Biodiversity Supplementary Planning Document
(6) Chapter 1: Introduction
Climate change is a global issue affecting everyone. Co-ordinated action from all sectors, national and local governments, and individuals is needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The science tells us that to avoid catastrophic effects we need to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5oC. Mitigation measures are required to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global temperature rise. However, even with efforts to limit the cause of global warming, further climatic changes are inevitable in the future and the UK will need to adapt to the growing risks from climate change.
Colchester City Council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and since then have carried out numerous pieces of work across the organisation and city to respond to the climate emergency. The infographics, below, highlight the key areas of work undertaken in 2019/20, 2020/21 and 2021/22.
The Council is drafting 3 Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) to communicate Colchester City Council's ambitions in respect of the climate emergency for all development within the city. SPDs are material considerations in planning decisions. They build on adopted planning policy and provide guidance on how policy requirements should be implemented. The 3 climate emergency SPDs build on the adopted Local Plan and explain how development proposals should respond to the climate and ecological emergency. The SPDs are: Active Travel, Biodiversity, and Climate Change. All development proposals should strive to achieve ambitious carbon reductions, biodiversity enhancement and promotion of active travel to contribute towards Colchester becoming a greener city that is resilient to the climate and ecological emergency.
We are in a climate and ecological emergency – the time to act is now.
The 3 climate emergency SPDs will bring multiple benefits including benefits to health and wellbeing. A healthy environment plays a role in improving health and wellbeing. Many of the actions proposed in the 3 SPD's will also achieve health benefits for our communities. An increase in active travel will lead to more walking and cycling. More energy efficient homes will be good for people's wellbeing and reduce heating costs. An increase in biodiversity and green infrastructure is good for people's mental wellbeing.
The Royal Society say that "Biodiversity is essential for the processes that support all life on earth, including humans. Without a wide range of animals, plants and microorganisms, we cannot have the healthy ecosystems that we rely on to provide us with the air we breathe and the food we eat. And people also value nature itself."
There is a wealth of information, guidance, toolkits, and best practice available. The climate emergency SPDs do not attempt to distill all this information and guidance into one document – what the SPDs attempt to do is provide a summary of guidance on what is most important to the Council. Links are provided throughout the SPDs to more detailed guidance.
This is the Biodiversity SPD. Biodiversity protection and provision is a duty that public bodies, developers, landowners and society generally all shares. This SPD aims to clearly set out the principles the Council expects to ensure that development proposals create space for nature. Chapter 2 of the SPD sets out the background and context and chapter 3 sets out the Colchester context, including maps of Colchester's environmental designations. Chapter 4 includes advice on protected species as a check of what information is likely to be required, with links to guidance and Natural England's standing advice. Chapter 5 explains the mitigation hierarchy, which must be followed. Chapter 6 includes creating space for nature design principles. These are principles the Council expects applicants to incorporate into their proposals to enhance biodiversity. Chapter 7 includes a list of advice for householder applications on measures householders can incorporate into their proposals to enhance biodiversity. Chapter 8 lists planning application expectations – what the Council will expect applicants to submit with their application.
This SPD is intended to be concise and includes references and links to numerous other documents that DM Officers and applicants should read where appropriate. For example, the chapter on protected species and ecological surveys includes links to Natural England's standing advice and guidance from specialist conservation organisations.
A separate guidance note will be prepared on biodiversity net gain. Biodiversity net gain is a requirement of the Environment Act. At the time of drafting this SPD, secondary legislation and guidance is being prepared. The Council decided to include the biodiversity net gain guidance in a stand-alone guidance note rather than within this SPD to make it easier to update the biodiversity net gain guidance to reflect secondary legislation, guidance, and good practice.
(3) Chapter 2: Background and Context
There is numerous legislation and Conventions of relevance to the environment and Policies ENV1-ENV5 of the Colchester Local Plan, which are listed below. The list includes European Directives, the Trade and Co-operation Agreement includes reciprocal commitments not to reduce the level of environmental or climate protection or fail to enforce its laws in a manner that has an effect on trade.
- Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora aims to promote the maintenance of biodiversity, taking account of economic, social, cultural and regional requirements (the Habitats Directive).
- The Birds Directive, which is the oldest piece of EU legislation on the environment (amended in 2009) and aims to protect all of the 500 wild bird species naturally occurring in the EU.
- The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive, which requires the integration of environmental assessment into plans and programmes at the earliest stages to lay down the groundwork for sustainable development.
- The Water Framework Directive, which aims to improve EU water legislation by expanding on the scope of water protection to all waters and sets out clear objectives with specified dates.
- The Convention on Biological Diversity, signed by 150 government leaders at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and is dedicated to promoting sustainable development and translates the principles of Agenda 21.
- The European Landscape Convention, which provides a people centred and forward looking way to reconcile management of the environment with the social and economic challenges of the future and aims to help people reconnect with place.
- The Wildlife and Countryside Act, which provides national protection for SSSIs and protected species, in addition to a range of other measures. There have been numerous amendments to the Act, most significantly through the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 and Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERC). It implements the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats and Council Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds.
- The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW Act), which provides for public access on foot to certain types of land, amends the law relating to public rights of way, increases measures for the management and protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), strengthens wildlife enforcement legislation, and provides for better management of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The Act places a duty on government departments to have regard for the conservation of biodiversity.
- The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC), which was designed to help achieve a rich and diverse natural environment and thriving rural communities. The Act implements key elements of the government's Rural Strategy (2004). Section 40 places a duty on public authorities to have regard to conserving biodiversity.
- The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, which consolidate the 2010 regulations with amendments and transpose Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora and elements of the EU Wild Birds Directive into national law. The Habitat Regulations provide for the designation and protection of European Sites. Under the Habitat Regulations, Councils may only give consent to a plan or project where it can be ascertained that it will have no adverse effect on the integrity of a European Site, unless the exceptional requirements set out in the Regulations can be met.
- The Flood and Water Management Act 2010, which requires flood and coastal erosion risk management authorities to aim to contribute towards the achievement of sustainable development when exercising their flood and coastal erosion risk management functions.
- The Hedgerow Regulations, which protect countryside hedgerows.
- The Environment Act 2021, which brings into UK law environmental protections and recovery. It includes targets, plans and policies for improving the natural environment. It includes details on creating a new governance framework for the environment, a new direction for resources and waste management, improving air quality, securing water services, enhancing green spaces, and updating laws on chemicals. It introduces mandatory biodiversity net gain and at the time of writing, secondary legislation and guidance is expected.
Environment Act and 25 Year Environment Plan
The 25 Year Environment Plan was published in 2018. The Environment Plan sets out the government's goals for improving the environment within a generation. It aims to leave the environment in a better state and details how government will work with communities and businesses to do this over the next 25 years.
The Environment Act 2021 puts the 25 Year Environment Plan into law and creates a statutory framework for environmental principles. The Act introduces a Nature Recovery Network and Local Nature Recovery Strategies, which will establish priorities and map proposals for specific actions to drive nature's recovery and provide wider environmental benefits. Under the Environment Act 2021, all planning permissions granted in England (with a few exemptions) will have to deliver at least 10% biodiversity net gain. Biodiversity net gain will be measured using Defra's biodiversity metric and habitats will need to be secured for at least 30 years. In addition, and of relevance, the Environment Act includes a strengthened legal duty for public bodies to conserve and enhance biodiversity and new biodiversity reporting requirements for local authorities.
A Nature Recovery Network is a strategy to tackle biodiversity loss. 500,000 hectares of additional wildlife habitat will be created. Wildlife sites will be connected, and opportunities will be provided for species conservation and the reintroduction of native species. Green infrastructure will be an important part of the Nature Recovery Network. The government intends that as well as helping wildlife thrive, the Nature Recovery Network could be designed to bring a wide range of additional benefits, including public enjoyment, pollination, carbon capture, water quality improvements and flood management.
