for the required quality of successful avoidance measures.
6.4 Sites should:-
Have convenient vehicle access and good parking;
Be a short and straightforward journey from centres of population;
Not be modelled on existing formal urban greenspace but should be more semi-natural and wilder in character;
Have varied topography, a variety of habitats and features and some open water;
Have a good informal path network;
Allow for dogs to roam off the lead;
Be large enough to accommodate the length of walk preferred on average by users of the SPA i.e. 2.3 to 2.5km, with a choice of routes and lengths;
Be devoid of livestock at particular times of year in order to avoid deterring users, particularly dog walkers;
Be screened from urban surroundings in order to give peace and quiet.
6.5 A detailed site quality checklist giving criteria for assessing avoidance sites is included in the Natural England document “Guidelines for the Creation of Suitable Accessible Natural Green Space” 2006 (See Appendix 1). At present, only Farnham Park provides an immediate opportunity to provide SANGS in accordance with the advice from Natural England. It is acknowledged that other opportunities may exist and can be explored later. Other potential SANGS sites are set out in appendix 3. However, for the purposes of this guidance, the focus is on how Farnham Park can be improved and enhanced for visitors in order to constitute an appropriate SANGS site as an avoidance measure.
7 Farnham Park
7.1 Farnham Park is owned by Waverley Borough Council. It is a mediaeval deer park associated with Farnham Castle covering an area of 130ha (See Plan 2). It contains around 85 hectares of semi-natural grassland, woodland and scrub as confirmed by Natural England. This area is of SANGS quality. The Park is situated to the north of the town centre (the nearest entrance is only 200m from the town) and extends northwards up to Hale, with the northern boundary about 800m from the Special Protection Area boundary. The Park is located within Zone B
and straddles the 2km zone, and is well placed to provide avoidance measures for Farnham.
7.2 In January 2004, Waverley Borough Council published the document “Farnham Park: Historic Landscape Survey and Restoration Management Plan” prepared by Land Use Consultants, which was adopted by Waverley Members in October 2004. The restoration plan includes details of appropriate infrastructure improvements for the long-term conservation and management of the Park, some of which would accommodate an increase in visitor numbers.
7.3 Natural England has confirmed that an 85ha area of Farnham Park is semi natural which qualifies as SANGS. With reference to Table 1 its overall size would serve a development catchment of 5km from its boundaries covering all of zones B and C in Waverley. However, Natural England advises that the actual amount of land that can be effectively enhanced and linked to development contributions in accordance with Natural England green space standards is less than this, and is a) a function of existing visitor capacity; b) the full range of potential enhancement measures, that if implemented would serve to attract potential SPA users to the Park SANGS area. Farnham Park’s large size and the fact that all the access points are located around the perimeter results in users being well distributed around the Park. Staff managing the Park are aware that the central areas generally feel underused and could accept a greater visitor capacity without affecting the Park’s natural, open character.
7.4 It is estimated (by the Council’s Directorate of Environment and Leisure) that the SANGS area of the Park is currently at about 50% visitor capacity. This has been appraised based on a long-term assessment of the usage of the Park. It has been agreed with Natural England that surveys will be conducted in the Spring of 2007 to investigate the position further. This will be a key action. In the interim Natural England has recommended a cautionary approach to the SANGS area. An assumption of 75% user capacity at present has been made, providing a 25% possible increase in capacity yielding a potential SANGS capacity of 21.25ha.
8. Enhancement measures
8.1 Car parking is regarded by Natural England as a major aspect when considering the appropriateness of a site as a SANGS. It has now been established that there are existing parking areas available outside the Park to the north and west which have access to the SANGS and meet Natural England’s accessibility criteria. These car parks will be enhanced by improving the surfaces and layout and by signing, and will be promoted by publishing leaflets. Access to the Park will also be sought for a parking area outside the Park on the east side.
Other Enhancement Measures
The scope to improve and enhance the Park means that it can contribute as avoidance space. Whilst Farnham Park is both a Site of Nature Conservation Importance and an Historic Park & Garden, Natural England accepts that it has the capacity to provide avoidance space to offset use of the SPA and to cope with an increase in use without environmental damage, provided,:-
a) there is a full-time ranger based on-site;
b) there is improved visitor interpretation and education; and
c) there are enhanced public access points.
It is anticipated that these measures will also make the SANGS area more attractive to potential SPA users.
