Policy ENV6: Biodiversity, Geodiversity and Nature Conservation

Open22 Jan, 2024, 10:00am - 4 Mar, 2024, 11:59pm

Policy ENV6:  Biodiversity, Geodiversity and Nature Conservation

1. Development proposals will avoid harm to biodiversity and/or geodiversity or, where that is proved not possible, be adequately mitigated so that it can be clearly demonstrated that:

  1. There will be no adverse impact on local populations of key species including their nesting, roosting or shelter or other features that directly support their ecology; and
  2. There will be no loss or deterioration of a key priority habitat type, including irreplaceable habitats, their supporting habitats or site fabric; and
  3. There will be no adverse impact on the integrity of designated and proposed internationally, nationally or locally designated sites (including Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) and Local Nature Reserves (LNRs)), including sites that meet the SINC criteria but have not been designated; and
  4. There will be retention of ecological connectivity and the integrity of linkages between designated sites and key habitats including within the wider Nature Recovery Network; and
  5. Appropriate buffer zones can be achieved, where required, between the development proposals and important landscape features. Development proposals must demonstrate adequate protection zones and buffers around hedgerows and other woodland and trees to prevent damage to root systems. Future growth should also be taken into consideration. Where veteran trees or ancient woodlands are located within or adjacent to a development site, suitable information should be submitted setting out the location of all significant ancient woodland or veteran trees (a BS5837 Survey or any subsequent updates). A minimum buffer of 15 metres from the edge of the roots of the trees being assessed will be required between new development and ancient woodland unless specified otherwise by national policy.  For large-scale developments, larger buffers may be required to take account of other impacts, such as the creation of access routes and recreational impacts; and
  6. The mitigation hierarchy has been followed.

The weight given to the protection of nature conservation interests will be proportionate to its international, national or local significance and any designation or protection applying to the site, habitat or species concerned.

2.  Applications for development must include adequate and proportionate information to enable a proper assessment of the implications for biodiversity and geodiversity.

3.  Where development proposals do not comply with the above (avoid, minimise, then restore) and it has been clearly demonstrated that there is no other satisfactory alternative, then as a last resort, compensation measures must be secured to offset the potential impacts on biodiversity in addition to achieving the required net gain.

4.  For proposals that directly and indirectly affect nationally protected sites (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and irreplaceable habitats, it must be demonstrated that the need for, and the benefits arising from the development, clearly outweigh the harm.  This approach will only be considered to be acceptable where exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated.  The need to achieve the required net gain will remain.

5.  Development proposals will be required to include proportionate measures to contribute to biodiversity improvement and help address the council’s declared Ecological Emergency through the creation, restoration, enhancement and management of habitats and ecological features, including measures that help link key habitats and assist the ecological potential of the site to adapt to climate change. Proposals should seek to provide environmental gains through the use of nature-based solutions and taking account of natural capital and the associated ecosystem services.

  1. For qualifying development proposals, a measurable biodiversity net gain (using the Statutory Biodiversity Metric) of at least 10% will be required to be demonstrated, which shall be maintained for a minimum period of 30 years. This must be delivered within the site boundary wherever possible or, where agreed, on off-site land within the Borough within the applicant’s ownership or on land that supports strategic nature recovery initiatives, such as Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs), priorities within the Landscape and Biodiversity Strategy (and subsequent updates), or where identified by the Council as having ecological significance.
  2. Where evidence exists of deliberate degradation of any of the habitats on a site prior to the application process, it will be assumed, for the purposes of calculating Biodiversity Net Gain, that the condition of the habitat concerned is the highest potential condition.  Where ecological data for the site exists and is accessible, which can confirm the habitats present and/or condition, this will be used as the baseline.

6. Approaches to secure measurable improvements could be achieved through:

  1. Delivery within the following strategic nature recovery initiatives:
  • Biodiversity Opportunity Areas (BOAs);
  • Biodiversity Priority Areas (BPAs) of the River Loddon and River Test as identified in the council’s Green Infrastructure Strategy (and subsequent updates);
  • Relevant River Catchment Management Plans within the Borough;
  • Existing and forthcoming network opportunity mapping and Local Nature Recovery Networks; and
  • Other local strategic projects identified by the council where appropriate;
  • Priorities within the Landscape and Biodiversity Strategy (and subsequent updates).
  1. On-site and/ or off-site provision linked to new development in accordance with the council’s adopted green space standards.

7. Where development is exempt from Biodiversity Net Gain, and where those developments will be making an impact on biodiversity, development proposals will be expected to provide measurable improvements. 

