Joint Local Plan Additional Modifications
Representation ID: 22802
Respondent: Natural England
Sound? Not specified
Natural England welcomes the inclusion of the biodiversity mitigation hierarchy. We also welcome the suggestion of developing links to existing GI networks. You may wish to consider if a higher percentage increase can be achieved for certain types of development. It is noted that the supporting text for this policy includes reference to the latest published version of the Natural England Biodiversity Metric. It should be noted that once biodiversity net gain becomes mandatory in, developments should use the Secretary of State’s metric.
Thank you for your consultation on the above dated 22 March 2023 which was received by Natural England on the same date.
Natural England is a non-departmental public body. Our statutory purpose is to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced, and managed for the benefit of present and future generations, thereby contributing to sustainable development.
Natural England has reviewed the proposed modifications within the Modifications Schedule (March 2023) and has the following comments to make.
MM20 – Policy SP05 Employment Land
This policy outlines the potential environmental constraints for development at the Brantham site and the former Sproughton Sugar Beet Factory. Natural England advises that opportunities for significant environmental enhancements should be considered at all potential development sites and that biodiversity net gain will become a requirement for this type of development in November 2023.
MM21 – Policy SP06 Retail and Town Centre Uses
The plan states that “The towns in Babergh and Mid Suffolk have an important function serving district-wide catchments in the provision of shopping, employment and leisure opportunities”. Natural England believes that the multi-functional nature of green infrastructure (GI) makes it integral to this policy. Research has shown how urban green space provides many valuable services, all of which can contribute towards health and wellbeing and economic growth. A summary of the benefits can be found here . Natural England believes that urban greenspace should be protected and enhanced where possible. Therefore, we advise that wording within this policy reflects the importance of green infrastructure within the town centres and local centres in Babergh and Mid Suffolk.
MM23 – Policy SP08 Strategic Infrastructure Provision
As discussed above, GI is multifunctional and has many far reaching benefits. It is Natural England’s advice that delivery of strategic GI is included within this policy.
MM24 and AM36 – paragraphs 12.13 – 12.19
Natural England welcomes the inclusion of our Suitable Accessible Natural Greenspace (SANGS) guidance and the commitment to cross boundary mitigation for protected habitats sites under the Suffolk Coast Recreational Disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy (RAMS).
MM26 – Policy SP09 Enhancement and Management of the Environment
Natural England welcomes the recognition that networks of GI should be conserved and enhanced. We also welcome the stipulation that development consisting of over 50 dwellings will be required to demonstrate well-designed open space/green infrastructure, proportionate to its scale. However, Natural England advises that sites below 50 dwelling should also be providing suitable and proportionate GI, although we recognise this is not required by the Suffolk Coast RAMS. Furthermore, it is important that the quality of on-site green space is considered as well as the quantity. You may wish to refer to Natural England’s GI framework and standards to determine what ‘good’ GI might look like.
This policy states that biodiversity enhancement achieved through biodiversity net gain should ensure that the network of habitats and green infrastructure is more resilient to current and future pressures. Natural England welcomes this clarification and advises that you may wish to reference specific strategic documents, such as forthcoming Local Nature Recovery Strategies, that will help to target the provision of biodiversity net gain to achieve maximum benefits.
Natural England also welcomes the commitment in this policy to review planning policies should air quality monitoring results show an adverse impact on the integrity of protected habitats sites.
MM27 & AM39 – Policy SP10 Climate Change
This policy, and the supporting text, outlines approaches to mitigate and adapt to climate change, including biodiversity net gain. As discussed above, Natural England advises that the multi-functionality of GI makes it ideal for helping to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Your policies should reflect this and ensure that development takes account of it.
Local Policies - Housing
It is noted that substantial changes are proposed to many of the Local Policies within the plan, especially those relating to new development. It appears that much of the wording regarding consideration of ecological impacts has been removed. Natural England advises that your authority should be confident that these policies provide enough environmental protection.
MM45 – Policy LP15 Tourism and Leisure
Natural England welcomes the inclusion of the biodiversity mitigation hierarchy within this policy.
