Habitats Regulations Assessment Addendum
(2) Chapter 1. Introduction
1.1 The Central Bedfordshire Local Plan was submitted for Examination in April 2018. The version of the Plan submitted for Examination was the Central Bedfordshire Pre-Submission Local Plan 2015-2035 (January 2018). Following Examination hearings, Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC), in collaboration with the Inspector, has prepared a schedule of proposed main modifications to the Local Plan as submitted for Examination. LUC has been commissioned by CBC to assess the implications of these main modifications with regard to the Habitats Regulations.
1.2 Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) refers to the assessment of the potential effects of a development plan on one or more European sites, including Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs):
- SACs are designated under the Habitats Regulations as amended and target particular habitat types (specified in Annex 1 to the Habitats Directive) and species (specified in Annex II to the Habitats Directive). These annexes to the Habitats Directive list habitat types and species (excluding birds) considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level. Designation of SACs also has regard to the threats of degradation or destruction to which the sites are exposed and, before EU exit day, to the coherence of the Natura 2000 network of European sites. After EU exit day, regard is had to the importance of such sites for the coherence of the national site network.
- SPAs are areas classified for rare and vulnerable birds or regularly occurring migratory species.
- Potential SPAs (pSPAs) , candidate SACs (cSACs) , Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) and Ramsar sites should also be included in an HRA.
- Ramsar sites support internationally important wetland habitats and are listed under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention, 1971).
1.3 For ease of reference during HRA, these designations can be collectively referred to as European sites despite Ramsar designations being at the international level.
1.4 The Local Plan was subject to HRA, and an HRA Report (2017) was submitted alongside the Local Plan. In August 2018, a revised HRA Screening Report was produced in light of the People over Wind, Peter Sweetman v Coillte Teoranta (April 2018) judgment ('People over Wind). This judgment ruled that Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive should be interpreted as meaning that mitigation measures should be assessed as part of an Appropriate Assessment, and should not be taken into account at the screening stage. This document is an Addendum to the 2018 HRA Report and should be read in conjunction with that document. The purpose of this Addendum is to assess whether the main modifications proposed by CBC would result in any change to the conclusions set out in the 2018 HRA Report.
Outcome of HRA work to date
1.5 The 2018 HRA Report found that the Central Bedfordshire Pre-Submission Local Plan 2015-2035 had potential for likely significant effects on the following European sites for the reasons given (based on Table 3.6 of the 2018 HRA Report):
- As a result of recreational disturbance:
- Chiltern Beechwoods SAC.
- As a result of effects on water quality:
- Chippenham Fen Ramsar.
- Fenland SAC.
- Ouse Washes SPA / SAC / Ramsar.
- Portholme SAC (in-combination only).
- Wicken Fen Ramsar (in-combination only).
1.6 The Appropriate Assessment concluded that the Local Plan would not lead to adverse effects on integrity of any European site, given mitigation provided through the relevant Local Plan policies and through both the Anglian River Basin Management Plan, and the Anglian Water Resources Management Plan. The 2018 HRA Report was subject to further consultation comments and advice from Natural England, who advised it is satisfied with the conclusions of the HRA.
Changes to context
1.7 Since the 2018 HRA Report was produced, there have been some changes to the context within which HRA takes place. These changes are outlined below, and their implications discussed.
1.8 The UK left the European Union at the end of January 2020 and the transition period ended at the end of December 2020. As such, the Habitats Directive [See reference [i]] and Birds Directive [See reference [ii]] no longer have effect in the UK. To take account of this, the Habitats Regulations (The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (SI 2017/1012)) were amended by The Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/579). As set out in the Explanatory Memorandum [See reference [iii]] accompanying the Brexit amendments, the purpose of the Brexit amendments to the Habitats Regs is to provide changes to those parts of the 2017 Regulations which would no longer work when the UK leaves the EU. The intention is to ensure habitat and species protection and standards as set out under the Nature Directives are implemented in the same way or an equivalent way when the UK exited the EU. As such, references to the Habitats and Birds Directives and Habitats Regulations should be considered updated, but this does not have any implications for the other content or conclusions of the 2018 HRA Report.
1.9 The Holohan v An Bord Pleanala (November 2018) judgment stated that: "Article 6(3) of Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora must be interpreted as meaning that an 'appropriate assessment' must, on the one hand, catalogue the entirety of habitat types and species for which a site is protected, and, on the other, identify and examine both the implications of the proposed project for the species present on that site, and for which that site has not been listed, and the implications for habitat types and species to be found outside the boundaries of that site, provided that those implications are liable to affect the conservation objectives of the site." As such, the HRA needs to consider whether the Plan will affect any species and habitats, including those not listed as qualifying features, that could result in secondary effects upon the qualifying features of European sites.
1.10 Whilst this judgment was after the 2018 HRA Report was prepared, it is considered that the 2018 HRA Report adequately considers habitats and species that the sites are not designated for, and is therefore compliant with, this case law. The 2018 HRA Report found that no impact pathway exists for most types of effects that could occur as a result of the Local Plan, and therefore effects would not occur on any species or habitats at the sites, regardless of whether or not they are qualifying features. The majority of potential effects identified were with regards to water, which involved consideration of the sites as a whole. Mitigation measures identified (already in place) would manage impacts on the sites as whole and are not specific to the qualifying features.
1.11 In the 2018 HRA, examples of consideration of potential for effects on habitats and species that are not listed as qualifying features within European sites themselves ('on-site'), include the consideration of the loss of dead wood at Chiltern Beechwoods SAC. Whilst dead wood is not a qualifying feature of the SAC, this is important for the stag beetle, which is a qualifying feature of the SAC. In addition to consideration of non-qualifying species and habitats on-site, the 2018 HRA Report explicitly considered potential for habitat loss or fragmentation of supporting habitat off-site (i.e. functionally linked land). The HRA concluded that no functionally linked land existed within the plan area, therefore loss or fragmentation of non-qualifying features outside of European sites was screened out.