Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area
We need to balance the need for residential development and the need to protect the habitats of protected bird species in the Thames Basin Heaths.
The Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA) is made up of areas of heathland covered by several local authority areas across Hampshire, Berkshire and Surrey, including Rushmoor. It supports important populations of vulnerable ground-nesting birds.
We have adopted an Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy (AMS) [2Mb] setting out the approach we will follow to reduce harm to the heathlands from additional residential development. This involves two parts:
- Provision of suitable alternative natural green space (SANG)
- Provision of strategic access and monitoring measures (SAMMS) to reduce the impact of visitors to the SPA
The important tracts of heathland which affect Rushmoor are:
- Bourley/Long Valley and Eelmoor Marsh to the west
- Thursley, Ash, Pirbright and Chobham Commons to the east
- Hawley Common to the north west
The whole of Rushmoor is within five kilometres (approximately three miles) of the SPA boundary.
We will consider all residential planning applications in relation to the requirements of the avoidance and mitigation strategy and in relation to Core Strategy Policy CP13.
The first phase - work at Hawley Meadows
The first phase of the avoidance and mitigation strategy started in March 2011. This enables us to collect contributions from developers to help improve a new public open space at Hawley Meadows in the Blackwater Valley for development in the north of Rushmoor (north of Lynchford Road and Government House Road).
The second phase - improving Southwood Woodland
The second phase of the avoidance and mitigation strategy enables us to collect contributions from developers in order to make further improvements to Southwood Woodland for developments in the south of Rushmoor, including Aldershot town centre
As with the first stage, developers of new residential sites will have the opportunity to make monetary contributions to the improvements to Southwood Woodland.
How we allocate these opportunities for developers to make monetary contributions will be at the discretion of our Head of Planning using the criteria approved by Cabinet on 30 November 2010.
The final phase - work at Rowhill Nature Reserve
The third and final phase of the avoidance and mitigation strategy started in February 2012. This enables us to collect contributions from developers for a programme of works to Rowhill Nature Reserve.
This phase now provides SANG coverage for the area in the south- east of the borough, which is not reached by the Hawley Meadows and Southwood catchments.
The map at Appendix 5 of the avoidance and mitigation strategy shows the catchment boundary. We will offer the new capacity at Rowhill to all eligible developments within the area shown, at the discretion of the Head of Planning, using the criteria set out in Appendix 4 of the avoidance and mitigation strategy.
Opportunities for developers
Developers have the opportunity to contribute towards SANG at Hawley Meadows, Southwood Woodland, and Rowhill Nature Reserve, depending on the location of their proposal.
You can view catchment maps in Appendix 5 of the Thames Basin Heaths Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy (February 2012) [2Mb].
Advice for developers
Before applying for planning permission, developers who want to overcome Natural England's objections to residential schemes by contributing to these projects should make a request in writing to the Head of Planning. This should include a basic sketch layout and a description of the number and type of units likely to be featured in the planning application.
They should explain how the scheme would meet the allocation criteria and, in particular, give precise details of when the development will take place and the housing provided, if we grant planning permission.
We will not allow proposals that are unlikely to be implemented because of complex land ownership or tenancy issues, or which are submitted as part of a valuation exercise, to prevent the delivery of housing by locking up SANG capacity for extended periods.
Until we have introduced a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), developers will commit to providing funding by a section 106 undertaking or agreement and the allocation will reflect the life of the planning permission (normally three years from the date it is granted).
If we allocate mitigation capacity to a planning permission, which expires without being implemented, the developer cannot assume we will award mitigation again.
We will continue to assess each case on its merits, in our role as set out in the habitat regulations.
In a small number of cases in the past, developers have provided sufficient objective evidence that their scheme would not have a significant impact on the Thames Basin Special Protection Area (SPA). Now that we have an adopted Core Strategy policy relating to the SPA and the first and second stages of an avoidance and mitigation strategy in place, we will be making sure that we implement the avoidance strategy effectively. This means that we are unlikely to consider favourably schemes that do not meet the requirement of the strategy.
Natural England (NE) has expressed concern that residential developments close to the heathland increase the risk of disturbance from recreational activity, such as dog-walking.
Natural England believes that the impact of new residential development results in increased recreational activity that could affect the breeding success of important bird species. We are required to consider carefully the effects of residential development on the heathland.
The implication of the habitats regulations is that we can only grant planning permission for new residential development where there would be no likelihood of significant impact on the Special Protection Area, taking into account proposed mitigation or avoidance measures. The council is responsible for assessing the likelihood of such impact. More information is available in Circular 06/2005 Biodiversity and Geological Conservation.
Natural England's approach
The view of Natural England is that impact should be avoided by providing mitigation. Natural England recommends an approach based on two forms of mitigation:
- The provision of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) or alternative public recreation areas at an agreed standard of eight hectares per 1000 new residents
- The delivery of Strategic Access Management and Monitoring Measures (SAMM), to be funded by developer contributions
Natural England also recommends that no new housing should be built within an 'exclusion zone' (land within 400m of the SPA). In Rushmoor, little of the built-up area lies within this zone, and it is considered that the scope for redevelopment there is limited.
The South East Plan
The South East plan contains a specific policy on the Thames Basin Heaths SPA supporting the approach set out above.
The South East Plan currently forms part of our development plan, however the Government has announced its intention to revoke all regional plans.
How we are addressing the SPA issue in Rushmoor
We support the conservation of natural habitats, the protection of endangered species and the aim of increasing the amount of land available for outdoor public recreation.
However, we have a statutory obligation to decide planning applications on their merits, taking into account national and local planning policy and meeting housing demand.
Thames Basin Heaths delivery framework
We have worked closely with other local authorities affected by the SPA, and with Natural England and other interested parties. Together, we have prepared the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area Delivery Framework [429kb]. This framework seeks a consistent approach across the affected authorities.
Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space (SANGS)
Because of the nature of the borough, it has been difficult to identify suitable sites for SANG that meet Natural England's criteria. The three sites we have identified are:
- Southwood Woodland: Financial contributions from developers have already funded improvements to increase opportunities and capacity for public recreational use for some 1200 homes. This is in addition to the capacity for 464 homes provided by the second phase of the avoidance and mitigation strategy
- Hawley Meadows: We share capacity at Hawley Meadows with Hart and Surrey Heath Councils. The catchment area for Hawley Meadows and the relevant contribution required towards improvement work is set out within the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area Delivery Framework June 2011 [429kb] .
- Rowhill Nature Reserve: Financial contributions will allow improvements to bring the land up to SANG standard and to maintain this in future.
Strategic Access Management and Monitoring Measures (SAMMs)
The Strategic Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy sets out our approach to developer monetary contributions towards SAMMs. This requires a per-bedroom contribution.
We are working with other councils and Natural England to explore further opportunities for SANG provision. As these arise, we will update the avoidance and mitigation strategy.
How to find out more
For more information on our position on the Special Protection Area, please contact the Development Control Manager using the contact details on this page.