MM47 & MM48 – New Policy LP14 Intensive Livestock and Poultry Farming and supporting text
Natural England welcomes the inclusion within the supporting text of the consideration of environmental protection regarding these developments, including cumulative impacts with other nearby similar developments. In addition, we welcome the requirement to demonstrate that there will be no significant effects upon sensitive environmental receptors through approved emission modelling. Natural England would advise that this includes appropriate interpretation of the modelling results with respect to ecological receptors.
MM50 – Policy LP16 Biodiversity and Geodiversity
Natural England welcomes the inclusion of the biodiversity mitigation hierarchy. We also welcome the suggestion of developing links to existing GI networks. You may also wish to consider how the plan can contribute to work that will be identified within the forthcoming Local Nature Recovery Strategy, as well as the documents being worked on by the council as mentioned in new paragraph 15.18.
This policy states that development should identify and pursue opportunities for measurable net gains, and states a minimum of 10% increase for biodiversity. You may wish to consider if a higher percentage increase can be achieved for certain types of development. It is noted that the supporting text for this policy includes reference to the latest published version of the Natural England Biodiversity Metric. It should be noted that once biodiversity net gain becomes mandatory in, developments should use the Secretary of State’s metric.
MM64 – removal of policy LP30 Designated Open Spaces
Natural England understands that this policy has been removed as it will form part of the upcoming Part 2 Plan. To aid you in developing this part 2 plan, Natural England would advise you to reference Natural England’s Green Infrastructure framework and standards. This includes a mapping tool which will help in identifying areas with currently poor provision of GI and target areas for new open space provision.
MM69 & MM68 – LP29 Safe, Sustainable and Active Transport and supporting text
Natural England welcomes reference in the supporting text to the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan and County Council Rights of Way Improvement Plan. We would advise you to also consider how safe, sustainable active transport can be made accessible to all.
MM70 – Policy LP30 Managing Infrastructure Provision
The text for this policy states that “The provision of infrastructure is fundamental to maintaining quality of life, economic prosperity and the environmental assets of the districts”. As outlined previously, Natural England believes that GI, as well as blue infrastructure, is integral in achieving this. As such, we advise that consideration of these should be included within this policy.
Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) policy
It is noted that BNG is discussed throughout the plan. You may consider it appropriate to bring all of these comments together into a specific BNG policy. Natural England would advise that this policy include:
• The percentage of biodiversity net gain to apply across the plan
• The approach to on-site and off-site delivery
• How losses and gains will be measured
Natural England would be happy to liaise with you in the creation of this policy should you deem it appropriate at this stage of plan creation.
Habitat Regulations Assessment including Appropriate Assessment, April 2023.
It is acknowledged in the ‘Explanatory Note from the Inspectors’ that during the examination stage, significant concerns were raised regarding the robustness of the housing site selection process, soundness of the site allocations and the spatial strategy. Given that the area’s housing requirement figure is already provided for, the housing site allocations have been removed from the plan and will be assessed in Part 2 of the JLP to follow in due course.
Natural England recognises that removing the housing allocations at this stage will enable the local plan process to keep progressing. We advise that a Sustainability Appraisal (SA) and Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) will also need to be completed for Part 2 of the plan and Natural England will again need to be consulted on these documents.
Natural England notes that your authority has undertaken an SA and HRA to review the main modifications made for the proposed Part 1 of the JLP with the HRA proceeding to an appropriate assessment in accordance with regulation 63 of the Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations 2017 (as amended). Natural England is a statutory consultee on the appropriate assessment stage of the HRA process, and a competent authority should have regard to Natural England’s advice.
Your appropriate assessment concludes that your authority is able to ascertain that the proposal will not result in adverse effects on the integrity of any of the sites in question.
Having considered your assessment, and the measures proposed to mitigate for any adverse effects, Natural England’s advice is that your assessment is not sufficiently rigorous or robust to justify this conclusion and therefore it is not possible to ascertain that the proposal will not result in adverse effects on the integrity of the sites in question.
We advise that the following additional work on the assessment is required to enable it to be sufficiently rigorous and robust. Natural England should be re-consulted once this additional work has been undertaken and the appropriate assessment has been revised.
