Bridgend County Borough has several internationally, nationally and locally important sites for nature and geological conservation. They are of primary importance for the county borough and form the core ecological network vital to our natural heritage and recreational resources.
It is important to understand your development’s effects on protecting irreplaceable habitats and existing sites of international, national or local importance and landscape character. National and local policy recognises the importance of protecting and enhancing these designated areas of special landscape and/or biodiversity importance.
We also seek to ensure the protection of areas important for nature conservation. These sites have been identified and the Bridgend Local Development Plan ‘CHP 4: Protecting and Enhancing the Environment’ protects them. Areas with a high and/or unique environmental quality are protected from unsuitable development which directly or indirectly affects them.
Designated sites are essential, although they provide only small isolated refuges. It is essential that we maintain and create connections between these sites to allow wildlife to move between them and different populations.
If your development is near a protected area and minimises its detrimental effect, you can actually have a positive benefit. While being important refuges for habitats and their species, protected sites are the foundation for our green infrastructure. However these sites are becoming increasingly fragmented and cannot function as well as they could. Also they are becoming less resilient to changes like global warming.
We promote green infrastructure which cultivates ecological networks, green corridors and greenways with both social and environmental benefits. It is a mechanism for more informed decision-making and ‘joined-up’ thinking for urban and regional environmental planning.
Demands on our natural resources are growing. This means we need to build healthier relationships with the environment. By managing our natural resources sustainably, we can create jobs, and support sustainable housing and infrastructure, which will also help our economy thrive.
Adverse effects on designated sites should be a last resort, and fully offset by replacement with a feature of comparable or higher ecological value.
By maintaining or creating natural features like hedgerows or providing well-designed natural open spaces, you can provide essential connections that boost green infrastructure.
For example, collectively householders can contribute hugely to green infrastructure and links to woodlands by planting native trees. Additionally, households will directly receive benefits from trees such as shading, cleaner air, and amenity value. See the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) report ‘C712 The Benefits of Large Species Trees in Urban Landscapes’ for more information.
You can find out more information about ecosystem services from the Wales Biodiversity Partnership.
Determining the significance of any environmental harm or benefits requires a review of the affected resource(s) and the proposal’s potential effects.
The BS 42020 2012 refers to “significant impact” as an effect which is important, notable, or of consequence, regarding its context. The effect’s significance depends on the sensitivity of the affected resource and on the effect’s likely magnitude.
A stepwise process is used to ensure plans and projects do not adversely affect the integrity of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).
Any plan or project with the potential to affect a European Designated Site (EDS) must legally be assessed under the Habitat Regulation Assessment (HRA) process. EDS sites include SAC, Special Protection Areas (SPA), and Ramsar sites.
These establish if the proposed plan or project is either likely to significantly affect a European Designated Site either alone or in-combination. An effect is significant if there is a possibility that the site’s published conservation objectives could be undermined.
If the answer to test 1, the ‘significance’ is ‘yes’ or ‘unknown’ then the Local Planning Authority (known as the Competent Authority) must make an ‘appropriate assessment’.
The likely significant effect test triggers the ‘appropriate assessment’, which confirms whether there will be an adverse effect on the site’s integrity.
The scale and scope of an ‘appropriate assessment’ varies significantly depending on the type of plan or project being assessed. As the competent authority, we may need to seek additional information from planning applicants for an ‘appropriate assessment’ of planning applications.
When running an ‘appropriate assessment’, the Local Planning Authority must formally consult Natural Resources Wales, and have regard to their representations in making its decision. In light of a Natural Resources Wales objection on HRA grounds, planning permission cannot be granted until the objection has been addressed and formally withdrawn.
Habitat regulation assessment conclusions
Guidance note two:
A local planning authority will only grant planning permission if the proposed plan or project will not adversely affect a European site’s integrity.
If it is not possible to establish this beyond reasonable scientific doubt, then planning permission cannot legally be granted.
A significant adverse effect may be found which is so severe that the plan or project must be refused automatically, without imperative overriding public interest.
Planning policy typically indicates that a significant adverse effect resulting from a development is one that cannot be addressed through the mitigation hierarchy. For example, it can’t be avoided as by managing or designing/relocating to avoid impact, adequately mitigating, or as a last resort compensating for.
Developers should know that if insufficient information about HRA is sent with the application, the application may be refused. Developers should use pre-application consultations to seek assurances from the relevant statutory bodies that all potential impacts have been addressed in sufficient detail before submitting.
Carefully check projects for the need for assessment under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive as well as the Habitats Regulations, as their criteria differ. Where a project subject to EIA would also likely significantly affect a European site, run the Habitats Regulations’ ‘appropriate assessment’ as well as the EIA. Also, it should be noted that Strategic Environmental Assessment will be needed for plans and programmes likely to significantly affect a European site.
Regarding all designated sites, the mitigation hierarchy will follow the below rules.
The first stage identifies if the development can be managed or designed to avoid impact. If impact is unavoidable, then there may be scope for mitigation through the development’s design and timing. In certain situations, development may be allowed even where it has an adverse effect on the site’s integrity. In all situations, a rigorous and formulaic process of reporting should be followed 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, updated information and ecological expertise.
Any mitigation or compensation proposals must be carefully considered to guarantee their efficacy and achievability. This can often require protracted negotiation between developers, planners, nature conservation bodies and land owners. Skilled negotiation can identify proactive solutions which meet all parties’ needs and enable development while protecting sites.
Image credit: 'Spider' by paraflyer.