Bridgend contains a number of internationally, nationally and locally important sites for nature and geological conservation. These sites are of primary importance for Bridgend and form the core ecological network which is a vital part of Bridgend’s natural heritage and recreational resource.
It is important to understand the potential impact of your development on protecting irreplaceable habitat (such as ancient woodland) and existing sites of international, national or local importance and landscape character. National and local policy recognises the importance of protecting and enhancing these areas designated for their special landscape and/or biodiversity importance.
Bridgend CBC also seeks to ensure the protection of areas important for nature conservation. These sites have been identified and receive protection in the Bridgend Local Development Plan CHP 4: Protecting and Enhancing the Environment. Areas having a high and/or unique environmental quality are protected from inappropriate development which directly or indirectly impacts upon them.
Designated sites are essential, however, they provide only small isolated refuges. It is essential that we maintain and create connections between these sites to allow for the movement of wildlife between sites and between populations.
If your development occurs near a protected area whilst minimising the detrimental effect of your development you can actually have a positive benefit. Protected sites are important refuges for habitats and the species that reside there, and are the foundations for Bridgend’s green infrastructure. However these sites are becoming increasingly fragmented and are not able to function as well as they could and are becoming less resilient to changes such as climate change. Bridgend CBC aim to promote green infrastructure which aims to create ecological networks, green corridors and greenways that have both social and environmental benefit. It is a mechanism for more informed decision-making and more ‘joined-up’ thinking in relation to urban and regional environmental planning.
GUIDANCE NOTE 1: Adverse impacts to designated site should only occur as a last resort, and should be fully compensated by replacement with a feature of comparable or higher ecological value.
By maintaining or creating natural features such as trees and hedgerows, or providing well designed natural open spaces within developments you can provide essential stepping stones and connections that and have a positive contributions to green infrastructure.
For example, collectively householders can make a huge contribution to green infrastructure and connectivity between woodlands by planting native species trees. In addition households will directly receive the benefits (ecosystem services) of the trees such as shading, cleaner air, and amenity value see CIRIA report C712 The Benefits of Large Species Trees in Urban Landscapes for more information.
You can find out more information regarding ecosystem services from the Wales Biodiversity Partnership.
To determine the significance of any environmental harm or benefits requires the affected resource(s) and the potential impacts associated with the proposal to be examined.
The BS 42020 2012 refers to “significant impact” as an effect which is important, notable, or of consequence, having regard to its context. The significance of the impact will depend on the sensitivity of the resource that is affected and on the magnitude of any likely impacts.
A Stepwise Process is used to ensure plans and projects do not adversely affect the integrity of SACs.
Any plan or project with the potential to impact upon a European Designated Site (SAC, SPA or Ramsar) must legally be assessed under the Habitat Regulation Assessment (HRA) process.
Establish if the proposed plan or project either likely to have a significant effect on a European Designated Site either alone or in-combination?
An effect is significant if there is a possibility that published conservation objectives of the site could be undermined.
If the answer to test 1 ‘significance’ is ‘yes’ or ‘unknown’ then an Appropriate Assessment must be undertaken by the Local Planning Authority (known as the Competent Authority).
The appropriate assessment is triggered by the likely significant effect test and is conducted to ascertain that there will not be ‘adverse effect on the integrity’ of the site.
The scale and scope of an Appropriate Assessment varies significantly depending upon the type of plan or project being assessed. As the competent authority Bridgend CBC may need to seek additional information from planning applicants to allow an Appropriate Assessment of planning applications to be undertaken.
When undertaking an Appropriate Assessment the Local Planning Authority must formally consult Natural Resources Wales and must have regard to the representations of Natural Resources Wales in making its decision. (In the presence of a Natural Resources Wales objection on HRA grounds a planning permission cannot legally be granted until Natural Resources Wales’s objection has been addressed and formally withdrawn).
Habitat Regulation Assessment Conclusions
GUIDANCE NOTE 2: A Local Planning Authority will only legally grant planning permission if it is established that the proposed plan or project will not adversely affect the integrity of the European Site.
If it is not possible to establish this beyond reasonable scientific doubt then planning permission cannot legally be granted.
If a significant adverse effect was identified so severe that (in the absence of imperative reasons of overriding public interest) the plan or project is to be refused automatically.
Planning policy typically indicates that a significant adverse effect resulting from a development is one that cannot be addressed through the mitigation hierarchy (e.g. avoided [such as managed or designed/ relocated to avoid impact], adequately mitigated, or as a last resort compensated for).
Developers should be aware that if insufficient information i.e. about HRA, is submitted with the application, the application may be refused. Developers are therefore strongly advised to use the pre-application consultation process to seek assurances from the relevant statutory bodies that all potential impacts have been properly addressed in sufficient detail before the application is submitted.
Projects should also be carefully checked for the need for assessment under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive as well as assessment under the Habitats Regulations, because the criteria are different. Where a project subject to EIA would also be likely to have significant effects on a European site, the appropriate assessment under the Habitats Regulations must be carried out as well as undertaking the EIA. It should also be noted that Strategic Environmental Assessment will be required for plans and programmes that are likely to have a significant effect on a European Site.
With respect to all designated sites the mitigation hierarchy will follow the following rules.
The first stage is to identify if the development can be managed or designed so as to avoid impact. If impact is unavoidable then there may be scope for mitigation through design and timing of development. In certain situations development may be allowed even where it has an adverse effect on integrity of the site. In all situations a rigorous and formulaic process of reporting should be followed in order to comply with European and national legislation.
Protection of existing high quality habitats such as unimproved grassland and irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodlands should be prioritised over creating new habitats. Resources for long-term protection and management need to be addressed and incorporated into an agreed plan using relevant up-to-date information and ecological expertise.
Any mitigation or compensation proposals must be carefully thought through to guarantee that they will be effective and implementable. This can often require protracted negotiation between developers, planners, nature conservation bodies and land owners. Skilled negotiation can identify proactive solutions which meet the needs of all parties and enable development while safeguarding sites.