Natural England offers the following specific advice on the HRA:
2.2 Identifying Habitats sites, their Conservation Objectives and Qualifying Features
‘Table 3. Habitats sites within 20 km of Babergh and Mid Suffolk’ appears to not scope in relevant European sites in relation to recreational disturbance as an impact pathway. Given the evidence identified in Footprint Ecology’s ‘Habitats Regulations Assessment Recreational Disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy for Ipswich Borough, Babergh District, Mid Suffolk District and East Suffolk Councils – Technical Report’ (2019) as commissioned by Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council to assess and mitigate recreational disturbance caused by new housing development, all European sites within 13km of your LPA boundaries should be scoped into the HRA. We therefore advise that there is a likely significant effect as a result of recreational disturbance on the Deben Estuary SPA and Ramsar site, the Stour and Orwell Estuaries Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site and the Sandlings SPA which have been scoped out at the screening stage of this HRA. These sites should be taken to the appropriate assessment stage when considering potential effects from recreational disturbance as a result of new residential and tourism development resulting from this plan.
2.3 Screening and Impact Pathways
Loss of Functionally Linked land
Please note that new development resulting from this plan within close proximity to European sites which might affect “functionally linked land” may require project level HRAs and associated survey work to ensure that development does not have an adverse effect on the integrity of the relevant European site.
Section 2.3.12 states that “Wastewater treatment within the districts is currently handled by Anglian Water and they are aiming to produce a Drainage and Wastewater Management Plan (DWMP) in 2024 to ensure that a long-term strategy is in place for the safe disposal of wastewater. A Draft Drainage and Wastewater Management Plan (DWMP) has been produced by Anglian Water in the intermediary period, which does not raise any issues for the ‘Part 1’ Plan.” Evidence should be provided within this HRA to explain why this conclusion has been reached. To determine that there is sufficient capacity to deal with the planned additional development.
Furthermore, Section 2.3.14 states that “Water pollution, such as contaminated surface run-off, will not be capable of resulting in impacts outside of the districts boundary as there are no catchments outside the districts which will be able to be affected by surface water runoff. Therefore, Likely Significant Effects could only affect the Stour and Orwell Estuaries SPA and Ramsar site, Redgrave & South Lopham Fens Ramsar site and Waveney & Lt Ouse Valley Fens SAC”. It should be noted however that the Deben Estuary SPA and Ramsar, the Alde-Ore (& Butley) SAC, SPA and Ramsar and Minsmere to Walberswick Heaths and Marshes SAC, SPA and Ramsar protected sites appear to be hydrologically connected to the Plan boundary by waterways and these therefore need to be taken into consideration.
Section 2.3.20 states that “Anglian Water 2022 Water Resources Management Plan indicates that there would be no significant negative effects predicted on water efficiency for the areas managed within Babergh and Mid Suffolk districts. However, the Anglian Water 2022 Water Resources Management Plan indicates that drought is currently an issue and is being addressed via a new Potable Water Transfer system.” A definition of what is meant by water efficiency in this context should be provided and how this relates to European sites. We advise that your LPA satisfies itself that its development is not causing, adding to or making it more difficult to remove an adverse effect risk from abstraction. Your authority could achieve this by:
- Asking the water company to tell you which abstractions it plans to supply their growth in the HRA
- Checking if these could effect Habitat sites as part of your plan’s evidence base
Currently there is not enough detail to identify whether there will be any likely significant effects.
Water Quantity - Reduced Water Resources
Section 2.3.21 states that Essex and Suffolk Water’s Water Resources Management Plan (2019), and Drought Plan (2022) “provide measures to avoid impacts on Redgrave and South Lopham Fens Ramsar site & Waveney & Lt Ouse Valley Fens SAC”. Moreover, 2.3.22 states that “As a result, the Wortham borehole (for potable supply) had to be located outside the impact risk zone for Redgrave and South Lopham Fens Ramsar and additional water needed for Category 1 demand is sourced from other boreholes. It is therefore considered that there will be no Likely Significant Effect on these Habitats sites from water abstraction.” It is not clear whether this plan will result in any increased demand from the Wortham Borehole? This information is required to justify the conclusion of no likely significant effects.
Section 2.3.40 does not conclude whether the impacts of Air Quality are likely to cause significant effects on the European sites and therefore it cannot be ascertained at present, whether this needs to be screened into the appropriate assessment.
