New planning requirement for residential dwellings
Natural England has advised Buckinghamshire Council of “a serious potential conflict” between plans for any new housing development in the area in and around Chesham and the conservation of the protected features of the Chiltern Beechwoods Special Areas of Conservation (CBSAC).
The SAC includes the Ashridge Estate, 30% of which extends from Hertfordshire into Buckinghamshire. Internationally recognised for its special habitat and the species it supports, the SAC has the highest level of protection afforded to nature conservation sites.
Evidence produced in the preparation of the Dacorum Borough Local Plan indicates that the SAC is under growing pressure from local users, many of whom come from within the 12.6 km ‘Zone of Influence’ around the site, of which Chesham is a part.
Under the Habitats and Birds Directive, Buckinghamshire Council must now undertake Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRAs) to understand whether our Local Plan and other projects might harm the integrity of the CBSAC. Other projects include all new build housing and change of use /conversion to a residential dwelling. The Council must first screen all projects to determine the potential for harm. Where necessary, this is followed by an “Appropriate Assessment” to investigate further. Mitigation must then be identified and secured to remove any risk which remains.
This is a lengthy process. Buckinghamshire Council must come up with a mitigation strategy, which could take six months to put in place. Natural England is advising that a more strategic form of mitigation for larger developments (such as Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space) may be required, which could take even longer. The Council has currently adopted “an interim position” during which any development in and around Chesham “that proposes an increase in residential dwellings” will need to carry out an HRA. This will need to consider both “alone and in-combination impacts” and set out measures to mitigate them. Planning Officers “will continue to work on those applications which are unable to be determined or decided for reasons relating to HRA, to ensure that delays are kept to a minimum”.