Draft Sustainability Appraisal Scoping Report

Ended on the 15th January 2010
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8 Biodiversity and green infrastructure

(1) 8.1 Introduction

8.1.1 Biodiversity is the term given to the diversity of life on Earth and this includes the plant and animal species that make up our wildlife and the habitats in which they live. As well as being important in its own right, we value biodiversity because of the ecosystem services it provides, such as flood defence and clean water; and the contribution that biodiversity makes to wellbeing and sense of place.

8.1.2 Green infrastructure is a network of multifunctional green spaces including formal parks, gardens, woodlands, green corridors, waterways, street trees and open countryside. It can help to make walking and cycling more attractive; promote mental wellbeing; help to establish local identity and a sense of place; help to reduce air pollution; contain flooding; and reduce temperatures at a time of global warming76 .

8.2 What’s the policy context?

8.2.1 The EU Sustainable Development Strategy, adopted in 2006, includes an objective to halt the loss of biodiversity by 201077 . The UK is also a Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a principal objective of which is the conservation of biodiversity. Commitment to the CBD led to the preparation of the 1994 UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP), the overall goal of which is to conserve and enhance biodiversity within the UK and to contribute to efforts to conserve global biodiversity. The UK BAP identifies our most threatened biodiversity assets and includes action plans for the recovery of priority species and habitats78 . A Biodiversity Strategy for England was subsequently published in 200279 and includes the broad aim that planning, construction, development and regeneration should have minimal impacts on biodiversity and enhance it wherever possible. PPS9 on Biodiversity and Geological Conservation emphasises that the Government’s objectives for planning include ensuring that biodiversity is conserved and enhanced as an integral part of social, environmental and economic development, so that policies and decisions about the development and use of land integrate biodiversity with other considerations80 . Importantly, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 placed a Duty on public authorities to have regard to the conservation of biodiversity in exercising their functions. According to the Government, the Duty aims to raise the profile and visibility of biodiversity, clarify existing commitments with regard to biodiversity, and to make it a natural and integral part of policy and decision-making81 .

8.2.2 The East of England Plan82 contains several policies which provide a context for considering issues of biodiversity and green infrastructure. Policy ENV1 states that LPAs should seek to secure the effective protection of the environment by considering the nature and location of proposed development as part of a broadly based concern for, and awareness of, biodiversity and other environmental assets. The policy provides specific policy for green infrastructure in which LDDs play an important role in identifying, creating, protecting, enhancing and managing areas and networks of green infrastructure. The policy also states that green infrastructure should be developed in part to maximise its biodiversity value. The Lea Valley Regional Park is identified as an area of landscape, ecological and recreational importance. Policy ENV3: Biodiversity and Earth Heritage requires planning authorities to ensure that the region’s wider biodiversity, earth heritage and natural resources are protected and enriched through the conservation, restoration and re-establishment of key resources. With reference to the Harlow Area, LDDs should provide for the creation and maintenance of a network of multi-functional greenspaces around the town which take into consideration the principles of the Green Infrastructure Plan for Harlow83. The Stort Valley in particular is highlighted as a major green infrastructure opportunity between Harlow Town Centre and development to the north of Harlow within East Herts.

8.2.3 The Harlow Biodiversity Partnership84 is an independent group facilitated by Harlow Council. The Partnership takes part in the Essex Biodiversity Action Plan process and helps to guide Harlow Council policies. The Essex Biodiversity Action Plan85 sets targets for the protection of species and habitats in Harlow.

8.2.4 The Harlow Green Infrastructure Plan (GIP)86 provides guidance on how the green areas in the Harlow area should be protected, enhanced and where appropriate extended. Through integration of environmental assets mapping and opportunities analysis, the GIP sets out a Green Infrastructure Network that is intended to be “reflected in the planning policies of the new Local Development Frameworks to be prepared by Harlow District Council, Epping Forest District Council, East Hertfordshire District Council and Broxbourne Borough Council". The GIP sets out a vision and proposals for multi-functional green infrastructure in the Harlow Area, and also provides a set of guidelines for developers and planners as to how green infrastructure provision can be integrated into development schemes within the Harlow Area.