Local Nature Recovery Strategies are spatial strategies that will establish priorities and map proposals for specific actions to drive nature's recovery and provide wider environmental benefits. Local Nature Recovery Strategies aim to actively restore the natural world and halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. Local Nature Recovery Strategies will apply at county level.
The Essex Local Nature Recovery Strategy will act as a tool to:
- reverse natures decline
- support nature recovery
- guide future habitat creation
- help deliver biodiversity net gain
- support the delivery of the UK-wide nature recovery network
- support the delivery of nature-based solutions
The LNRS Working Group will work together to deliver the Local Nature Recovery Strategy as part of the Essex Local Nature Partnership.
State of Nature
The UK State of Nature report 2019 found that the UK's biodiversity is declining and 15% of species are threatened with extinction from Great Britain. It found that climate change is having an increasing impact on nature in the UK. The State of Nature report was produced by a partnership of more than 70 organisations involved in the recording, researching and conservation of nature in the UK and its Overseas Territories. The State of Nature identified the most significant pressures acting on terrestrial and freshwater nature in the UK are: agricultural management, climate change, urbanisation, pollution, hydrological change, invasive non-native species and woodland management. Urbanisation has direct consequences for wildlife in terms of land use changes, but also fragments landscapes by creating barriers between habitats, thus isolating some populations. Increases in air, light and noise pollution, human disturbance and predation by domestic animals particularly affect biodiversity in urbanised areas. However, the State of Nature recognises that urbanisation does not always result in biodiversity loss: the conversion of an intensively managed arable field to a housing estate with gardens, a community orchard and a pond may provide net gain for species diversity and abundance.
The word 'biodiversity' comes from the term 'biological diversity'. It refers to the variety of all living organisms, including animals, insects, plants, bacteria, and fungi. A habitat is the area and resources used by a living organism or assemblage of animals and plants. Biodiversity is a key factor in supporting life on earth.
The Wildlife Trusts say that a good nature-friendly development retains existing meadows, wetlands, hedgerows, trees and woods, and joins them up with wildlife-rich gardens, verges, amenity green space, cycle paths and walkways. A green-blue infrastructure network connecting a development to the surrounding urban or rural landscape contributes to the wider ecological network. This approach improves air quality, reduces surface water flooding and makes developments greener and more attractive places to live. Residents have easy access to safe, beautiful, natural spaces for exercise, play and social interaction. Wildlife becomes part of everyday life.
All development proposals, even a single dwelling, regardless of size or location has the potential to benefit nature, and to benefit from nature, through integrating and creating space for nature into design and layouts. To create space for nature, the Council has, through engagement with local wildlife experts and following a review of best practice guidance, drafted design principles. The design principles are focused on specific design measures that will create space for nature. Each design principle is supported by justification explaining why it is important and core requirements. The Council expects applicants to have regard to these design principles and demonstrate as part of the application how the principles have been incorporated into the development proposal. This is in addition to the requirement for a minimum of 10% biodiversity net gain.
The SPD includes information on protected species and ecological surveys, the mitigation hierarchy, and householder applications. The SPD does not include information on sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) as the Council has adopted the Essex County Council Sustainable Drainage Systems Design Guide (2014). Nor does it refer to tree canopy cover assessments, separate guidance has been prepared on this, or the Essex Coast Recreational disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy (RAMS) as the RAMS SPD was adopted in 2020.
The Council advises that specialist ecological consultant advice is sought at the earliest stage in terms of assessing and collating the scope of biodiversity information required to support an application and how to incorporate biodiversity enhancement and biodiversity net gain into development proposals.
