Draft Sustainability Appraisal Scoping Report
18 European sites
European Court of Justice ruling
18.1.1 It is a requirement of 6 of the EC Habitats Directive 1992 and Regulation 48 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c) Regulations 1994 (as amended) (Box 3) that ‘land use plans’ (including local authority Local Development Frameworks) are subject to an ‘Appropriate Assessment’ (AA) if it is likely that they will lead to significant adverse effects on a Natura 2000 site (Special Areas of Conservation, SACs, and Special Protection Areas, SPAs). As a matter of UK Government policy Ramsar sites301 , candidate Special Areas of Conservation (cSAC) and proposed Special Protection Areas (pSPA) are given equivalent status.
Box 3: The legislative basis for Appropriate Assessment
|Habitats Directive 1992 “Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site's conservation objectives." Article 6 (3) Conservation (Natural Habitats &c. Regulations) 1994 (as amended) “A competent authority, before deciding to … give any consent for a plan or project which is likely to have a significant effect on a European site … shall make an appropriate assessment of the implications for the site in view of that sites conservation objectives … The authority shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the European site". Regulation 48|
18.1.2 The Habitats Directive applies the precautionary principle to protected areas; plans and projects can only be permitted having ascertained that there will be no adverse effect on the integrity of the site(s) in question. This is in contrast to the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive which does not prescribe how plan or programme proponents should respond to the findings of an environmental assessment; it simply says that the assessment findings (as documented in the ‘environmental report’) should be ‘taken into account’ during preparation of the plan or programme. In the case of the Habitats Directive, potentially damaging plans and projects may still be permitted if there are no alternatives to them and there are Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest (IROPI) as to why they should go ahead. In such cases, compensation will be necessary to ensure the overall integrity of the site network.
18.1.3 As assessment of plans has developed, the term Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) has come into currency for describing the overall assessment process (including screening to determine whether significant adverse effects are likely or not) and this term is used below when necessary to distinguish the process from the ‘Appropriate Assessment’ stage itself.
18.2 This report
18.2.1 This report is intended to serve three main purposes, all of which seek to define the processes and parameters of the HRA:
To set out the methodological approach to undertaking the HRA of the Core Strategy DPD;
To provide details of data sources that have been identified at this initial stage as being available to inform the HRA (the ‘evidence base’); and
To set out the ‘scope’ of the HRA (subject to agreement with Natural England) - The scope of the HRA will consist of three components:
The physical scope – the range of European sites that will be considered within the assessment.
The policy scope – the aspects of the Core Strategy that will need to be subject to HRA.
The ‘in combination’ scope – the range of other plans and projects that need to be considered ‘in combination’ with the Core Strategy. In practice, ‘in combination assessment’ is of greatest importance when the Core Strategy would otherwise be dismissed because the individual contribution is inconsequential.
18.2.2 This report is particularly intended to stimulate discussion over the scope and we would be very interested in the comments of Natural England concerning the data sources identified and the ‘other plans and projects’ to be considered in combination with the Core Strategy DPD.
18.3 Proposed methodology
18.3.1 Scott Wilson has adhered to several key principles in developing the methodology – see Table 25.
Table 25: Key principles underpinning the proposed methodology
|Use existing information||We will use existing information to inform the assessment. This will include information gathered as part of the SA of the emerging Local Development Framework and information held by Natural England, the Environment Agency and others.|
|Consult with Natural England, the Environment Agency and other stakeholders||We will ensure continued consultation with Natural England and the Environment Agency for the duration of the assessment. We will ensure that we utilise information held by them and others and take on board their comments on the assessment process and findings.|
|Ensure a proportionate assessment||We will ensure that the level of detail addressed in the assessment reflects the level of detail in the Core Strategy (i.e. that the assessment is proportionate). With this in mind, the assessment will focus on information and impacts considered appropriate to the local level.|
|Keep the process simple as possible||We will endeavour to keep the process as simple as possible while ensuring an objective and rigorous assessment in compliance with the Habitats Directive and emerging best practice.|
|Ensure a clear audit trail||We will ensure that the AA process and findings are clearly documented in order to ensure a clearly discernible audit trail.|
|Agree presentational format||We will agree the style of presentation early in the process, considering the audience for the work.|
|Flexibility||We will maintain a watching brief on all changes to HRA guidance from CLG and Natural England as well as advances in HRA best practice, in order to ensure that we provide the client with the best advice possible.|
18.4 A Proportionate Assessment
18.4.1 Project-related HRA often requires bespoke survey work and novel data generation in order to accurately determine the significance of adverse effects. In other words, to look beyond the risk of an effect to a justified prediction of the actual likely effect and to the development of avoidance or mitigation measures.