8.2.5 Harlow district has also carried out a Green Spaces Strategy87. The Strategy addresses the structure, the function, and the amount of provision of the green space areas as well as the individual facilities contained within them. It also considers the provision of ‘accessible natural greenspace’ and the overall amount of ‘internal open space’. The Strategy proposes a long-term vision for the Green Wedges, and specific Local Standards for each of the ‘facilities’ or main uses of the green spaces.

8.2.6 The Harlow District Council Open Space, Sport and Recreation SPD88 was formally adopted in July 2007. The SPD outlines the Council’s approach to the provision of open space in conjunction with new housing development. It includes the objective to “protect and enhance the character of the town's green spaces".

8.2.7 A draft Harlow Regeneration Strategy (2009-2021)89 is being developed to deliver the physical, social and environmental regeneration of Harlow. The revised Strategy will build upon the key themes and evidence base identified in the 2007 Strategy to deliver a localised targeted approach in addition to addressing issues of town wide significance. It is considered important that regeneration is in keeping with the town’s original design, neighbourhoods, green spaces and community spirit.

8.3 What are the key objectives and other decision-making criteria that we need to consider?

8.3.1 Many of the objectives set out in the Integrated Regional Sustainability Framework for the East of England – see Table 2 – are relevant in considering future impacts on Harlow’s town centre. Particularly relevant objectives include:

  • Promote sustainable growth within environmental limits

  • Adapt to the impacts of climate change

  • Conserve, restore and enhance the region’s natural and built environment.

8.3.2 Harlow also has a number of key priorities for 2009/10 to 2012/13 as outlined in the Council’s Sustainability Strategy and approved in January 2009 by the Environment and Community Committee90. Relevant priorities include:

  • Regenerating the Town

  • Promoting a clean, green, healthy and safe environment.

8.4 What’s the situation now? (including any existing problems)

8.4.1 Harlow District is predominantly an urban environment, but it nevertheless has a number of designated natural areas. Currently eight of its 16 identified County Wildlife Sites (CWSs) achieve PCM (Positive Conservation Management), and a target has been set to raise this to 13 by 2010/11. The district also has three Local Nature Reserves (LNR) at Harlow Marsh (13ha area in north Harlow), Hawkenbury Meadow (2ha in west Harlow) and Parndon Woods and Common (50ha in south Harlow)91. Roadside verges can also contain areas of biodiversity interest, and there are a few roads in Harlow that are in small part designated as Protected Wildlife Verges. See Figure 5 for these designations.

8.4.2 The district also includes one Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI). Harlow Woods (45.15ha) until 2007 was described as being in an Unfavourable Declining state by Natural England. The status of SSSI has since changed to Unfavourable Recovering and is thus meeting the Public Service Agreement (PSA) target. The SSSI is situated to the south of Harlow and is made up of two units of a broadleaved, mixed and yew woodland - lowland habitat, comprising three adjacent ancient semi-natural woods: Parndon Wood, Hospital Wood and Risden's Wood. Hunsdon Mead SSSI (34.22ha) is located to the northwest on the border of Harlow district, and only 22.06% of this site (one of two units) is meeting the PSA target, being unfavourable recovering, the other unit has been classified as unfavourable no change92. (See Figure 5).

Figure 5: Biodiversity constraints in Harlow

Figure 5

8.4.3 A key habitat within the Harlow area that is of particular relevance to Harlow is the River Stort. It is a key wetland habitat with a wide range of wildlife species, including BAP priority habitats and species93. The Stort Valley is located along the northern border of Harlow district. In the wider Harlow area there are numerous stream tributaries and associate habitats which drain in to the major river systems.

