Structure Plan - Panel Report
CHAPTER 6 ENVIRONMENT
6.1 In this part of the report we consider whether the Structure Plan contains a clear and comprehensive framework for protecting and enhancing the environmental assets and biodiversity of the Plan area. The principal focus of discussion at the EIP was a group of revised and new policies introduced by the Structure Plan Authorities following representations on the Deposit Draft Structure Plan.
6.2 The context for this part of the discussion was set by English Nature who outlined the current situation on environmental and biodiversity issues in the Structure Plan area on behalf of a consortium which also included the Countryside Agency, the Environment Agency, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Rutland Wildlife Trust.
6.6 Revised Environment Policy 3 sets out the general measures that will be taken in dealing with development to maintain and enhance biodiversity and enhance the wider ecological value of the environment. The policy now includes, among other things, reference to achieving the objectives of the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Biodiversity Action Plan.
6.7 This reference raised a number of questions and concerns from the participants in relation to the objectives contained in the Biodiversity Action Plan and also in relation to targets contained in another document recently published by the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Biodiversity Action Plan Executive Committee entitled
6.9 There was some criticism of this general approach, most notably from the Government Office, who felt that it was not satisfactory for a development plan to refer to the achievement of objectives and targets derived from other documents, not least since the Examination had had no proper opportunity to consider those other documents.
6.10 The Panel considers that separate references within the policy to the objectives of the Biodiversity Action Plan and the targets from the Overview document would be confusing. We agree with the Structure Plan Authorities in preferring any reference to the Overview document to be in the explanatory memorandum, rather than in the policy itself. We also think that it would be more accurate for the policy to say that measures to protect, maintain and enhance natural biodiversity should ‘have regard to’ the objectives of the Biodiversity Action Plan rather than suggest that such measures should ‘achieve’ the objectives. The planning process cannot, on its own, achieve the objectives of the Biodiversity Action Plan.
6.11 Turning to the actual targets from the Overview document, some participants felt that these ought to be integrated into the Structure Plan targets in Chapter 10 rather than being attached as an appendix. We have no strong views on this though we do recognise that it would tend to over-balance the key indicators and targets with a lot of detail. We also think that that there ought to be greater consistency between the 14 targets in the Overview document and those set out in the Draft RPG, or at least that any inconsistency should be explained and reconciled. It was pointed out to us, for example, that more than 14 of the Draft RPG biodiversity targets appeared to be relevant to the Structure Plan area. There are also some confusing differences in the terminology used in the Overview document and Draft RPG. If the 14 targets are to be included in the Structure Plan, therefore, greater clarity would be needed on their relevance and the basis for their selection.
6.12 English Nature proposed that three ‘Strategic Biodiversity Enhancement Zones’ should be named in the policy. We agree with the Structure Plan Authorities that this would not be appropriate. The basis for the selection of the zones – Charnwood Forest and Northwest Leicestershire, Leighfield Forest and Limestone Grasslands in East Leicesterhire – was not clear and giving them prominence in the policy might appear to devalue other areas. There would also, in our opinion, be a danger of confusion with other policies such as Strategy Policy 15 on Charnwood Forest. Any reference to these zones should, as suggested by the Structure Plan Authorities, be in the explanatory memorandum, with a clear explanation of their status.
6.13 Our proposed amendments to revised Environment Policy 3 are included in the Panel Recommendations at the end of this chapter. These include some additional minor wording changes agreed by the Structure Plan Authorities during the discussion at the EIP.
Protection of Important Species And Habitats
6.14 Environment Policy 3A sets out the criteria which will apply in determining the acceptability of development affecting important habitats and species of international, national and local importance. A number of representations on the pre-EIP changes had highlighted the fact that the provisions in respect of species and site protection should be separate, as the legislative framework is different for species and sites, and this is also reflected in PPG 9. The Structure Plan Authorities responded to this by bringing forward a redrafted version of the policy at the EIP, proposing a new clause (iv) dealing separately with species of acknowledged importance.
6.15 There was a good deal of support for the redrafted policy which participants felt was now generally consistent with PPG9 and Draft RPG. Concern was, however, expressed by some participants over the wording of the first sentence of clause (iv), which refers to ‘proposals that would have an unacceptable effect on a species of acknowledged importance’. It sets out three criteria related to the importance and sensitivity of the species, which should be taken into account in considering proposals and goes on to say that development will not be permitted unless an overriding interest can be proven and there are no alternative solutions.
6.16 Although this form of wording was accepted by the RSPB as being broadly in line with current guidance and legislation on protected species it seems to us that it is wrong for a policy to start from the premise that the effect of development must be unacceptable before any action is taken. It would be more consistent with the wording in the rest of the policy – and with that used in related policies - to refer to proposals which would have an ‘adverse effect ‘ on species.
6.17 Referring to section (v) ‘Mitigation and Compensation’, we agree with those who argued that mitigation and compensation have a role to play in many circumstances and not just ‘exceptional circumstances’ and that the latter words should be deleted from the opening sentence. There was also a suggestion that the policy should make it clear that the level of mitigation should be appropriate to the scale of the impact of a development. It is our view that this is implicit within the policy already and that such a reference is unnecessary.