8.3 A full time ranger would manage the impact of additional visitors and provide reassurance and security for users and deliver the Park’s long-term management plan, including monitoring and responding to biodiversity and landscape changes.
8.4 Improved visitor interpretation and education, through a Park information office, leaflets, walks and talks would improve visitors’ understanding of the importance of the site and appropriate behaviour.
8.5 Enhanced public access points with orientation maps and Park information will direct users to appropriate areas to meet their recreational needs and ensure appropriate behaviour.
Calculation of Green Space
8.6 Natural England advises that, assuming no further improvements were to be made to parking facilities in connection with the SANGS area, that the non- parking site enhancements discussed at Paragraphs 8.2 to 8.5, above, are likely to attract visitors arriving without a car, i.e., by foot or bicycle, within 400 metres of the overall SANGS area (85 hectares). Accordingly, with reference to Natural England’s Delivery Plan standards, as set forth in Table 1, above, Natural England advises, on a precautionary basis, that the effect of such improvements would equate to 4 hectares of enhanced green space, which is the upper range of a SANGS size that can be relied upon within a 400 metre development catchment.
8.7 The provision of car parking for the SANGS area, which Natural England perceives as the overriding factor limiting potential visitors use of this particular SANGS, would enable more visitors arriving by car both to utilise the SANGS area and enjoy the above mentioned on-site enhancements. To this end, the remaining 17.25 ha of estimated visitor capacity of the SANGS area (21.25ha total estimated visitor capacity less 4 ha attributable to non car park enhancements) has been assessed with reference to the relative proportion of car parking spaces that can be expected to be further utilised at the Ranger’s House car park (5 spaces) and the Hale Recreation Ground car park (10 spaces), after these car parks are improved and promoted in connection with the SANGS area, in relation to the number of estimated car parking spaces that could be realised in connection with an existing, but presently unlinked, car park to the east side of Farnham Park (20 spaces). These estimates as to additional car parking spaces have been provided by the Council’s park staff, and have been revised downwards by Natural England from their total capacity, on a precautionary basis, which assumes that there is some present use of these car parks in their unimproved and not promoted state. Based on the proportion of estimated additional spaces that would be made available, it has been agreed that approximately 40% of new car parking facilities are achievable at the Ranger’s House and Hale Recreation Ground car parks and approximately 60% of new car parking facilities are possible on the east side of Farnham Park, provided that a footpath link into the SANGS area from this potential car park is eventually secured. When these percentages are applied to the stated remaining 17.25 ha of visitor capacity, 6.9 ha is attributable to improvements at the Ranger’s House and Hale Recreation Ground car parks.
8.8 In consideration of the 4 ha of SANGS attributable to non car parking improvements and the 6.9 ha of SANGS attributable to car parking improvements at the Ranger’s House and Hale Recreation Ground car parks (both of which are within the Council’s control and can be enhanced within the near term through implementation of this Interim Miniplan) Natural England advises, in view of presently estimated visitor capacity (21.25 ha), that up to 10.9 ha of SANGS green space is available at the SANGS area of Farnham Park to which residential development can be matched if the enhancement measures discussed above (and further specified in Appendix 2) are delivered.
8.9 Section 106 money gained for avoidance measures would have to cover both on-going revenue costs (for staff and maintenance) in perpetuity as well as the capital costs of enhancement.
8.10 Farnham Park has the potential to meet the Draft Delivery Plan criteria because of its central location and semi-natural nature and can therefore provide short-term green space avoidance measures for development in Zones B and C.
TABLE 2: The amount of avoidance space needed until approximately 2010, based on past permissions granted
HA PER1000 POP standard
8.11 The Table above shows the population increase that might be expected in the Farnham zones over the next 3 years or so, and the amount of land that is required to offset any effect on the SPA. Appendix 2 shows the amount of financial contribution required for each occupant of additional residential development in order to provide the SANGS necessary to offset any impact on the SPA.
8.12 The total number of permissions granted over a 3 year period prior to the designation of the SPA, between 2002 and 2005, provides some indication of the developments that may be forthcoming in future. Those permissions are shown in Table 2 above. The total numbers of additional residential dwellings permitted in Zones B and C during that period were 46 and 334 respectively. This is in the period before the designation of the SPA curtailed planning applications (and permissions) for new development. Whilst this cannot be taken as an accurate guide to future developments, the figures give a general indication of how long it might take to consume the presently available 10.9ha of SANGS at Farnham Park.