8.4.4 The Essex Biodiversity Action Plan (EBAP)94 has action plans for 25 species and 10 habitats. Table 4 outlines which of those are identified within Harlow District by the EBAP:

Table 4: Species and habitats identified in Harlow District by the EBAP

Category Species / habitat
Mammals Brown hare
Pipistrelle bat (46kHz)
Water vole
Birds Grey partridge
Song thrush
Other vertebrates Great crested newt
Plants Native black poplar
Habitats Ancient and/or species rich hedgerows and green lanes
Ancient woodland
Cereal field margins
Urban areas

8.4.5 In May 2006 a sub-group review of the EBAP added some new species and habitats for which plans are being drawn up, and the review also set out to include targets and actions at a district level where appropriate95. The five flagship species selected for the wider Harlow area and their associated targets as set out in the EBAP are96:

  • Sky Lark – maintain and where possible enlarge the population in Essex;

  • Bats – maintain existing population and range of pipistrelles;

  • Great Crested Newt – ascertain and maintain the range distribution and viability of the existing county population and restore some population to counter past losses;

  • Bee Orchid;

  • Desmoulin’s Whorl Snail – ensure identified populations are protected maintained and enhanced; determine true county distribution.

8.4.6 Harlow, although an urban area, contains a number of green spaces of particular importance to community well-being. Figure 6 illustrates the large area of Harlow that is designated as Open Spaces and Figure 7 illustrates that these open spaces have a variable degree of natural status. In addition to Green Wedges and Green Belt (see Chapter 14 Land), the town also contains a Town Park and other smaller green spaces of ‘internal open space’ exist within the residential and business areas of the town in addition to areas of ‘incidental open space’97.

Figure 6: Open Spaces designation in Harlow

Figure 6

Figure 7: Natural status of open space98

Figure 7

Are there any evidence gaps?

8.4.7 Evidence gaps include:

  • No monitoring information for change in priority habitats and species (by type) and areas designated for their intrinsic environmental value.

  • Harlow has set up a database for Biodiversity to enable the monitoring of biodiversity in the town. This database includes maps for wildlife sites, bee orchids and wildlife verges; and it is in the process of being expanded to include the great crested newt survey and veteran trees.

8.5 What will be the situation without the plan? (the ‘business-as-usual’ option)

8.5.1 The East of England Biodiversity Delivery Plan 2008 – 2015 recognises that the region is currently at a turning point for the natural environment. Green surroundings are also attributed with improving economy, health and wellbeing99. The availability of recreational access to biodiversity is particularly important in terms of health and quality of life, but considerable potential exists for recreation to have significant impacts on biodiversity and habitats. Poor natural environments are characterised by simplified land use, lack of diversity (from habitats and species, to culture and local identity) and fragmented, incoherent patches semi-natural habitats. As well as being ecologically less resilient, a landscape of disconnected fragments is also less likely to be valued by people as it lacks the aesthetic appeal, opportunities for recreation and historical and other features linked to a sense of local identity100. Careful strategic planning and a Core Strategy for Harlow can help mitigate these impacts and is particularly important where European designated sites or more susceptible habitats are involved.

8.5.2 If housing growth is not considered alongside green infrastructure then it will probably result in a detrimental impact on the natural environment and local community, and the potential for maximal benefits will not be achieved101. Moreover, without active intervention through the Core Strategy it is not clear whether the green infrastructure requirements described by the East of England Plan will be met. Meeting targets set by the EBAP for Harlow District (e.g. for the Urban habitat and associated BAP species) may also be more difficult.

(1) 8.6 What issues should be a particular focus for the appraisal?

8.6.1 In light of the information above, key issues to take into account in the appraisal in relation to biodiversity and green infrastructure include:

  • The need to conserve and enhance biodiversity in Harlow (informed by the Essex BAP)

  • The need to consider the importance of Green Wedges and green infrastructure to the town’s aesthetic appeal and sense of community

  • The importance of strategic planning to safeguard biodiversity, habitats and European sites placed at risk by recreation and development. (e.g. planning for new recreational resources to buffer increased demand for access to the more sensitive sites)

  • The recreational, health and general community well-being advantages that biodiversity and green infrastructure can provide.

76 Davies et al. (2006) Green Infrastructure Planning Guide [online] available at:
www.greeninfrastructure.eu/images/GREEN_INFRASTRUCTURE_PLANNING_GUIDE.pdf (accessed 17 July 2009).

77 Council of the European Union (2006) Renewed EU Sustainable Development Strategy [online] available at:
http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/06/st10/st10917.en06.pdf (accessed 17 July 2009).

