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Thames Basin Heaths SPA Supplementary Planning Document

The main purpose of the Thames Basin Heaths SPA SPD is to provide guidance to make sure that new development does not have adverse effects on the SPA. It provides an avoidance and mitigation strategy to show how the effects of new (principally) residential developments on the Thames Basin Heaths SPA should be avoided and mitigated. It was adopted on 18 April 2018.

The Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA) is a network of heathland sites that provides a habitat for important ground-nesting bird species. It was designated as a Special Protection Area in March 2005 and is protected from adverse effects by law.

The SPA zone of influence affects 11 local authorities across Hampshire, Berkshire and Surrey. Two areas of the SPA lie within Bracknell Forest. These are the Broadmoor to Bagshot Heaths Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the Sandhurst to Owlsmoor Bogs and Heaths (also known as Wildmoor Heath) SSSI. See the Thames Basin Heaths Partnership website for further information.

How does the SPA affect new development in Bracknell Forest?

The European and national legislation that underpins the SPA seeks to make sure that any proposed development scheme or development plan will not adversely affect the integrity of the SPA.

Natural England is the government agency that champions the conservation of wildlife throughout England. They have advised us, and the other 10 local authorities with land in the Thames Basin Heaths, that new housing within 5km of the SPA may harm the rare bird populations. Larger developments located between 5 and 7km of the SPA may also be affected. This harm can be caused by disturbance to the birds from a growth in the number of walkers, cats and dogs frequenting the heathland, and other recreational uses created by additional housing. Particular harm may occur with additional new development that lies within 400m of the SPA.

The majority of development within Bracknell Forest lies within 5km of the SPA and a significant proportion lies within 400m. Both Policy NRM6 of the South East Plan, and Policy CP14 of the Core Strategy DPD contain policies prohibiting additional housing within 400m of the SPA. Developers wishing to promote additional housing in the 400m to 5km zone (and possibly the 5 to 7km zone) will be required to demonstrate that their proposals can avoid any likely significant adverse effect on the SPA. This can be done using the mitigation measures known as SANG (Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace) and SAMM (Strategic Access Management and Monitoring Measures).

Recent legal judgements

The European Court of Justice judgement in 'People Over Wind, Peter Sweetman v Coillte Teoranta C-323/17' established the legal principle that a Habitats Regulations Screening Assessment cannot take into account any proposed measures to mitigate any likely impact at the screening stage. The council is therefore now required to carry out a full Appropriate Assessment of relevant plans and planning applications where these have the potential to lead to a likely significant effect on habitats sites.

Competent authorities such as Bracknell Forest Council are required by the Habitats Regulations to consult Natural England (NE) on Appropriate Assessments they undertake. NE has issued standing advice (see 'NE standing advice update June 2020' document at the bottom of this page) to confirm that it has no comments to make on Appropriate Assessments which are carried out by Bracknell Forest Council for planning applications which conclude no adverse effects on the integrity of habitats sites due to measures being secured through legal agreement and put in place in line with those set out in the adopted Bracknell Forest Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area Supplementary Planning Document (2018), in accordance with the agreed policies, guidance and evidence (as listed in the letter).

The Wealden Judgement (Wealden District Council v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Lewes District Council and South Downs National Park Authority [2017] quashed part of the Lewes Joint Core Strategy. This judgement related to the assessment of nitrogen deposition impacts from increased traffic flows on European Nature Conservation sites and the potential for in-combination effects. The implication of this judgement is that assessments of the air quality effects on habitats sites will need to take account of plans and projects within as well as outside of Bracknell Forest.

The air quality assessments undertaken for the Site Allocations Local Plan and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Local Plan as well as the assessment currently being undertaken for the Bracknell Forest Local Plan address this issue. Further information will be required for applications for housing developments with a net increase in more than 100 dwellings, and other developments on a case by case basis, where they have the potential to impact air quality. More information should be obtained from the Planning Policy section before proceeding with any assessment work.

Council-owned SANG capacity

Council-owned Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (strategic SANG) is limited and capacity is quickly being used up.

Strategic SANG capacity has been provisionally allocated to the planned development sites that do not require a bespoke SANG solution as set out in the Site Allocations Local Plan (SALP) Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) and agreed with Natural England.

Where policy requires large allocated developments to provide their own SANGs (in line with policy and guidance) or for any unplanned development such as Prior Approval applications, any release of council-owned strategic SANG for such developments would put planned development on allocated sites at risk of not being able to meet Habitats Regulations and gain planning permission.

The council therefore reserves the right not to provide available SANG capacity if the proposal is considered to undermine the council’s SPA avoidance and mitigation strategy and/or the delivery of allocated development sites.

The SPD sets out a two-prong approach:

The SPD can be downloaded below along with relevant supporting information. Details on producing a s106 agreement to secure SPA avoidance and mitigation measures can be found on Section 106 agreements page.