9 Monitoring and Review
9.1 There are a number of variables that will determine how quickly the SANGS will be consumed by residential permissions, and equally how much further land at Farnham Park can be considered as SANGS in addition to the current 10.9ha. There will be a need to constantly monitor the permissions granted in each of the zones B and C, and account for the impact of such permissions on the quantity of SANGS available for avoidance measures. For example, if more of the housing comes through in zone B then the rate of take up of SANGS will be accelerated, as twice as much avoidance space is required by Natural England’s guidelines in zone B as in zone C.
9.2 The miniplan guidance, including the level of developer contributions, will also need to be reviewed in the light of the best available scientific information (which continually evolves) as well as factors such as:
future user capacity, and the results of visitor surveys;
revisions to Natural England’s avoidance standards;
impacts of improvements to accessibility, eg car parking provision;
availability of other SANGS sites.
The Council will be obliged to carry out improvements and provide an audit trail. The accounting system to track finances against the projects in the Miniplan will be that monies received relating to S106 Agreements will be accounted for by a dedicated code within the Council’s Agresso accounts system. Occupation of dwellings will run in parallel with improvements to the Park, such that enhancements are coming on stream as occupants move into the dwellings. Waverley will keep records of which developments are matched to which enhancements as per Appendix 1, and report this to Natural England on a monthly basis so that there is assurance that all developments are being linked to enhancements. The Council is committed to providing the SANGS as soon as is reasonably practicable.
11. Calculation of the financial tariffs
11.1 Following the identification of sites, the calculation of the amount of the site that can be used for avoidance, and the actual costs of the avoidance works, a calculation of developer contributions can be worked out. The cost per hectare of works to these sites is linked to Natural England‘s draft standards for improved open space per 1000 additional residents to produce a tariff for developer contributions. The tariff also incorporates a contribution of 35%, in the nature of an endowment, from the developer to reflect the facilitation, implementation and ongoing management role of the Council in this process. In addition, this contribution will reflect the fact that the Council will be placing long-term constraints on its land in terms of keeping the land available for public access while it constitutes avoidance land. This requirement is based on the fact that by making available land in its ownership, the value of the development land is increased. The tariff will be updated on an annual basis in line with the Retail Price Index.
12. Options for Developers
12.1 Developers’ attention is drawn to Regulation 48 of the Habitats Regulations, which sets out the Council’s obligations as the “competent authority”:
48(1) A competent authority, before deciding to undertake, or give any consent, permission or other authorisation for, a plan or project which
(a) is likely to have a significant effect on a European site in Great Britain (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects), and
(b) is not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site,
shall make an appropriate assessment of the implications for the site in view of that site’s conservation objectives
48(5) In the light of the conclusions of the assessment… the authority shall
agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the European site.
12.2 Following Natural England’s guidance, the requirement for an ‘appropriate assessment’ can be avoided if developers meet one of the options set out at paragraph 6.1 above. If one of these options is secured, the local planning authority will presume that any effect on the SPA will be avoided, and therefore that the development proposal would not be likely to have a significant effect on the SPA within the meaning of regulation 48.
12.3 Where developers are not able to provide suitable avoidance measures on-site (a minimum 2ha is required) they could make a financial contribution towards avoidance measures provided by enhancing a Council owned or managed site. The specific option available through this miniplan is to provide funding towards the Council’s improvements of Farnham Park, which Natural England accepts is an appropriate SANGS site. The Council has assumed that occupancy rates of new development are one person per bedroom, and so the contributions are calculated according to the number of bedrooms provided in each new dwelling. On present calculations, the contribution required is £1551 per new bedroom in Zone B and £757 per new bedroom in Zone C. There is no proposal to discriminate between types of residential development (i.e. flats and houses) because advice from Natural England is that there is no discernible difference in recreational impacts created by the occupants.
12.4 If developers are unable, or unwilling, to make such contributions towards SANGS provision, then the presumption remains that the proposed development will be likely to have a significant effect on the SPA. The precautionary principle will apply to the appropriate assessment that will consequently be required, to mean the developer must prove to the Council that the proposal (together with any conditions or restrictions) to which it could be made subject) would not adversely affect the integrity of the SPA in order to allow a lawful grant of permission. The Council must consult Natural England on any appropriate assessment.