78 For further information on the UK BAP see: www.ukbap.org.uk/

79 Defra (2002) Working with the Grain of Nature: A Biodiversity Strategy for England [online] available at:
www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-countryside/pdf/biodiversity/biostrategy.pdf (accessed 17 July 2009).

80 ODPM (2005) Planning Policy Statement 9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation [online] available at:
www.communities.gov.uk/planningandbuilding/planning/planningpolicyguidance/historicenvironment/pps9/ (accessed 17 July 2009).

81 Defra (2007) Guidance for Public Authorities on Implementing the Biodiversity Duty [online] available at:
www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-countryside/biodiversity/key-docs.htm (accessed 17 July 2009).

82 GOEE (2008) East of England Plan [online] available at:
www.gos.gov.uk/goee/docs/Planning/Regional_Planning/Regional_Spatial_Strategy/EE_Plan1.pdf (accessed 4 August 2009).

83 Harlow Council (2005). A green infrastructure plan for the Harlow Area [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=8615 (accessed 4 August 2009).

84 Harlow Council (2009) Harlow Biodiversity Partnership [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/environment/wildlife/harlow_biodiversity_partnershi.aspx (accessed 13 August 2009).

85 Essex Biodiversity Partnership (undated) Essex Biodiversity Action Plan [online] available at:
www.essexbiodiversity.org.uk/Default.aspx?pageid=47 (accessed 13 August 2009).

86 Chris Blandford Associates on behalf of Harlow Council (2005) Green Infrastructure Plan [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/Default.aspx?page=8615 (accessed 13 August 2009).

87 Nortoft et al. on behalf of Harlow Council (2004) Harlow District Council Green Spaces Strategy. [not available]

88 Harlow Council (2007) Harlow District Council Open Space, Sport & Recreation Supplementary Planning Document [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/pdf/Open%20Space,%20Sport%20and%20Recreation%20Supplementary%20Planning%20Document.pdf (accessed 13 August 2009).

89 Harlow Council (undated) Harlow (Draft) Regeneration Strategy 2009-2021 [not available online].

90 Harlow Council (2009) Harlow Sustainability Strategy [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/corporate_services/policy_and_performance/sustainability_strategy.aspx (accessed 13 August 2009).

91 Harlow Council (2008) Harlow District Council Annual Monitoring Report 2007-08 [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/pdf/Annual%20Monitoring%20Report%202007-2008.pdf (accessed 13 August 2009).

92 See Natural England’s Nature on the Map: www.natureonthemap.org.uk/ (accessed 13 August 2009).

93 Chris Blandford Associates on behalf of Harlow Council (2005) Green Infrastructure Plan [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/Default.aspx?page=8615 (accessed 13 August 2009).

94 Essex Biodiversity Project (undated) Essex Biodiversity Action Plan [online] available at:
www.essexbiodiversity.org.uk/Default.aspx?pageid=47 (accessed 13 August 2009).

95 Essex Biodiversity Project (undated) Essex Biodiversity Action Plan [online] available at:
www.essexbiodiversity.org.uk/Default.aspx?pageid=47 (accessed 13 August 2009).

96 Harlow Council (2008) Harlow District Council Annual Monitoring Report 2007-08 [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/pdf/Annual%20Monitoring%20Report%202007-2008.pdf (accessed 13 August 2009).

97 Nortoft et al. on behalf of Harlow Council (2004) Harlow District Council Green Spaces Strategy. [not available]

98 Provided by Harlow Council from the 2004 ‘Harlow District Council Green Spaces Strategy’.

99 East of England Biodiversity Forum (2008) East of England Biodiversity Delivery Plan [not yet available online]

100 Natural England (2008) State of the Natural Environment 2008 [online] available at:
www.naturalengland.org.uk/publications/sone/default.aspx (accessed 13 August 2009).

101 Natural England (2008) Natural England’s Green Infrastructure and Housing Growth Policy [online] available at:
www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/Housing%20and%20GI%20policy_tcm6-9324.pdf (accessed 13 August 2009).

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