Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC) – Interim Position Statement July 2018
What is the Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC)?
This note has been produced to provide an overview of the current planning context in relation to Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and implications for the determination of planning applications at the current time.
Epping Forest covers a large area of land within the District and much of the Forest is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Biodiversity features within, or associated with, these designations enjoy a high level of protection under UK and EU Law and UK planning policy. Epping Forest SAC is considered a ‘European Site’ and as such an assessment, known as a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA), is required for any development plan or proposal to ascertain whether it will have a likely significant effect on the site.
What is the Council’s role with regards to the SAC?
The Council has a duty as the ‘competent authority’ under the Habitats Regulations to protect the Epping Forest SAC from the effects of development (both individually and cumulatively). Two specific issues in particular have been identified that could have a likely significant effect on Epping Forest SAC. These being
- The result of increased visitors to the Forest arising from new development.
- The result of damage to the health of the flora, including trees and potentially the heathland habitats, from air pollution generated by vehicles.
As part of the work required to produce the Mitigation Strategy, a visitor survey was undertaken to identify a recreational zone of influence and to identify the distance the majority of visitors will travel to visit Epping Forest SAC. This report identified that 75% of visitors traveled up to 6.2km to the SAC. Therefore in this interim period a zone of influence of 6.2km is being used to determine whether residential applications will have a recreational impact on Epping Forest SAC.
Unlike the findings of the visitor survey the potential impacts from air pollution applies to developments of all types in all locations within the District. Therefore in this interim period all residential and employment proposals within Epping Forest District will likely have an air pollution impact on Epping Forest SAC.
How are the Council addressing these impacts?
The Council is currently liaising with Natural England and the Conservators of Epping Forest and other authorities affected in order to agree a Mitigation Strategy to mitigate the above effects. The measures required have not yet been established but need to be agreed and in place prior to the determination of relevant planning applications.
The Council and partner organisations continue to make good progress in the production of the Joint Strategy, however in the meantime there are implications for the determination of planning applications in the District.
What are the implications of the SAC at the current time?
Due to the above, at the current time the Council cannot grant planning permission on any planning applications resulting in additional residential development which are within 6.2km of Epping Forest SAC and all proposals that result in additional residential and/or employment development within the entire District likely to have an air pollution impact on Epping Forest SAC (when considered alone and in combination with other plans/projects), until such a time that an appropriate financial contribution to mitigate against the adverse impact that it will have on the Epping Forest SAC has been agreed.
Are there any exceptions to the above?
The only exceptions to the above are
- For developments outside of the 6.2km zone of influence (i.e. where there is no risk of recreational pressure) and where an Air Quality Assessment has been submitted providing full justification that the development will not result in any increase in air pollution or that the impacts from air pollution would be adequately mitigated. All submitted information would need to be agreed by Natural England prior to determining an application.
- For any developments whereby the applicants have agreed to enter into a legal agreement to pay a financial contribution towards appropriate mitigation measures. At the current time the monetary figure has not yet been determined and therefore the Council can only resolve to grant planning permission subject to a legal agreement. It will not be possible to finalise the legal agreement or issue a decision notice until the mitigation strategy and the financial contributions required have been agreed.
What are the next steps?
The Council recognises the need to significantly boost the supply of housing in the District, and recognises the potential difficulties posed by this matter. However the Council must carefully consider the Habitat Regulations in its role as competent authority in determining planning applications.
The Council and partner organisations continue to work proactively to progress the production of a Joint Strategy and to facilitate the delivery of housing in accordance with the emerging Local Plan, and once the Joint Mitigation Strategy is agreed it will be put in place as soon as possible.