18.4.2 However, the draft CLG guidance302 makes it clear that when implementing HRA of land-use plans, the AA should be undertaken at a level of detail that is appropriate and proportional to the level of detail provided within the plan itself:
18.4.3 “The comprehensiveness of the [Appropriate] assessment work undertaken should be proportionate to the geographical scope of the option and the nature and extent of any effects identified. An AA need not be done in any more detail, or using more resources, than is useful for its purpose. It would be inappropriate and impracticable to assess the effects [of a strategic land use plan] in the degree of detail that would normally be required for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of a project."
18.4.4 In other words, there is a tacit acceptance that appropriate assessment can be tiered and that all impacts are not necessarily appropriate for consideration to the same degree of detail at all tiers (Figure 26).
18.4.5 For an LDF the level of detail concerning the developments that will be delivered is usually insufficient to make a highly detailed assessment of significance of effects. For example, precise and full determination of the impacts and significant effects of a new settlement will require extensive details concerning the design of the town, including layout of greenspace and type of development to be delivered in particular locations, yet these data will not be decided until subsequent stages.
18.4.6 The most robust and defensible approach to the absence of fine grain detail at this level is to make use of the precautionary principle. In other words, the plan is never given the benefit of the doubt; it must be assumed that a policy/measure is likely to have an impact leading to a significant adverse effect upon a European site unless it can be clearly established otherwise.
Figure 26: Tiering in HRA of Land Use Plans
The Process of HRA
18.4.7 The HRA is likely to be carried out in the continuing absence of formal Government guidance. CLG released a consultation paper on AA of Plans in 2006303 . As yet, no further formal guidance has emerged.
18.4.8 Figure 27 below outlines the stages of HRA according to current draft CLG guidance. The stages are essentially iterative, being revisited as necessary in response to more detailed information, recommendations and any relevant changes to the plan until no significant adverse effects remain.
Figure 27: Four-Stage Approach to Habitat Regulations Assessment
18.4.9 In practice, we and other practitioners have discovered that this broad outline requires some amendment in order to feed into a developing land use plan such as a Core Strategy.
18.4.10 The Evidence Gathering stage is the purpose of the remainder of this document.
18.5 The Scope of the HRA
18.5.1 The scope of the HRA has been divided for simplicity into three components. The purpose of this section is to define that scope as far as possible at this stage. We would be interested to receive Natural England’s view on the various issues of scope that we raise below.
The physical scope
18.5.2 This defines the range of European sites that will be considered within the assessment. The following are typical of the issues that have to be considered during Appropriate Assessment of spatial development policies (see Table 26).
Table 26: Possible impacts of Local Development Frameworks in Harlow upon European sites
|Other ‘proximity effects’ of urbanisation||
18.5.3 From our knowledge of the Harlow area and the impact pathways identified above, it is our view that the physical scope of the HRA (at least at Screening) would be as follows in Table 27:
Table 27: Physical scope of the HRA
|European site||Conceivable pathways identified at this initial stage that may connect European sites to Harlow|
|Epping Forest SAC||
|Lee Valley SPA and Ramsar site||
|Wormley-Hoddesdonpark Woods SAC||
18.5.4 Further details regarding the interest features and vulnerabilities of the European sites included within the scope of the HRA are given below.
Epping Forest SAC
18.5.5 Epping Forest SAC is located approximately 5km south of Harlow district. 70% of the 1,600 hectare site consists of broadleaved deciduous woodland, and it is one of only a few remaining large-scale examples of ancient wood-pasture in lowland Britain. Epping Forest supports a nationally outstanding assemblage of invertebrates, a major amphibian interest and an exceptional breeding bird community.
Reasons for Designation
18.5.6 Epping Forest qualifies as a SAC for both habitats and species. Firstly, the site contains the Habitats Directive Annex I habitats of:
Beech forests on acid soils: an example of such habitat toward the north-east of its UK range, containing a notable selection of bryophytes, fungi and dead-wood invertebrates;
Wet heathland with cross-leaved heath; and
18.5.7 Secondly, the site contains the Habitats Directive Annex II species Stagbeetle Lucanus cervus, with widespread and frequent records.
