West Mersea Neighbourhood Plan
10 Natural Environment, Landscape and Coastal Protection
12 - To protect and enhance wildlife corridors and ensure that any new development meets the NPPF requirements.
13 - To protect and enhance the international, nationally and locally designated habitats in their own rights and from the impact of new development.
14 - To protect and enhance the unique landscape of the island from inappropriate development.
10.1 West Mersea is located in an area of the highest significance in terms of the natural environment. All of the coastline is covered by international, European and national wildlife designations. A key purpose of these designations is to protect breeding and non-breeding birds and coastal habitats. The coast is designated under the Habitats Regulations as part of the European Natura 2000 network. These are Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation and Ramsar sites.
10.2 The Borough Council has the duty, by virtue of being defined as a 'competent authority' under the Habitats Regulations, to ensure that planning application decisions comply with the Habitats Regulations. If the requirements of the Habitats Regulations are not met and impacts on Habitats sites are not mitigated, then development must not be permitted. The published Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) for the emerging Local Plan has identified recreational disturbance as an issue for all of the Essex coastal SPAs, SACs and Ramsar sites. Mitigation measures are therefore necessary to avoid these likely significant effects in-combination with other plans and projects.
10.3 The Essex Coast Recreational disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy (RAMS) was adopted as a Supplementary Planning Document by the Borough Council in 2019 and a Supplementary Planning Document was adopted in August 2020. It seeks to deliver the mitigation necessary to avoid the likely significant effects from the 'in-combination' impacts of residential development that is anticipated across Essex; thus protecting the Habitats sites on the Essex coast from adverse effect on site integrity. The RAMS approach is fair and seeks to mitigate the additional recreational pressure in a way that ensures that those responsible for it, pay to mitigate it at a level consistent with the level of potential harm. As such, the Supplementary Planning Document sets out a tariff per new dwelling of £122.30 which is index linked with a base date of 2019. All new planning consents for housing in the Neighbourhood Area will be required to pay this tariff. In addition to payment of the RAMS tariff, all development sites over 100 dwellings or sites within 800m of habitats sites, should include provision of well-designed open space/green infrastructure, proportionate to its scale, to avoid likely significant effects from recreational disturbance alone. Such provisions can help minimise any predicted increase in recreational pressure to habitats sites by containing the majority of recreation within and around the development site, away from habitats sites. New Suitable Accessible Natural Greenspace (SANG) should include: high-quality, informal, semi-natural areas; a circular dog walking route of 2.7 km; dedicated 'dogs-off-lead' areas; signage/information leaflets to householders to promote these areas for recreation; dog waste bins; and a commitment to the long term maintenance and management of these provisions.
Policy WM 20 - Essex Coast Recreational Disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy
All residential development within the zones of influence of habitats sites will be required to make a financial contribution towards mitigation measures, as detailed in the Essex Coast RAMS, to avoid adverse in-combination recreational disturbance effects on habitats sites.
10.4 Not only is it essential to protect the existing international habitats, but we have a duty to both protect and create, where feasible, other habitats on the Island. This means minimising the loss of trees, hedgerows, ponds, watercourses, meadows etc. In addition, the creation of new features will especially be sought in order to improve the quality of habitats and species on the Island. Proposals should especially demonstrate how they meet the "mitigation hierarchy" illustrated below.
(1) Policy WM 21 - Biodiversity
Except in exceptional circumstances, development proposals will demonstrate how they meet the biodiversity mitigation hierarchy of Avoid, Minimise, Remediate and Compensate. Proposals will avoid the loss of, or substantial harm to, important trees, hedgerows and other natural features, including ponds and watercourses.
Where such losses or harm are unavoidable:
- the benefits of the development proposal must be demonstrated clearly to outweigh any impacts; and
- suitable mitigation measures, that may include equivalent or better replacement of the lost features, will be required.
It is expected that the mitigation proposals will form an integral part of the design concept and layout of any development scheme, and that development will be landscape-led and appropriate in relation to its setting, context and ongoing management.
Development proposals will be supported where they provide a net gain in biodiversity through, the following:
- Enhancement of the existing features on the site; or
- The creation of additional habitats on the site including, where feasible, bat boxes and swift boxes; or
- The linking of existing habitats to create links between ecological networks and where possible, with adjoining features.
The Town Council will ensure open space and coastline receive legal protection and designations are respected in full.
10.5 The landscape of the island, outside the built-up area of West Mersea, is summarised in the Colchester Landscape Appraisal (2005) as:
- Flat, low-lying predominantly arable farmland;
- Mixture of small, medium and large arable fields with hedged field boundaries (gappy in places);
- Small fields generally located in close proximity to small farmsteads;
- Network of drainage ditches traversing the island;
- Lack of woodland cover, however several mature trees present in hedgerow field boundaries;
- Views of sea restricted by domed landform of the island.
10.6 The Appraisal also noted that there are open views of Langenhoe Coastal Farmland visible on the skyline to the north of the island while views of open sea are restricted by the dome shaped landform of the island.
10.7 At the time, the Appraisal noted that the key planning and land management issues were:
- Pressure from expansion of the settlement edges or West Mersea and around East Mersea;
- Potential for the introduction of visually intrusive agricultural buildings within the coastal
- Farmland landscape, which would be visible from several surrounding character areas;
- Vulnerable to sea-level rise and the potential effects of global warming;
- Pressure on minor roads, especially during peak tourist periods;
- Visually intrusive caravan parks along the edges of Mersea Island;
- Continuing loss of hedges and field boundary vegetation.
These issues remain some 15 years since the Appraisal was prepared and have been taken account of in preparing the Neighbourhood Plan
10.8 A separate Appraisal of Important Views has been prepared in support of the Neighbourhood Plan which notes the key features of the important views from public areas in the Plan Area and which are identified on the Policies Map.
Policy WM 22 - Mitigating Landscape Impact
Proposals will, as appropriate to the development:
- limit the impacts, visual intrusion and adverse impact on the generally undisturbed character of the landscape outside the Settlement Boundary;
- conserve the open nature of the coastal farmland;
- retain important landscape characteristics including trees and ancient hedgerows and other prominent topographical features; and
- ensure that there is no detrimental impact on the key features of important views, including those identified on the Policies Map
10.9 The emerging Local Plan acknowledges the importance of the coastal area of the Borough as an extremely rich, diverse and irreplaceable natural asset in terms of its natural and cultural features. As well as the international and European designations referred to above, the Colne and Blackwater Estuaries are also protected as part of the larger Colne, Blackwater, Roach and Crouch Marine Conservation Zone. Policy ENV2 of the emerging Local Plan notes that an integrated approach to coastal management will be promoted and specifies the matters that will be taken into account where development is proposed within the defined Coastal Protection Belt, which covers the whole of Mersea Island including sea and rivers around it.