Our ecology team are considered to be regional experts in preparing plan and project level Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRA) for Local Authorities. One example of this is their provision of the Habitats Regulations Assessment including – Appropriate Assessment for the Babergh and Mid Suffolk Districts Joint Local Plan, which was delivered within agreed timescales. This was necessary to ensure that the joint local plan would be compliant with the Habitats Regulations 2017.
The Joint Local Plan HRA including - Appropriate Assessment considered likely significant effects from policies to the following Habitats Sites:
Potential impact pathways between the above Habitats Sites and the Joint Local Plan were identified, considered and assessed. This included potential impacts from water quality; air quality; disturbance; recreational impacts; and loss of functionally linked land (land outside a Habitats SPA and/ or Ramsar site used by designated features).
The HRA including – Appropriate Assessment concluded that the Babergh & Mid Suffolk District Councils Joint Local Plan Preferred Options stage would not, with mitigation, result in any adverse effect on integrity (AEOI) on any Habitats Sites, either alone or in combination with other plans and projects. However, the assessment recommended a number of policy wording changes; strategic mitigation for residential allocation polices; project level HRAs at application stage to avoid impacts during the construction phase; and monitoring for potential air quality impacts for roads within 200m of a Habitats sites e.g. Redgrave and South Lopham Fens.
Natural England was satisfied that the HRA including Appropriate Assessment provided a robust assessment of the Preferred Options stage of the Joint Local Plan, in accordance with the requirements of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and having regard to relevant case law. Natural England welcomed the recommendations for strengthening of policy wording and identification of key themes and their incorporation into the policy document.
This formal consultation response provides support for legal compliance and confidence for the two Local Planning Authorities that the Joint Local Plan is sound with respect to Habitats sites.