Table 7. Policies that have the Potential to Cause a Likely Significant Effect and their Impact Pathways
Further information is required as to why impact pathways for the policies identified in table 7 have been screened out. For example, it seems that air quality, water quantity water quality impacts on European sites could result from policies SP01, SP05, SP08 and LP01 without more information.
In relation to ‘SP01 - Housing Needs’, it is important to recognise that even though Part 1 does not allocate sites through a spatial strategy in Part 1, there will be target growth associated with Policy SP01 throughout the duration of the Plan and therefore it could have a likely significant effect through the impacts pathways identified in Table 7.
3.3. Habitats Screened in for Appropriate Assessment
Table 8. Habitats Sites, Impact Pathways and Examples of LSE Identified at Screening Stage
It is noted that under ‘Air Quality’ no Likely Significant Effect has been concluded. However, this “Mitigation has been embedded within Policy LP14 - Intensive Livestock and Poultry Farming. As a result, a Likely Significant Effect from water quantity can be ruled out.” This appears to be a typographical error and we assume it is meant to say “…from Air Quality can be ruled out”. According to the CJEU People Over Wind v Coillte Teoranta C-323/17 ruling, mitigation measures cannot be considered when conducting an HRA screening assessment to decide whether a plan or project is likely to result in Likely Significant Effects on a Habitats site. Therefore, Air Quality should be scoped into the Appropriate Assessment.
4.7 Air Quality
4.7.1. states that further monitoring has been recommended for Air Quality in section 4.14. This section appears to be missing and it is assumed that it should reference 14.12.13 instead.
Sections 4.12.13 - 4.12.16 discuss the Air Quality Monitoring Plan agreed with Natural England which was required to fill evidence gaps identified in the previous Habitats Regulations Assessment. As per the timelines agreed with Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council, Natural England was expecting that the Air Quality Monitoring report would be completed in July 2022 as per the ‘Air Quality Monitoring Plan – Assessment upon Protected Habitats within Babergh and Mid Suffolk Districts’ (May 2021) appended to the ‘Statement of Common Ground Between Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils and Natural England’ (June 2021). It was then expected that this information would be “submitted to a specialist ecologist for consideration of the data, who will then provide analysis of the findings and any necessary mitigation measures in relation to the Protected Habitats sites.” As this work was expected to be completed by the end of 2022, we consider that the results should have fed into the HRA for Part 1. If this information is not yet available as expected the results of the monitoring should be fed into the HRA for Part 2 of the Plan, given the timescale.
Site Improvement Plans and Conservation Objectives
Sections 4.9.5 and 4.10.4 of the appropriate assessment refer to disturbance having an effect on the Site Improvement Plans. Whilst it is positive that these are considered. The HRA and appropriate assessment should be focused on whether the plan will undermine the Conservation Objectives of the relevant European sites, when assessing each policy in these sections.
In section 4.11.13 and elsewhere in the HRA “disturbance” is referred to, but clarity is sought to define the different type of disturbance being discussed e.g. disturbance from construction or visitor disturbance, as this is currently not clear.
Protected Habitats Mitigation Zones
In section 4.11.7 there are multiple references to ‘Protected Habitats Mitigation Zones’. Please provide an explanation as to what these are. It might be beneficial to add this term to the Plans glossary.
Main Modifications Sustainability Appraisal’ (Final report, Prepared by LUC, dated February 2023)
We provide the follows advice in relation to the ‘Babergh and Mid Suffolk Joint Local Plan: Main Modifications Sustainability Appraisal’ (Final report, Prepared by LUC, dated February 2023).
As the Main Modifications Sustainability Appraisal Report relates to the Part 1 Plan only, with the appraisal of the housing site selection and spatial strategy to be provided as part of the consultation on Part 2, Natural England has only limited comments to provide at this stage and will provide further advice when we are consulted on Part 2.
Natural England advises that in relation to ‘Table 6.1: Proposed monitoring indicators’, Objective 11. ‘To conserve and enhance biodiversity and geodiversity’, the monitoring indicators could be strengthened by monitoring the number of hectares of best and most versatile agricultural land (Grades 1, 2 and 3a) developed/built on across the plan period.
Natural England has no further comments to make in relation to the Sustainability Appraisal.