Historic Trends and Current Pressures
18.5.8 Much of the value of Epping Forest stems from a long history of pollarding, and although this ceased at the end of the 19th century, re-pollarding of ancient beech trees was started in the early 1990s, and creation of maiden pollards was begun in 1995. This helped to reverse the decline of the forest's epiphytic bryophyte population. The slow recovery can also be attributed to the reduction of atmospheric pollutants since the passing of the 1956 Clean Air Act.
18.5.9 There is an active policy to leave felled timber on the ground to increase the habitat for stag beetle and other saproxylic insects. This is one of four outstanding localities for the beetle in the UK, and it is reliant on felled timber for development of its larvae, a process that takes several years.
18.5.10 In 1988, the Corporation of London, who own and manage the forest, agreed a management strategy with English Nature (now Natural England) to take forward the management. A comprehensive management plan was completed and consented in 1998. The site is subject to the provisions of the Epping Forest Act of 1878.
18.5.11 Deteriorating air quality and under-grazing are the two key pressures that currently affect the site.
Table 28: Critical nitrogen loads, actual rates of nitrogen deposition, NOx concentrations304 and sulphur dioxide concentrations for Epping Forest SAC. Red shading indicates exceedance of thresholds
|Site||Grid reference||Most nitrogen sensitive habitat||Minimum critical loads305 (Kg N/ha/yr)||Actual nitrogen deposition306 (Kg N/ha/yr)||Actual NOx concentration (µgm-3)||Actual SO2 concentration (µgm-3)|
|Epping Forest SAC||TQ425985||Beech woodland||10||36.4||30||3.7|
18.5.12 It is clear from Table 28 that nitrogen deposition is already a problem within Epping Forest SAC. According to the APIS website, fully 20% of nitrogen currently deposited within Epping Forest derives from road transport exhaust emissions.
18.5.13 While recreational pressure is a considerable impact in some areas, these are localised; however, funding of management on the SAC is governed largely by donation and contributions from the Corporation of London and it is likely that the ability to adequately manage recreation on the SAC will come under increasing pressure as the population of northeast London, Epping Forest and east Hertfordshire increases.
18.5.14 The environmental requirements of Epping Forest SAC are mainly:
The need to continue to manage recreational access so as to minimise damage to the important habitats present.
The need to counter negative changes to low-nutrient habitats resulting from atmospheric nutrient deposition. The site is adjacent to the busy M25 and is bisected by numerous ‘rat runs.’
The need to provide optimal grazing input to manage heathland and grassland habitats.
The need to avoid water pollution
The need to avoid introduction of non-native species.
Lee Valley SPA and Ramsar
18.5.15 The Lee Valley comprises a series of embanked water supply reservoirs, sewage treatment lagoons and former gravel pits along approximately 24 km of the valley. These waterbodies support internationally important numbers of wintering gadwall and shoveler, while the reedbeds support a small but internationally important population of bittern. In addition to the ornithological interest, the site also qualifies as a Ramsar site on account on rare and scarce plants and invertebrates present.
18.5.16 The Lee Valley SPA/Ramsar consists of four Sites of Special Scientific Interest, of which Turnford and Cheshunt Pits SSSI, Rye Meads SSSI and Amwell Quarry SSSI all lie on the Hertfordshire/Essex border. Walthamstow Reservoirs SSSI lies within London Borough of Waltham Forest. The Special Protection Area is managed by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and by Thames Water.
Reasons for Designation
18.5.17 The Lee Valley site is designated as an SPA and Ramsar for its Birds Directive Annex I species that over-winter, and these are307 :
Bittern Botaurus stellaris: 6 individuals = 6% of the wintering population in Great Britain;
Gadwall Anas strepera: 445 individuals = 2.6% of the wintering population in Great Britain; and
Shoveler Anas clypeata: 287 individuals = 1.9% of the wintering population in Great Britain.
18.5.18 In addition, the site qualifies as a Ramsar under criterion 2 (UN, 2005), by supporting the nationally scarce plant species whorled water-milfoil Myriophyllum verticillatum and the rare or vulnerable invertebrate Micronecta minutissima (a water-boatman).
Historic Trends and Current Pressures
18.5.19 The Lee Valley is vulnerable to eutrophic water quality; but this is being addressed via AMP4 funding under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and a Water Cycle Study.
18.5.20 The other main threat is that of human recreational pressure, although this is regulated through zoning of water bodies within the Lee Valley Regional Park. The majority of the site is already managed in accordance with agreed management plans in which nature conservation is a high or sole priority.
