Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) is a key part of the development planning process, and in July 2013 Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council appointed BSG Ecology to complete a HRA of its draft Local Plan.
BSG Ecology’s Role in the Project
The borough of Redcar and Cleveland includes a number of important wildlife sites, some of which have been identified as being of European importance because of the habitats and species that they support. The presence of Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SPA and Ramsar site within the borough, and the North York Moors SPA and SAC just outside the boundary, were key considerations in the plan-making process.
The purpose of the work was to assess whether it was likely that the policies in the draft Local Plan would result in impacts on these European sites.
BSG Ecology reviewed all the policies within the draft Plan, including those relating to housing allocations, to identify whether they were likely to have a significant effect on the integrity of any of the European sites, either alone or in combination with other plans and projects. Where policies were identified that were considered likely to have a significant effect, and hence trigger the need for an ‘appropriate assessment’, the wording of the policies was amended by the council to include measures that avoid or mitigate the identified impacts.
The main issue that was identified related to policies that have the potential to result in an increase in the number of people that might visit a European site. For example, a housing development or a leisure site would result in an increase in the local population, a proportion of whom might choose to walk within the European site. People walking within a European site, with or without dogs, have the potential to disturb the birds that are present. To inform this assessment BSG Ecology completed a comprehensive desk study to (a) better understand how particular species of bird react in response to disturbance, (b) better understand how far people will travel to a site for recreational purposes, and (c) determine how people typically behave when they visit the coast and countryside.
To address the identified impacts the wording within the Local Plan was strengthened to include a clear requirement for developers to undertake a project-based Habitats Regulations Assessment if their sites are close enough to a European site for an impact to occur. The Local Plan also requires that developments requiring an ‘appropriate assessment’ will need to consider the use of green infrastructure to mitigate identified impacts. The proposed amendments were agreed with Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council and the HRA report was finalised and lodged in the ‘background evidence and supporting documents’ library for the Local Plan. It was concluded by Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council that the amended draft Local Plan did not include any policies that were likely to have a significant effect on the integrity of any European site, and it follows that the draft plan is considered to be compliant with the requirements of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, which transposes the Habitats Directive into UK law.