Woking Borough Council

CS8 Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Areas

In March 2005 the Government designated areas of heathland within the Thames Basin Heaths as Special Protection Area (TBH SPA) under European Directive 79/409/EEC (transposed into the UK Habitats Regulations). It has been identified as an internationally important habitat for three rare species of ground nesting birds; the Dartford Warbler, Nightjar and Woodlark. It covers areas of heathland which extend across 11 Local Authority areas in Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire and comprises a network of 13 sites. Three of the designated sites that make up the SPA are located, or part located in Woking Borough; part of Horsell Common, Sheets Heath (Brookwood) and part of Brookwood Heath. In addition close to Woking Borough are Chobham Common, Ockham and Wisley Common and Whitmoor Common which are also designated as TBH SPA. The delivery of this policy is set out in the TBH Delivery Framework by the TBH Joint Strategic Partnership and its partners.

The designation provides increased protection to a variety of rare birds and habitats and is a vital part of global efforts to conserve the world's biodiversity. The designation of SPA is part of a range of measures aimed at conserving important or threatened habitats and species. These internationally important sites of nature conservation value are to be given the highest degree of protection.

The SPA is shown on the Proposals Map.

CS8: Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Areas

The Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area is a European designated site which is accorded priority protection and conservation by Woking Borough Council.

New residential development which is likely to have significant effect on its purpose and integrity will be required to demonstrate that adequate mitigation measures are put in place to avoid any potential adverse effects. The measures will have to be agreed with Natural England who will help take a strategic approach to the management of the SPA.

The Council will take a precautionary approach to the protection and conservation of the SPA and development will only be permitted where the Council is satisfied that this will not give rise to a significant adverse effects upon the integrity of the SPA.

The Council will ensure that no sites are allocated or granted planning consent for (net) new residential development within the 400 metres exclusion zone of the Thames Basin Heath SPA because the impacts of such development on the SPA cannot be fully mitigated. New residential development beyond 400m threshold but within 5 kilometres of the SPA boundary (in a straight line) will be required to make an appropriate contribution towards the provision of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) and the Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMM). Details of how the contribution will apply are set out in the Council's Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area Avoidance Strategy 2010 - 2015.

An applicant may wish to provide SANG as part of development. Where that is the case, all relevant standards including standards recommended by Natural England should be met and a contribution will have to be made towards SAMM.

A minimum of 8 hectares of SANG land (after discounting to account for current access and capacity) should be provided per 1,000 new occupants.

Development of fewer than 10 dwellings should not be required to be within a specified distance of SANG land provided it is ensured that a sufficient quantity of SANG land is in place to cater for the consequent increase in residents prior to occupation of the dwellings.

Any proposal with potential significant impacts (alone or in combination with other relevant developments) on the Thames Basin Heaths SPA will be subject to Habitats Regulations Assessment to determine the need for an Appropriate Assessment.

Reasoned Justification

The TBH SPA contributes significantly to Woking's landscape character and wildlife value. In considering whether or not a development is likely to have an adverse effect on the SPA, the Council will adopt the precautionary principle and assume harm will occur until it is demonstrated to be otherwise.

Natural England, the Government's Advisor on issues concerning the natural environment, consider that the intensification of residential development up to a distance of 5 kilometres away from the SPA would result in a range of pressures with potentially adverse effects on the protected habitat. As a consequence, within 400 metres (linear) of the SPA it is not considered possible to avoid or mitigate the impacts of new development, and as such there will be a presumption against new residential development within this zone. Between 400 metres to 5 kilometres (linear) from the SPA, mitigation is required. Without mitigation, planning applications for new residential development within 5 kilometres of the SPA will be refused.

The mitigation is provided in the form of a financial contribution towards Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG). The purpose of SANG is to attract informal recreation users, such as walkers and dog walkers away from the SPA. SANGs will provide alternative open spaces for use by future occupants of development and existing residents to avoid the potential harm caused by more visitors to the SPA. SANG land can be new open space, or the improvement of existing open space to increase its capacity for informal recreation.

As part of the SPA mitigation, Natural England requested that all Local Authorities affected by the SPA designation collect a contribution per dwelling, in addition to the above SANG financial contribution, towards the SAMM of the SPA. This SAMM contribution will be used to implement an identified programme of works to mitigate the impacts of the proposed developments.

The policy does not cover commercial and industrial development and, in cases where it is considered that such proposals could impact on the SPA, advice will be sought from Natural England.

Information about SANG land and financial contributions is set out in greater detail in the Thames Basin Heaths SPA Avoidance Strategy 2010-15 (known as the Avoidance Strategy). This document explains how avoidance may be achieved, the standards required and funding arrangements. The Avoidance Strategy is a living document which will be updated as new avoidance and mitigation measures are identified. This document will eventually be incorporated into a Supplementary Planning Document.

The effective avoidance and/or mitigation of any adverse effects must be demonstrated and secured prior to approval of the development.

Judgments will often be based on existing information. However, where this is unavailable or inadequate, further work will be necessary to confirm whether an application will have a significant impact.

Delivery strategy

This policy will be delivered by the Borough Council working with Natural England and other Local Authorities which share the Thames Basin Heaths SPA, to maintain an up to date Avoidance Strategy and ensure a consistent and coherent approach to mitigation.

Woking Borough Council will continue to be a member of and contributing to the Joint Strategic Partnership Board (a forum of Local Authorities affected by the TBH SPA and other interested groups, to develop a joint agreed approach to avoidance and mitigation measures).

Monitoring and review

  • No decrease in the total area designated of international importance, or a decline in their condition.
  • Status of the three protected bird species in the SPA.
  • The amount and type of SANG land available as set out in the Council's TBH SPA Avoidance Strategy.

Key evidence base

  • Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area Avoidance Strategy 2010-15.
  • Habitats Regulation Assessment, June 2011.
  • PPG17: Open space, Sport and Recreation Audit (2008).