6.18 A number of other minor re-wordings to new Policy 3A were agreed between participants and the Structure Plan Authorities during the Examination and we have incorporated these into our proposed amendments to the policy in the Panel Recommendations below.
Strategic River Corridors
6.19 Strategy Policy 19: Strategic River Corridors is a new policy proposed by the Structure Plan Authorities in their published pre-EIP changes document. It was subject to partial redrafting by theAuthorities during the Examination to take account of the representations that had been made on it.
6.20 The policy was prompted by Policy 53 in the Draft RPG which requires development plan policies and environmental strategies to protect and enhance the nature conservation value of river corridors and also by draft PPG 25, ‘Development and Flood Risk’ (now published in its final form).
6.21 The addition of this policy was generally welcomed by all of the participants. The main concerns raised related to some of the content and wording of the policy. In particular, the inclusion of a reference to the role of the rivers as floodplains was questioned. It was suggested that this placed an undue emphasis on the flood relief function of the rivers rather than their biodiversity function and that in any event flooding was adequately dealt with in Resource Management Policy 4. It was pointed out that Draft RPG deals with these matters separately.
6.22 Other participants, however, took the opposite view and welcomed the integrated approach that the policy took to the management of the river corridors. The Panel sees the merits of an integrated approach to the management of river corridors in respect of their functions as floodplains and for biodiversity and we consider that this does not fundamentally conflict with the Draft RPG. A specific reference in the policy to the need for integrated measures to address both purposes was agreed by the Structure Plan Authorities and we would concur with that. In the interests of clarity, a link with Resource Management Policy 4 should be added to the explanatory memorandum.
6.23 There were suggestions that other strategic river corridors in the plan area needed to be added to the policy, such as the River Wreake. Comment was also made that ‘and their tributaries ‘ should be inserted at the end of the list of rivers in the policy so as not to cause a second division of river corridors.
6.24 The Structure Plan Authorities’ redrafted version of the policy now includes the River Wreake and other main river corridors within the Plan area. We think that this is the correct approach but agree with the Structure Plan Authorities that adding ‘and their tributaries‘ dilutes the policy beyond the strategic purposes intended by Draft RPG. If the tributaries need the same integrated approach to biodiversity and floodplain protection then they can be identified in Local Plans.
6.25 We do not agree with the suggestion that Strategy Policy 19 should be renamed ‘Strategic Waterway Corridors’ and that other waterways, such as canals, should be recognised in the policy and reflected in the Key Diagram. The Government Office confirmed that the Draft RPG does not intend that all waterways should be embraced within such a policy. We have separately recommended in Chapter 7 that a reference should be incorporated into Accessibility and Transport Policy 6 to the importance of protecting the biodiversity of waterways.
6.26 We have also considered a proposal by English Heritage to add the words ‘historic landscape’ to clause (c) of the policy in order to stress the importance of river valleys and tributaries for their archaeological value. We think that this would introduce ambiguity into this part of the policy and make it unnecessarily cumbersome. We consider, in any event, that the words ‘historic and built environment’ can already be taken to embrace the historic landscape.
6.27 In response to points made about the final paragraph of the policy, which relates to promoting access, recreation and tourism, we have incorporated some re-wording into our proposed amendments aimed at tying the policy more clearly to its land use purposes.
6.28 It was pointed out that as rivers do not recognise county or regional borders the importance of liaison between local planning authorities should be reflected in the explanatory memorandum. The same point is made in Policy 53 of the Draft RPG and we agree that such a reference should be added.
6.29 It is appropriate that all of the river corridors named in the policy are added to the Key Diagram. The Structure Plan Authorities are to update the Key Diagram and will make any rectifications and additions as necessary. The Structure Plan Authorities have also indicated that they will review the final wording of this policy in the light of the final versions of RPG and PPG25.
6.30 Rutland Water is a European site of international importance designated as a Special Protection Area and a Ramsar Site. It was suggested that for Strategy Policy 16 to be consistent with Annex C to PPG9 it should be made clear that the overriding consideration for all proposals affecting Rutland Water is whether the nature conservation interest will be adversely affected. The RSPB jointly with English Nature proposed some new wording to this effect, which we have expanded and adapted into our own redrafting of the policy, drawing also upon PPG9.
Changes to other Policies
6.31 In response to suggestions by English Heritage, the Countryside Agency and others, the Structure Plan Authorities agreed to consider the following changes or additions to other policies in the Structure Plan, which we endorse:
Environment Policy 3: Biodiversity Enhancement
Measures will be taken through development opportunities to:
a) protect, maintain and enhance natural biodiversity, having regard to the objectives of the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Biodiversity Action Plan;
b) protect, conserve and manage sites of ecological importance and protected species and their habitats;
c) identify locations for habitat restoration and creation schemes, especially where they would link corridors, link isolated habitats or create buffer zones; and
d) maintain and enhance the wider ecological value of the environment.
Environment Policy 3A: Protection of Important Species and Habitat
Development will only be acceptable where it would not adversely affect designated or proposed Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation or Ramsar sites, unless there are no alternative solutions and the development is needed for imperative reasons of overriding public interest.
Page Last Updated: 20 September 2001