Aylesbury Vale Area


VALP Main Modifications

Representation ID: 3413

Received: 16/12/2019

Respondent: Natural England

Legally compliant? Not specified

Sound? Not specified

Representation Summary:

Policy D1 - Delivering Aylesbury Garden Town
As the main Policy for the Garden Town, we recommend addition to D1 to require all associated development to conserve the biodiversity on site and provide a biodiversity net gain through multifunctional green infrastructure. this is supported within the NPPF (paras. 170, 175 (d). and will bring the Policy in line with Policies NE1-9 and I1.

Full text:

Planning Consultation: Aylesbury Vale Local Plan - Main Modifications and Sustainability Appraisal Addendum
Thank you for your consultation on the above dated 05 November 2019
Natural England is a non-departmental public body. Our statutory purpose is to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced, and managed for the benefit of present and future generations, thereby contributing to sustainable development.
We would like to thank you for taking many of our comments from previous consultations on board.
Natural England is of the opinion that as it stands this Local Plan does not meet all of the tests of soundness. Natural England's primary concerns centre around Policy NE1 - Biodiversity and Geodiversity, as well as some of the new wording regarding Green Infrastructure.
Once this is addressed we would be happy to review our advice with regards to soundness of the plan.
We have also included some advisory comments, which should constitute best practice. Most are minor changes concerned with wording of certain policies.
Policy NE1 - Biodiversity and Geodiversity
The amalgamation of the biodiversity policies has resulted in a policy and supporting text which is currently unclear and open to interpretation. We are supportive of the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Natural Environment Partnership's (NEP) representations on this policy and supporting text. In particular;
* In (a), clarity needs to be provided that sites of national and international importance are being referred to here, as well as protected species. This section currently only mentions Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Inconsistent with NPPF para. 170.
* In (d), greater clarity on implementation of the Mitigation Hierarchy is required, to ensure on-site avoidance, mitigation and compensation is implemented prior to off-site. Ineffective and inconsistent with NPPF paras. 32, 174.

* In (e), definition of what is meant by 'regional' or 'local sites' - designated Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) and Local Geological Sites (LGS). Inconsistent with NPPF para 171.
* In (g), we require further information about expectation for planning when a development is proposed on a Priority Habitat. When this is the case, any mitigation should not be off-site. Where no Priority Habitat is involved, mitigation is expected to follow the mitigation hierarchy (as outlined in (d)). Several of the site allocations include or are directly adjacent to areas of Priority Habitat, so it is vital that this policy provides greater clarity which is less open to interpretation. NPPF para. 174.
* In (g), Natural England would like to see removal of section detailing where advantages to the local community outweigh adverse impacts to habitats and species. This is inconsistent with the NPPF and plays no role in protecting and enhancing biodiversity and geodiversity. NPPF para 175.

Unsound on the basis that it is ineffective and inconsistent with national policy.
Green Infrastructure (p.256) and Policy I1
In addition to the below comments on Green Infrastructure (GI), we are also supportive of the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes NEP's additional representations on reinstating support for the NEP's GI Vision and Principles 2016 document.
Natural England does not agree with the VALP's modified definition of GI to include market squares and other hard surfaced areas as GI. This inclusion is contradictory to national policy and recognised definitions and practice of GI - including but not restricted to Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) definition of GI (July 2019), European GI Strategy, ANGSt guidance of 'natural' greenspace, and local definitions - including the Aylesbury Vale Green Infrastructure Strategy (2011) and the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Natural Environment Partnership's 2016 definitions.
Inclusion of areas of hardstanding as 'green infrastructure' will lead to GI requirements being fulfilled without any sign of real green space. It will allow interpretation of the policy to lead to less green areas being provided, and therefore less ecosystem and natural capital services brought forward.
Further to the above, the inclusion of transport links (in Policy T6) such as existing walking and cycle routes as GI is similarly incompatible with generally accepted definitions of GI. Natural England recognises that these routes could have the potential to provide GI connectivity, through such measures as tree or hedge planting along the route, but are not generally considered GI in their own right.
Unsound on the basis that the modifications are unjustified, ineffective and inconsistent with national policy.
D-WHA001 Shenley Park
Due to the areas of ancient woodland (irreplaceable habitat), deciduous woodland (priority habitat) and 'no main habitat but additional habitats present' (priority habitat) on the site, we advise wording is put in to ensure habitats are not damaged or destroyed. In addition, we advise removal of 'where practicable' in regards to retention of habitats.
D-HAL003 RAF Halton
Wording should be added to the site specific description to highlight the neighbouring sites of ecological value, and to ensure they are not encroached onto.
The 50% green infrastructure on site should focus on providing a similar experience to the adjacent Ancient Woodland to keep people on-site. Mitigation options for recreational disturbance can include offsite works such as signage, fencing and footpath creation within the protected sites to minimise recreational disturbance such as trampling of vegetation, dog fouling, and disturbance of wildlife.
Policy D1 - Delivering Aylesbury Garden Town
As the main Policy for the Garden Town, we recommend addition to D1 to require all associated development to conserve the biodiversity on site and provide a biodiversity net gain through multifunctional green infrastructure. this is supported within the NPPF (paras. 170, 175 (d). and will bring the Policy in line with Policies NE1-9 and I1.
Site Allocations
Several of our points can be applied across all of the site allocation policies;
* We recommend removal of all mentions of 'where practicable' in reference to the retention of existing habitats, woodland and hedgerows, and creation of linkages of surrounding wildlife assets. In order to comply with the NPPF, para. 175, 'if significant harm to biodiversity resulting from a development cannot be avoided, adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused'. The NPPF also stresses the importance (para 171) of taking a 'strategic approach to maintaining and enhancing networks of habitats and green infrastructure'. By including the words 'where practicable' you allow for the possibly of destruction of priority habitats and the loss of biodiversity.
* It is Natural England's opinion that the vast majority of the site allocations should require an ecological management plan and subsequent ecological mitigation to be provided. Unless you know there is mitigation required, then remove the 'as required'. The discrepancy on how biodiversity is considered between site allocations is currently inconsistent with NPPF para. 170 and Policy NE1.
* All site allocations should require the provision of a measurable net gain in biodiversity, to remain consistent with para. 170 (d) of the NPPF.

Habitats Regulations Assessment
Natural England provided a response on 3rd June 2019 agreeing with the conclusions reached in the HRA and Appropriate Assessment.
We would be happy to comment further should the need arise but if in the meantime you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact us.
For any queries relating to the specific advice in this letter only please contact me at eleanor.sweet-escott@naturalengland.org.uk. For any new consultations, or to provide further information on this consultation please send your correspondences to consultations@naturalengland.org.uk.

Yours Sincerely,
Eleanor Sweet-Escott
Lead Adviser, Sustainable Development
Thames Solent Team