Colchester's Local Plan
Policy ENV1 of the adopted Section 2 Local Plan (see box, below) is the most relevant policy to this SPD. This SPD builds upon Policy ENV1 and in particular, Part C criteria (iv) and (v) of the policy, which state:
For all proposals, development will only be supported where it:
(iv) Maximises opportunities for the preservation, restoration, enhancement and connection of natural habitats in accordance with the UK and Essex Biodiversity Action Plans or future replacements; and
(v) Incorporates beneficial biodiversity conservation features, measurable biodiversity net gain of at least 10% in line with the principles outlined in the Natural England Biodiversity Metric, and habitat creation where appropriate.
The SPD sets out the opportunities for the preservation, restoration, enhancement, and connection of natural habitats. It explains how beneficial biodiversity conservation features and habitat creation should be incorporated into proposals. A separate guidance note will be prepared in relation to biodiversity net gain.
Policy ENV1: Environment
The Local Planning Authority will conserve and enhance Colchester's natural and historic environment, countryside and coastline. The Local Planning Authority will safeguard the Borough's biodiversity, geology, history and archaeology, which help define the landscape character of the Borough, through the protection and enhancement of sites of international, national, regional and local importance. The Local Planning Authority will require development to be in compliance with, and contribute positively towards, delivering the aims and objectives of the Anglian River Basin Management Plan.
A. Designated sites
Development proposals that have adverse effects on the integrity of habitats sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest or significant adverse impacts on the special qualities of the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (including its setting) (either alone or in-combination) will not be supported.
B. Essex Coast RAMS
A Recreational disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy has been completed in compliance with the Habitats Directive and Habitats Regulations. Further to Section 1 Policy SP2, contributions will be secured from qualifying residential development, within the Zones of Influence as defined in the adopted RAMS, towards mitigation measures identified in the Essex Coast Recreational disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy (RAMS).
C. Biodiversity and geodiversity
Development proposals where the principal objective is to conserve or enhance biodiversity and geodiversity interests will be supported in principle.
For all proposals, development will only be supported where it:
- Is supported with appropriate ecological surveys where necessary; and
- Where there is reason to suspect the presence of a protected species (and impact to), or Species/Habitats of Principal Importance, applications should be accompanied by an ecological survey assessing their presence and, if present, the proposal must be sensitive to, and make provision for their needs and demonstrate the mitigation hierarchy has been followed; and
- Will conserve or enhance the biodiversity value of greenfield and brownfield sites and minimise fragmentation of habitats; and
- Maximises opportunities for the preservation, restoration, enhancement and connection of natural habitats in accordance with the UK and Essex Biodiversity Action Plans or future replacements; and
- Incorporates beneficial biodiversity conservation features, measurable biodiversity net gain of at least 10% in line with the principles outlined in the Natural England Biodiversity Metric, and habitat creation where appropriate.
Proposals for development that would cause significant direct or indirect adverse harm to nationally designated sites or other designated areas, protected species, Habitats and Species of Principle Importance, will not be permitted unless:
- They cannot be located on alternative sites that would cause less harm; and
- The benefits of the development clearly outweigh the impacts on the features of the site and the wider network of natural habitats; and
- Satisfactory biodiversity net gain, mitigation, or as a last resort, compensation measures are provided.
The Local Planning Authority will take a precautionary approach where insufficient information is provided about avoidance, mitigation and compensation measures and secure mitigation and compensation through planning conditions/obligations where necessary.
D. Irreplaceable habitats
Proposals that would result in the loss of irreplaceable habitats, such as ancient woodland, Important Hedgerows and veteran trees will not be permitted unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy, to the satisfaction of the local planning authority, exists.
The local planning authority will carefully balance the requirement for new development within the countryside to meet identified development needs in accordance with Colchester's spatial strategy, and to support the vitality of rural communities, whilst ensuring that development does not have an adverse impact on the different roles, the relationship between and separate identities of settlements, valued landscapes, the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and visual amenity.
The intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside will be recognised and assessed, and development will only be permitted where it would not adversely affect the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and complies with other relevant policies. Within valued landscapes, development will only be permitted where it would not impact upon and would protect and enhance the factors that contribute to valued landscapes.