Woking Borough Council

Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Areas Avoidance Strategy

In March 2005, the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA) was classified under the EC Birds Directive. It includes areas of heathland across Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire, covering 11 different local authorities, including Woking. The sites in Woking Borough are parts of Horsell Common, Sheets Heath and Brookwood Heath.

The SPA has been identified as an internationally important breeding habitat for three rare species of bird - the Dartford warbler, woodlark and nightjar.

Natural England has demonstrated that the new population arising from housing developments at a distance of up to 5km from this SPA can cause significant disturbance to the breeding success of these rare bird populations, due to the impact of residents recreational activities, particularly walking and walking with dogs. As a result, all housing developments within 5km of the SPA will now be subject to stringent tests and impact assessments.

As a statutory consultee on planning applications within 5km of an SPA, Natural England has the right to object to applications which it considers will have a negative impact on an SPA. However, it has established that impacts on the SPA can be avoided through the provision of suitable alternative natural greenspaces to divert recreational pressure away from the SPA. These alternative greenspaces can either be new or improved existing greenspaces.

Natural England has produced standards for the provision of suitable alternative natural greenspaces and Woking Borough Council has applied these to produce a strategy to enable housing developments to continue. In producing this Strategy officers have worked closely with Natural England.

Avoidance Strategy 2010 - 2015

The Thames Basin Heaths SPA Avoidance Strategy 2010-2015 applies to all planning applications submitted on and after 1 September 2010. Please note Table 2 within the Avoidance Strategy relating to payment of the tariff has been reviewed and can be found below.

The Avoidance Strategy contains an overview map of the Borough. A large detailed map of the Borough can be downloaded which shows individual dwellings.

In order to avoid harm to the SPA planning applications for residential development are expected to financially contribute towards works to improve existing greenspaces within the Borough. The Avoidance Strategy states that the tariff set out within it will be subject to annual review in line with the Retail Price Index.

The key elements of the Avoidance Strategy are:

  • Identification of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspaces (SANGS).

  • A schedule of improvements to the identified sites with a detailed timetable of works and costs. This enables developers to demonstrate how they will avoid harm to the SPA by linking their developments to site specific improvement works. A financial contribution will then be sought from the developer, through the completion of a section 106 agreement, to ensure improvements are undertaken.

  • Improvements will be provided at 8 hectares of open space per 1000 additional residents between 400m and 5km of the SPA. This is in accordance with Natural England's requirements.

  • It will be open to a developer to provide alternative open space directly rather than make a financial contribution. This open space will be assessed against Natural England's standards.

  • Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMM)

Avoidance Strategy tariff (April 2021 update)

The Thames Basin Heaths Joint Strategic Partnership Board (TBH JSPB) at its meeting on 19 November 2020 decided to increase the current average SAMM tariff from £630 to £796.95 to take effect from the beginning of the financial year 2021/2022. The letter sent by Natural England to confirm the increase of the tariff with the reasons for doing so can be accessed by visiting this link. Natural England’s letter had been sent to all the eleven Local Planning Authorities affected by the Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Area (Guildford, Bracknell Forest, Elmbridge, Rushmoor, Runnymede, Surrey Heath, Waverley, Woking and Wokingham Borough Councils, Hart District Council and Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead). The increase therefore does not apply just to Woking, but also to all the other districts and boroughs mentioned above.  In Woking, the increase would lead to an overall uplift of 4.5% of the current tariff, and will be applied differentially based on the size of the dwelling. This translates as set out below:

Size of dwelling (bedrooms)SAMM contribution per dwelling
Studio £552
1 £552
2 £748
3 £985
4 & over £1,143


If you are submitting amended plans or a revised application and have already paid the SPA contribution set out in the SPA Interim Strategy 2006, the earlier payment will be updated in line with the revised Tariff.

Joint Strategic Partnership Board

The Joint Strategic Partnership Board (made up of relevant local authorities, Natural England, Homebuilders Federation, RSPB, Open Spaces Society and Wildlife Trusts) has produced a Delivery Framework. Each affected authority has adopted the framework which details the introduction of SPA access management measures to inform visitors about the impacts their visits are having on rare birds, to encourage changes in behaviour.

Further information

For more information on Special Protection Areas visit the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website.

Advice is also available from Natural England on 01273 476595 or email Natural England. Natural England website http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/

Natural England have also produced a Strategic Access Management and Monitoring Project Tariff Guidance document.