Draft Thanet Local Plan - 2031 - Pre-Submission Publication, Regulation 19

Comment ID 7
Document Section Sustainability Appraisal (no name) [View all comments on this section]
Respondent Heather Twizell - Natural England [View all comments by this respondent]
Response Date 04 Oct 2018

Annex 2 – Detailed comments on Local Plan Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA), Sustainability Appraisal (SA) and Transport Strategy

Habitats Regulations Assessment

We are pleased to see recognition in this document of the recent ‘People over Wind’ ruling (April 2018) and its implications for the HRA process. We are generally in agreement with the conclusions reached by the HRA although we would advise that some further clarity is required to robustly demonstrate that there will be no adverse effect on the integrity of the Sandwich Bay SAC through the pathway of air quality.

4.1  Initial Screening of European Sites

We agree that the Thanet Local Plan is not likely to have a significant effect on the following sites through any pathway of impact:

  • Blean Complex SAC
  • Dover to Kingsdown Cliffs SAC
  • Stodmarsh SAC / SPA and Ramsar site
  • Thanet Coast SAC
  • Margate and Long Sands SAC
  • Tankerton Slopes and Swalecliffe SAC
  • Outer Thames Estuary SPA
  • The Swale SPA and Ramsar site

5.  Appropriate Assessment: Sandwich Bay SAC

  • Recreational Pressure and Urbanisation

While we agree with the conclusion that the Thanet Local Plan will not have an adverse effect on the integrity of the Sandwich Bay SAC through the pathway of recreational pressure and

urbanisation we would advise that policies SP12 and SP26 cannot be used as part of the

justification for this. The relevant section of SP12 and the entirety of SP26 relate to the Thanet Coast SAMM which is funded by developer contributions, and therefore any mitigation measures

resulting from it must be closely linked to the interest features of the SPA and Ramsar site as this is

the reason it was developed in the first place. It is not clear how this would benefit the dune features of the SAC.

5.3  Atmospheric Pollution

We note that the critical loads for N and Acid are already exceeded for all SAC features (except two where Acid is N/A) and are pleased that the HRA recognises the relatively new requirement for air quality impacts to be assessed in-combination.

We agree that the main mechanism for the Local Plan to impact on the SAC through the pathway of air quality is through increased levels of traffic. However, we do not feel that the HRA is currently sufficiently robust in demonstrating no adverse effect on site integrity through this impact pathway. Given the distance of any of the large site allocations in Thanet from any of the places where an A or B road passes within 200m of the SAC any traffic increases are likely to be too dispersed to have a significant impact.

To demonstrate this we would like to see traffic modelling data clearly showing how traffic flows are predicted to change as a result of the allocations in the Thanet Local Plan on A or B roads within 200m of any emission-sensitive features of the SAC, regardless of whether these fall within Thanet District or outside in Dover District.

6.  Appropriate Assessment: Thanet Coast and Sandwich Bay SPA / Thanet Coast and Sandwich Bay Ramsar

  • Current Issues and Threats to Interest Features Turnstone

We are not happy with the final sentence in this section which begins ‘Natural England have suggested that…’ We have provided advice to your authority but the approach which has been

taken to the recreational pressure issue has been dictated by the evidence coming out of the Local Plan process and your authority needs to take ownership of this. If at any point this HRA document is revised we would suggest amending the wording to ‘The evidence suggests that…

Golden Plover

We would advise amending the final sentence in this section as follows: ‘It should be noted that the second and third SPA Reviews (Stroud et al. 2001 and Stroud et al. 2016 respectively) have both suggested that golden plover be removed as an interest feature from this SPA, and it is understood that the third review is likely to be implemented in the near future however until this is formally done golden plover remain an interest feature of the SPA and will be treated as such.’

6.2  Recreational Pressure and Urbanisation Proposed / Incorporated Mitigation Disturbance effects on birds within the SPA

Again, with regards to the reference to Natural England in the first paragraph it is the evidence

which supports the provision of a wardening scheme as appropriate mitigation.

We previously stated in our response to the Proposed Revisions to the Draft Local Plan (Preferred Options) consultation (Our Ref: 206538) that we were satisfied with the conclusions of the HRA with respect to the increase in proposed housing numbers from 12,000 to 17,140.

Assessment of Effects Golden Plover

We note that determining the numbers of golden plover associated with the SPA is not a simple

matter. The original citation clearly indicates a figure of 1,980 birds (then comprising 1% of the British wintering population based on a 5-year peak mean 1985/96 to 1989/90). The other quoted figure of 411 birds comes from a considerably later Natura 2000 – Standard Data Form (5-year peak mean 1991/92 to 1995/96). It is not overly helpful that the more recent population data presented in Table 6.1 appears to have been taken directly from the online BTO WeBS database and therefore presents data for the Thanet Coast and Pegwell Bay separately and with no narrative around how this compares with the designated site boundaries. SPA specific data can be requested from the BTO WeBS office but is charged for. We would reiterate that until an SPA Review advising that golden plover be removed as an SPA feature is ratified then they should still be treated as such.