7.32 Pressures on local biodiversity resources range from global issues such as climate change to a lack of appropriate local habitat management and pressures from development. Of the latter, in addition to land take issues, indirect impacts such as recreational pressure, increased pollution and water abstraction all need to be addressed in order to conserve, sustain and re-create biodiversity for current and future generations. 
7.33 The policy provides a framework for conserving and enhancing the borough’s existing biodiversity assets and achieving a net gain in biodiversity through the enhancement and creation of new habitat features. The council will work in partnership with the local community, developers, landowners, Hampshire County Council, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, the Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre and other organisations to conserve, restore and enhance the borough’s biodiversity in accordance with the most relevant recently published strategies and plans, such as the council’s Living Landscapes/Biodiversity Strategy, the council’s Green Infrastructure Strategy, Hampshire’s Local Nature Recovery Strategy, Species Conservation Strategies and Protected Sites Strategies, the government’s Environment Improvement Plan and the Biodiversity duty. 
7.34 Where it has been clearly demonstrated there is no satisfactory alternative to a development proposal, including allocated sites where there could be harm to biodiversity interests, the risks will be avoided and then mitigated as far as practicable through design, construction management and other measures. Development proposals should demonstrate that they have adopted a strict approach to the mitigation hierarchy (avoid, mitigate, compensate) and can justify all unavoidable impacts on biodiversity. Where there is still likely to be a residual loss of biodiversity, compensation measures will be put in place through the creation of like-for-like habitats wherever possible, or features of similar or greater biodiversity value. Any such mitigation and/or compensation measures must be appropriate and acceptable in respect of design and location and be secured for the lifetime of the development with appropriate funding mechanisms, where necessary, that are capable of being secured by condition and/or legal agreement. It is expected that developers will provide mitigation, compensation and enhancement measures for biodiversity on, or immediately adjacent to, a site for major development – generally only where it has been demonstrated that a biodiversity net gain cannot be attained within the application boundary, will ‘off-site’ mitigation be considered by the Council as a secondary measure.
7.35 When considering mitigation and compensation measures, the council will favour approaches that best serve the interests of biodiversity conservation in the long-term. The GI Strategy, Living Landscapes/Biodiversity Strategy and any forthcoming Local Nature Recovery Strategies will identify local needs and priorities for new habitat creation and enhancement of existing resources. Developers’ contributions will be used in the areas or on the priorities identified wherever possible. This may result in consideration being given to compensating any residual impacts through activities elsewhere in the borough rather than through on-site activities or translocation schemes if success is likely to be higher and/or make a greater contribution to the conservation of the species or habitat type concerned. In determining the level of compensation to ensure a net gain in biodiversity, factors including delivery risk and time lags between loss of habitat and the creation of similar quality habitat will be considered.
7.36 The council will actively pursue opportunities for biodiversity improvement within allocated sites and within strategically significant areas that have been identified as having the best potential to restore or create key habitat types and provide connectivity between existing habitats. Biodiversity Opportunity Areas (BOA), and Biodiversity Priority Areas (BPA), as defined in the borough’s Green Infrastructure (GI) Strategy, and areas identified within the Ecological Opportunity Network Map are all sources of guidance on strategically important areas for biodiversity. The Biodiversity Priority Areas are based on the borough’s two main river corridors, the River Loddon and the River Test. They have been chosen because they represent cohesive linear geographic areas that contain interrelated habitats, linked by the ecological function of the rivers. Both are of major importance for biodiversity but are identified in River Catchment Management Plans as requiring better management to retain and restore their ecological status. The River Enborne in the north of the Borough is another key riverine ecological feature which faces similar issues.
7.37 Further opportunities for creating and improving habitats will be identified through the government’s forthcoming Nature Recovery Network and the Local Nature Recovery Strategy, which will form the focus for on and offsite Biodiversity Net Gain delivery. In the meantime, the council will continue to seek opportunities to support habitat creation, restoration and/or management within the Borough’s BOAs, BPAs and areas mapped as ‘network opportunities’. Such strategic initiatives are likely to offer the greatest improvements for biodiversity within the borough. Metric from Natural England takes into account strategic initiatives for habitat enhancement and/or creation schemes through the use of multipliers which are automatically applied to the scores given. 
7.38 A suitable buffer of a minimum of 15 metres should be provided around ancient woodland. This should be set at a distance necessary to preserve the nature, health and setting of the ancient woodland, which should also take the nature and area of the proposed development into consideration. This may necessitate a buffer of greater than 15 metres. If a wider minimum distance is set by national policy, the greater distance will apply.
7.39 The council will support habitat creation and management proposals which will restore natural processes, implement nature based solutions and expand existing habitats, or link them, either through direct physical connection or by providing ‘stepping stone’ features.  Nature based solutions are designed interventions that utilise the characteristics of a habitat or species to provide the benefits gained from traditionally engineered solutions. Common nature based solutions include green roofs to support insulation of buildings, wetlands to clean contaminated water and planting trees to capture carbon. The Environmental Benefits from Nature Tool has been designed to work alongside Biodiversity Metric 4.0 providing an opportunity for applicants to understand better the risks and benefits their plans have for wider ecosystem services. Using this tool (including any subsequent updates) can support the integration of a natural capital approach in planning and enable applicants to demonstrate their contributions toward the broader benefits of biodiversity enhancements.