18.5.21 There is also a potential problem from over-extraction of surface water for public supply, particularly during periods of drought.
18.5.22 Presently, the SPA/Ramsar remains in favourable condition.
18.5.23 The environmental requirements of Lee Valley SPA/Ramsar are mainly:
The need to control recreational impacts so as to avoid bird disturbance.
Maintenance of appropriate vegetation management through grazing, mowing and other relevant techniques.
Continued inputs of freshwater at appropriate flow volumes
The need to avoid further eutrophication of water bodies within the SPA/Ramsar, and to avoid any other pollution events.
The need to avoid introduction of non-native species.
The need to provide suitable habitat outside the boundaries of the designated area that can be utilised by key species as supporting habitats.
Wormley-Hoddesdonpark Woods SAC
18.5.24 This SAC consists of two SSSIs – Wormley-Hoddesdonpark Woods North and Wormley-Hoddesdonpark Woods South and is situated approximately 5km to the west of Harlow. The semi-natural woodland is of national importance as an example of lowland south-east sessile oak/hornbeam type with the pedunculate oak/hornbeam variant also present. Additionally, small ponds and streams are important habitats for bryophytes.
Reasons for Designation
18.5.25 Wormley-Hoddesdonpark Woods qualifies as a SAC through its habitats, containing the Habitats Directive Annex I habitat:
Oak-hornbeam forests – this is one of only two outstanding locations for such habitat in the UK.
Historic Trends and Current Pressures
18.5.26 The majority of the woods in the complex are in sympathetic ownership, with no direct threat (Hoddesdon Park Wood for example, is managed by the Woodland Trust). There is some pressure from informal recreation, and there has been limited damage in the past (for example from four-wheel drive vehicles). However, most recreation is concentrated on well-established paths. Most of the complex is covered by a High Forest Zone Plan (Hertfordshire County Council 1996) which sets out a framework for woodland management across the whole area. It aims to restore a varied age structure and natural stand types through sustainable forestry.
18.5.27 There have been some instances of fly-tipping in the recent past, and this does increase the risk on non-native species, such as cherry laurel and privet from garden waste. Coupled with instances of car dumping, this does indicate that the site attracts some urbanisation pressures.
18.5.28 The environmental requirements of Wormley-Hoddesdonpark Woods SAC are mainly:
The need to minimise impacts from vandalism arson, fly-tipping and dumping, and coupled with this, to avoid introduction of non-native species.
The need to ensure that recreational levels do not lead to excessive trampling of ground flora, or increased nutrient levels through dog fouling.
The need to ensure continued hydrological banace on the site with high-quality streams running eastward along the shallow valleys (Wormleybury Brook and Spital Brook), and several ponds.
The need to avoid negative changes to habitats resulting from atmospheric nutrient deposition.
18.6 Principal Other Plans and Projects
18.6.1 It is neither practical nor necessary to assess the ‘in combination’ effects of the Core Strategy within the context of all other plans and projects within Hertfordshire and west Essex. In practice therefore, in combination assessment is only really of relevance when the plan would otherwise be screened out because its individual contribution is inconsequential. For the purposes of this assessment, we have determined that, due to the nature of the identified impacts, the key other plans and projects relate to the additional housing and commercial/industrial allocations proposed for other Hertfordshire authorities over the lifetime of the
18.6.2 The Regional Spatial Strategy for the East of England provides a good introduction to proposals for Hertfordshire as a whole, and surrounding counties. At this stage, we have identified a range of plans and projects that may act in combination with the Core Strategy.
Table 29: Housing levels to be delivered across Hertfordshire and west Essex under the East of England RSS
|Local Authority||Annual housing average||Total housing from 2001 to 2021|
18.6.3 There are other plans and projects that are often relevant to the ‘in combination’ assessment, most notably Thames Water’s Water Resource Management Plan (2008) and the Environment Agency’s London Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy. These will all be taken into account in this assessment.
18.6.4 The Hertfordshire Waste Development Frameworks are also of some relevance, since this may well contribute to increased vehicle movements on the road network within Harlow (and thereby contribute to air quality impacts). However, the major impact is likely to be that of housing and commercial development within the surrounding boroughs as set out in Local Development Frameworks and these have therefore been the main focus of cumulative ‘in combination’ effects with regard to this HRA. Reference will also been made to the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority Park Development Framework, although it is at an early stage of development.
