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25 October 2014

The Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area and Special Protection Area Avoidance Measures

Heather and grassWhat is the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area?

The Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (TBH SPA) was designated on 9th March 2005 and forms part of Natura 2000, a European-wide network of sites of international importance for nature conservation established under the European Community Wild Birds and Habitat directives. The TBH SPA is one of the South East's most important natural assets with the lowland heath supporting important populations of Dartford Warbler, Nightjar and Woodlark - vulnerable ground-nesting birds.

The SPA covers most of the heathland areas of the Borough and includes the following areas:

How does the SPA affect new development in Surrey Heath?

The European and national legislation that underpins the SPA seeks to ensure that any proposed development scheme or 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 all Local Authorities with land in the Thames Basin Heaths that new housing within 5km of the SPA may harm the rare bird populations and that particular harm may occur from additional new development that lies within 400m of the SPA. 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.

A significant proportion of the Borough lies within 400m of the SPA and all of Surrey Heath lies within 5km of the SPA. In order to allow new development while safeguarding the integrity of the TBH SPA, the Council has put in place mitigation measures to avoid harm to the SPA arising from new housing development. These measures include:

  • The establishment of a 400 metre buffer around the SPA within which no net new residential development will be permitted;
  • The provision of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG);
  • Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMM) measures - coordinated visitor management across the whole of the publically accessible SPA.

These measures are set out in more detail within the TBH SPA Avoidance Strategy SPD, which was adopted in 2012. You can find out more about the Thames Basin Heaths SPA Avoidance Strategy SPD and download the document here: Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area Avoidance Strategy DPD

Current SANG Provision

The TBH SPA Avoidance Strategy SPD advises that it will usually be possible for developments of fewer than 100 net dwellings to take up capacity at Council-provided SANGs, subject to availability. At the present time, the availability of Council-provided SANGS for all locations is extremely limited. Therefore anyone considering submitting a planning application for residential development is asked to contact the Council before plans and other documentation are prepared.

The Council is continuing to explore potential SANG solutions for the Borough and hopes make available additional Council-provided SANG later this year.

The planning application process for sites requiring SANG capacity

Usually applications for new development are assigned SANG capacity upon their validation, however owing to the limited availability of SANG at this time, it is not expected that SANG capacity will be immediately available for new applications for development outside of Camberley Town Centre.

However in the event that an application benefitting from SANG capacity is refused planning permission, the SANG capacity will be withdrawn from that application and re-allocated to applications without capacity, where possible. In the event that capacity does not become available during the course of the determination of an application, the Council will need to have regard to the SANG situation at the time the application is determined. The Council will not delay the determination of planning applications pending the introduction of new SANG. If a refused application is subsequently appealed and capacity is available at the time that the appeal is submitted, capacity will be re-assigned. If no capacity is available, an Inspector will have to have regard to the SANG situation at the time the appeal is heard.

Where an application has been assigned SANG capacity, the level of SANG/SAMM contributions required from the applicant will depend upon the size of unit proposed and the SANGS available, as noted in the TBH SPA Avoidance Strategy SPD. In addition to the SANG/SAMM contributions, a monitoring fee payment of 400 will also be required. There is also a legal charge for preparing the Unilateral Undertaking which will start at 750, depending upon the complexity of the agreement. If the agreement is more complex, an hourly rate will then be applied in addition to the standard fee.

Where SANG is available, applicants will need to notify the Planning Department as soon as possible whether they wish to make the appropriate mitigation payment on submission of a unilateral agreement or make the appropriate payment on commencement of the proposed development; otherwise it will be assumed that payments of contributions will be on submission of the Unilateral Undertaking. The Council's Legal Department will then send out a draft unilateral undertaking to be completed by the applicant. The appropriately calculated contributions to mitigate the impact of the development upon the SPA will be included into the agreement. The advantage of making the required payment on submission of the unilateral agreement is that this will negate the need to provide the Land Registry Title information and any mortgagee does not need to sign the deed. In most cases this will save the applicant a considerable amount of time and legal costs.

The alternative option is a unilateral agreement with payment on commencement of development, however as stated above, up to date Land Registry Title information will be required with the submitted unilateral undertaking and if there is a mortgagee they will also need to sign the Deed.

Applicants/Agents should note that the provision of a completed Unilateral Undertaking does not mean that the planning application proposal is acceptable. It will still need to be assessed in relation to all other material planning considerations.

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