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Development Impacts on Protected Areas

Recreational Impacts from new development on internationally designated nature conservation sites

Much of the New Forest National Park is home to rare habitats and birds and has been designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Areas (SPA) and as Ramsar sites (wetlands). Consequently, applicants and decision makers must consider how development proposals could impact these areas and ensure they are not adversely affected.

All new residential development and visitor accommodation throughout the New Forest National Park will require mitigation for their recreational impacts on these protected sites to ensure legal compliance.

All new residential development and visitor accommodation within 5.6 kilometres of the Solent SPA, SAC and Ramsar sites will also require mitigation for recreational impacts on these coastal designated sites.

Specific tests within the Habitats Regulations, including an appropriate assessment of the potential impacts, ensure that new development can only proceed if it is ascertained that the proposed development will not adversely affect the integrity of the protected sites. All applications for new residential and visitor accommodation will require an appropriate assessment of their likely significant effects on the sites.

Mitigation can take the form of a financial contribution to the relevant habitat mitigation schemes or through bespoke measures provided by the applicant that can be certain will fully mitigate the impacts on the designated site.

The need for mitigation

All new proposed development needs to be assessed to determine whether it could affect the integrity of these designated sites through:

  • recreational impacts resulting from new housing and visitor accommodation
  • urban edge impacts of new development very close to the boundary of a site
  • the range of other impacts outlined in the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) of the Local Plan.

The HRA summarises the research of potential impacts on designated sites in the National Park.

The HRA of the Local Plan concluded that prior to mitigation, in combination adverse effects on the integrity of the New Forest SPA and SAC from recreation pressure cannot be ruled out as a result of any residential or visitor accommodation development within the National Park. Consequently, mitigation is required for all proposals for new residential and visitor accommodation for their recreational impacts on these New Forest designated sites.

This HRA also supports the evidence from the Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership (SRMP) that recreational impacts cannot be ruled out for any residential development within 5.6 kilometres of the Solent SPA, SAC and Ramsar sites that cover the coast. Therefore, mitigation will also be required for the recreational impacts on these coastal designated sites.

Complying with the Habitats Regulations and Local Plan Policies

The Authority has devised a package of appropriate mitigation measures in a Revised Habitat Mitigation Scheme SPD (see below) that will allow most residential and visitor accommodation proposals to mitigate their recreational impacts on the New Forest SPA / SAC. Financial contributions will be used to implement a range of measures that will mitigate the recreational impacts of new development on the designated sites. This approach is supported by Natural England.

This Revised Habitat Mitigation Scheme SPD was adopted in July 2020 and provides guidance on the implementation of Policy SP5 of the Local Plan: Nature conservation sites of international importance. It outlines how recreational impacts on the protected New Forest nature conservation sites can be mitigated through a financial contribution to the Revised Habitat Mitigation Scheme.

This SPD replaces the Habitat Mitigation Scheme contained in Chapter 6 and Annex 5 of the Development Standards SPD (2012) and reflects the higher level of development planned in the new Local Plan, recognition that mitigation is required for the lifetime of the development, and the latest evidence on mitigating impacts.

In relation to the coastal Solent SPA and SAC designations, mitigation can be provided through the SRMP Recreation Mitigation Strategy and developers can make a contribution to this SRMP scheme to ensure mitigation for their proposals (in most cases). Please see the Solent Recreation Mitigation Strategy Note for details of how to do this. This note is updated in April each year to reflect the revised level of developer contributions required to deliver the identified mitigation measures.

Policy SP5 in the adopted Local Plan (2019) sets out the planning policy requirements for development to avoid impacts on the protected habitat sites. The revised Habitat Mitigation Scheme SPD outlines the types of development that will require mitigation, including all new residential development and visitor accommodation throughout the National Park. While developments covered by permitted development do not need planning permission, they must still comply with the Habitats Regulations and therefore these types of development may also require mitigation. This will affect any permitted development that could create additional recreational visits to the protected conservation areas. Please contact the Planning Team for advice.

It should also be noted that there may be developments where, due to their scale, type, or proximity to the designated sites, avoidance or mitigation or a contribution to a Habitat Mitigation Scheme may not be possible.

Monitoring and Reporting

Reporting of the funds raised through developer contributions and how this is being spent on mitigation measures is included in the Annual Monitoring Report.

More New Forest Planning policy

Planning policy is a key statutory function and plays a central role in the achievement of the two National Park purposes and the related socio-economic duty.

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