7.40 The objective will be for all development to contribute towards delivering net gains for nature so that biodiversity across the borough as a whole is improved by the end of the plan period and any existing network of sites and habitats is protected and strengthened with the retention and creation of robust, well managed green infrastructure. This will help address the council’s Ecological and Climate Emergencies. Measures that allow new development to adapt and be resilient to climate change can also have biodiversity benefits, such as tree planting, carbon storage and natural flood management including SUDs. Improved public access to the countryside/natural green space within developments will also be sought where this can be achieved without adversely affecting key ecological features. Where providing these nature based solutions careful consideration is required to maximise benefits, align design features and ensure conflicts are minimised.
7.41 The council’s SPD on Landscape, Biodiversity and Trees sets out how landscape, biodiversity and tree considerations should be integrated into the development process, detailing the information that needs to accompany a planning application. New developments will be expected to use the Natural England Biodiversity Metric to assess and demonstrate Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) as well as be accompanied by a Biodiversity Gain Plan.
7.42 Separate policies on strategic development allocations set out the strategic expectations for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity in respect of individual sites. Additional detail on the means of delivering these sites will be set out in SPDs, masterplans, and development briefs, which will involve consultation and engagement with local communities and interested parties.
7.43 Where evidence exists of deliberate degradation or clearing of any of the habitats and species on a site prior to the commencement of the application process, the previous highest potential condition for the site will be used as a baseline for calculating Biodiversity Net Gain.  Where data can be sourced to demonstrate a baseline that is different from  that presented at application stage, the assessment will be informed by this data.
7.44 Measures such as artificial nesting and roosting opportunities for wildlife should be incorporated into development proposals wherever possible, for example, bat boxes, swift boxes and bricks, bee bricks and holes for small mammals along boundaries.
7.45 The locations of nationally and locally designated sites of importance for biodiversity and geodiversity (i.e. SSSIs, LNRs and SINCs) are identified on the council’s web site www.basingstoke.gov.uk/adopted-policies-map, which includes an on-line mapping system. Land-based statutory designations, such as SSSIs, can also be viewed on Magic maps[1], which is an interactive mapping system produced by Natural England. Priority areas for habitat creation and restoration are identified in the Green Infrastructure Strategy and the council’s Landscape, Biodiversity and Trees SPD, in addition to the Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS). The criteria used to establish if a site is worthy of SINC status is published by the Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre Partnership[2]. Any data available that has been collected in line with best practice guidance[3] (where this exists) will be used to assess if development sites/parts of development sites meet any of the criteria for SINC status and are therefore worthy of protection. 
7.46 ‘Key habitats’, in the context of this policy, are those habitats listed in the council’s SPD on Landscape, Biodiversity and Trees.‘ Key species’ in the context of this policy is an umbrella term to cover legally protected species, Species of Principal Importance in England and Notable Species in Hampshire. Legally protected species mean those given statutory protection for nature conservation reasons. Specifically, this means those species given protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. Species of Principal Importance in England are those listed under the provisions of Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. The Notable Species in Hampshire which have previously been recorded within the Borough are listed in the Living Landscapes strategy which can be found on the council website www.basingstoke.gov.uk Special additional legal considerations apply in determining planning applications that affect European Protected Species (i.e. those protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 20170).
7.47 It should be noted that adverse impacts on nature conservation interests are not necessarily limited to the proposal site. Adjacent land, including that outside the Local Plan boundary, must also be considered.
Implementation and Monitoring

The policy will be implemented through:

  • Advice on and the determination of relevant planning applications; and
  • Working in partnership with Natural England, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Nature Partnership, the North Wessex Downs National Landscape Board, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Hampshire County Council, the Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre and other stakeholders.

The policy will be monitored against:

  • The condition and extent of SSSIs and extent of council-owned SINCs in the borough
  • Amount of SINC habitat lost to development
  • Number and area of new SINCs designated
  • Units of biodiversity created through Biodiversity Net Gain
  • Condition of those units across a 30 year period
  • Number of ponds created through District Level Licensing
  • Number of other features integrated within developments such as bat boxes and swift boxes and bricks
  • Increase in the area of council open spaces managed for biodiversity interest.

This monitoring will be reported through an annual update on the Green Infrastructure Strategy, incorporating outputs from the relevant strategies/action plans such as the aims and objectives of the most up to date Living Landscapes/Biodiversity Strategy.

 

[1] www.magic.gov.uk

[2] www.hants.gov.uk/landplanningandenvironment/environment/biodiversity/information_centre

[3] See Principle B3:  Biodiversity Surveys in the council’s Landscape, Biodiversity and Trees SPD (2018)

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