The use of robust scientific data alongside integrated ecology and recreation helped to reduce development pressure on a high-quality wildlife site by use of a Suitable Accessible
Natural Greenspace (SANG) designed in consultation with regulators. A shadow Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) was undertaken in line with the statutory guidelines and was adopted by the local authority.
Peter Village QC Legal Counsel at CEG, said: “This was a major triumph for the team and Baker Consultant’s approach of seamless integration of access and recreation consultancy on one hand and ecology on the other was critical to our success.”
Integrated ecology and recreation planning by Baker Consultants helped developers CEG and Carlyle Land Ltd through outline planning permission for 2,000 homes near to the Deben Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA).
In 2016 Baker Consultants teamed up with leading national developer CEG and Carlyle Lands Ltd to provide ecology and recreation input for the design of a major new residential scheme on the Suffolk coast near Ipswich. The outline planning application was for 2,000 homes situated close to the Deben Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA).
While the area was already used by local people and visitors for recreation there was concern that additional visitor pressure created by the development would have an adverse effect upon the SPA. The challenge was to minimise any potential impact by designing high quality recreational provision within the application site, which would also have significant biodiversity benefits and demonstrate the benign effect of the development to Natural England, the Local Planning Authority and local residents.
The proposed development site (and former quarry and farmland) covered 113 ha. The SPA was less than 2 km from the edge of the application site, with two other SPAs within 10km.
Specialist advice across both disciplines: An integrated approach from Baker Consultants led to more effective negotiations with regulators.
Survey work: Bird surveys were carried out on the SPA and within the development site to provide accurate up to date data on numbers and locations of birds, as well as a check on the site itself in terms of it being ‘functional land’ for SPA birds. At the same time, the estuary paths and public access points were surveyed to determine popularity and ease of use.
Research and information gathering: Investigation into existing recreational behaviour included checking all published research and survey material, speaking to recreational managers and walking all the public rights of way within the immediate vicinity of both the estuary and application site.
Planning Permission Consultation: Baker Consultants attended regular meetings with the Local Planning Authority and other stakeholders, providing a lead on ecology and recreation matters and in particular in the dealings with Natural England and engaged with the local community through public meetings.
Mitigation and enhancement proposals: Baker Consultants was instrumental in drawing up the specifications for the Suitable Accessible Natural Greenspace or SANG within the application site, which was fundamental to the success of the project. It was vital that the proposed development worked together with the strategic access and recreation aims of the local authorities in terms of encouraging sustainable travel and improving the connectivity of the local public right of way network.
Working with Natural England throughout the process, Baker Consultants were able to ensure the SANG successfully met all essential and many desirable criteria from the SANG checklist.
Designing Suitable Accessible Natural Greenspace (SANG): The SANG covered over 25 ha of the application site with a core block at the heart of the development, representing the hub of the recreational and biodiversity enhancement. Baker Consultants worked with the project’s landscape team to design a high-quality area of greenspace centred around an existing lake and including the restoration of an area of native heathland – with significant biodiversity gains in its own right. New paths and open space were designed to link with existing rights of way and planned residential areas.
Baker Consultants liaised closely with Natural England (NE) throughout the process, so that the SANG successfully met both the essential and many of the desirable criteria of NE’s SANG checklist. In particular, that the layout and nature of the SANG would be convenient and attractive for dog-walkers, maximising the likelihood that it would be used by residents for routine daily dog-walks, and thus discouraging visits to the estuary with the potential disturbance this may have to SPA birds.
In Natural England’s consultation response quoted in the Planning Officer’s report stated,
“The green Infrastructure area is of a significant size (25ha), and is designed to a high-quality standard, with appropriate provisions for dog walking including a variety of walking routes, signage and promotion, dog bins and off-lead areas.”
Shadow Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA)
Baker Consultants carried out a shadow HRA for the application. The assessment is based upon ecological data but also assesses potential impact pathways such as recreation. The Council considered the shadow HRA appropriate and formally adopted the assessment as its own.
The outline planning application was approved unanimously by the planning committee. The project went on to win the 2019 Planning Award for Placemaking on the category of Best Housing Scheme (500 homes or more)
The project demonstrated that, despite proximity to a sensitive ecological site, an integrated and evidence-led approach can successfully mitigate against potentially harmful impacts. Baker Consultants was able to provide the client with a specialist package that combined survey work, design and strategic development across two key disciplines – ecology and recreation – that ultimately allowed the development to proceed with a high-quality biodiversity and recreational component.
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