We would query when reference is made to ‘Surveys of the allocation sites, completed in early 2016 and repeated in 2016 / 2017’ why only a single survey report covering data collected in January / February 2016 is included at Appendix F. Where is the data from the winter of 2016/17?

Known important areas and allocation sites / Wider landscape-scale effects / Assessment Based on the information in these sections Natural England is satisfied that none of the sites proposed for allocation in the Local Plan has a strong enough functional linkage to the SPA as to require mitigation measures to be set out and safeguarded at the plan level. We agree that the more general protection afforded by Policies SP12 and SP27, requiring assessment of the functional land issue at the project level and provision of mitigation if required, is sufficient.

6.3  Water Resources

There is a typographical error in the first paragraph which currently refers to the “ Thanet Coast and Sandwich bay SPA Swale SPA/Ramsar”

Sustainability Appraisal

We have carried out a light touch review of the SA and are generally satisfied with the conclusions drawn although we have drawn out some specific points below.

One general point to make is that references within this document to the HRA process are often incorrect. The document does not appear to have been updated in light of the recent People over Wind ruling which means that for any policies requiring mitigation to avoid impacts on European sites (such as all the housing allocations which rely on the Thanet Coast SAMM) it states that there is no likely significant effect when the correct conclusion now is no adverse effect on site integrity. There are also a number of cases where the policy appraisal matrix may show HRA as being not applicable (NA) but the summary section states that there is no likely significant effect. We would consider these to be two different things. If a policy has no possible way of impacting on a designated site (e.g. SP20 – Affordable Housing) then consideration under the Habs Regs is NA, however for policies where there is a credible pathway of impact but it is clear impacts will not be significant a conclusion of no likely significant effect is appropriate.

These concerns around the reporting of the HRA process in the SA document are not fundamental as the core HRA document deals with the issues correctly but we believe the matter should be corrected as it may lead to confusion among readers less experienced in this topic.

Appendix C - Biodiversity and Cultural Assets

C1 – Thanet Designated Areas currently makes no reference to any of the marine designated sites just off the Thanet Coast i.e. the Thanet Coast MCZ, Outer Thames Estuary SPA and Margate & Long Sands SAC.

Appendix D – Sustainability Appraisal Framework

We have previously offered to work with your authority to revise a number of the indicators in Table D1, particularly those around biodiversity (Objective 20). We would like it noted that these indicators as they currently stand will generally not measure the influence of the Local Plan itself on biodiversity but will be affected by many other factors. We would still be very willing to work with your authority on this to the end of agreeing more planning specific indicators along the line of the final bullet point ‘% of greenspace gain in new developments.’

Appendix E - Policy Appraisal Matrices

The policy appraisals for the vast majority of housing allocation sites, both major (SP13-SP18) and minor (HO2-HO17) show the allocation policies as likely to result in either a minor or significant positive effect on the objective of conserving and enhancing biodiversity. Natural England does not agree with these conclusions. When one considers the Decision Making Criteria in Table 1, about the best that can be said is that these site allocations may avoid damage to designated wildlife and geological sites as other, more damaging sites, could have been allocated in their stead. But to state that the allocation of all of these sites for housing, many of which are currently greenfield, will provide an overall benefit to the conservation and enhancement of wider biodiversity is unrealistic. If as a result of a future Local Plan review your authority incorporates new policy wording to ensure that all new development will result in a quantifiable net gain for biodiversity then it may be possible to revisit our views on this matter. We have not raised this as a major issue as it is not specific to Thanet and we do not see how you could have addressed things differently – you have a requirement to provide new housing and the reality is that across most of the country the provision of housing still results in a net loss, or at best a neutral impact on biodiversity. We are hopeful that net gain could be the mechanism that begins to genuinely reverse this in the coming years.

E18 - Best and Most Versatile Land – this concludes a negative impact against Objective 20 (Biodiversity) as it is perceived that the policy could prevent habitat creation/restoration. We believe this is a tenuous argument and that in many cases prime agricultural land tends to be less suitable for habitat creation. It could possibly be argued that a negative impact could result from the policy’s safeguarding of BMV land as the knock on effect of this is to direct development to land of lower quality and this is more likely to be better for biodiversity.

CC06 – Solar Parks – despite raising concerns previously the matrix still shows this policy as benefitting biodiversity which may not be the case at the local level. The policy might include a requirement to provide biodiversity enhancements but currently contains no corresponding requirement to fully assess what biodiversity might be lost as a result of development. This is particularly an issue where agricultural land is being used by overwintering birds from designated nature conservation sites as this would not be compatible with the development of a solar park.

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