18.7 Principal Data Sources
18.7.1 We would not propose undertaking bespoke survey or modelling for this project. In general, detailed survey/modelling is not proportionate or appropriate for a Core Strategy - the CLG draft guidance states that ‘An AA [of a land use plan] need not be done in any more detail, or using more resources, than is useful for its purpose’ and that ‘It would be inappropriate and impracticable to assess the effects [of a land use plan] in the degree of detail that would normally be required for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of a project’. In other words, the level of detail in the AA should reflect the level of detail in the DPD; AA of land use plans needs to be tiered, just as the plans themselves are tiered, such that the assessment (and the baseline/modelling work that informs it) gains greater specificity as the development(s) covered by the plan gain greater detail, down to the project-level AA where site surveys and detailed modelling are clearly appropriate as impacts can be explored in their fullest detail.
18.7.2 The detail contained within the plan is always the main limiting factor regarding the assessment and there is little to be gained from undertaking bespoke surveys if the level of detail within the plan would prevent that additional data from informing a more detailed assessment. A Core Strategy is essentially concerned with the principles (rather than details) of development and in establishing a policy framework; the AA of the plan needs to be pitched at this same level.
18.7.3 The most productive assessment can be generated in defining the environmental conditions and criteria that are fundamentally important for the persistence and favourable conservation status of the interest features for which the site was designated (e.g. minimal trampling, low grazing pressure, high water quality etc). By undertaking this short exercise, it is relatively easy to then identify the vulnerabilities of the European site to development.
18.7.4 It is our current intention that sources of evidence that we would propose to access in order to determine the relevant pressures for this HRA will primarily consist of:
The Sustainability Appraisal for the Core Strategy and any data collated to inform it;
The East of England Regional Spatial Strategy HRA (2006)
The East of England Regional Spatial Strategy: Proposed Changes and Further Proposed Changes HRA (2007)
Draft Revision to the East of England Regional Spatial Strategy: HRA Technical Report on Water Quality, Water Resources and Flooding (2007)
East of England Plan Review: Scoping Report for HRA (2008)
East of England Plan 2001-2021 (2008)
London Plan (2004)
Essex and Suffolk Water revised draft Water Resource Management Plan (January 2009);
Thames Water revised draft Water Resource Management Plan (2008) and Statement of response to consultation (February 2009);
Three Valleys Water (Veolia) revised draft Water Resource Management Plan (January 2009);
Upper Lee Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy (2006);
London Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy (2006);
Anglian Draft River Basin Management Plan (2008);
Thames Draft River Basin Management Plan (2008);
A Water Cycle Study for the Rye Meads catchment is in preparation and will form a key document in the HRA evidence base.
Local Transport Plans 2006-2011;
Recreational activity, tourism and European site recreational catchment data – where available we will use data that exists for individual European sites but in many cases these do not exist. In such circumstances we would intend to use appropriate proxy data such as the England Leisure Day Visits Survey data in conjunction with judicious use of the precautionary principle;
A Green Infrastructure Plan for the Harlow Area (2005);
East Hertfordshire Parks and Open Spaces Strategy 2007-2012;
High Forest Zone Plan – Hertfordshire CC (1996)
Lee Valley Regional Park Authority Site management Plan 2006-2011;
Epping Forest Management Plan 2004-2010;
Hoddesdon Park Wood Management Plan 2006-2011;
European Site Management and Access Management Plans where available
Stage 3 and 4 of the Environment Agency’s Review of Consents process for the European sites covered in this assessment (where available);
The UK Air Pollution Information System (www.apis.ac.uk);
Nature on the Map and its links to SSSI citations and the JNCC website (www.natureonthemap.org.uk); and
The Regional Biodiversity Strategy.
18.7.5 These lists will be updated as the project proceeds but we would appreciate being notified of any additions to this list that Natural England or the steering group believes can be made at this stage.
Department of Transport (2004). Transport Analysis Guidance:
Regional Air Pollution.
EC, 1979 – European Council (1979). Council Directive of 2
April 1979 on the conservation of wild birds
EC, 1992 – European Council (1992). Council Directive
92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural
habitats and of wild fauna and flora.
European Commission (2001). Assessment of plans and projects
significantly affecting Natura 2000 sites.
301 Wetlands of International Importance designated under the Ramsar Convention 1979
302 CLG (2006) Planning for the Protection of European Sites, Consultation Paper
303 CLG (2006) Planning for the Protection of European Sites, Consultation Paper
304 Calculated as NO2
305 APIS provides a critical load range – on a precautionary basis, this assessment uses the lowest figure in that range
306 To a resolution of 5 km