District Local Plan Review

District-Wide Policies Index

Settlement Policies Index

Chapter 8

Natural Environment

Introduction
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8.1 The Forest of Dean remains largely rural in character, despite a long history of mineral extraction and processing in the southern part of the District. The majority of the land area is in agricultural or forestry use.
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8.2 The diversity of the underlying geology of the District has helped to create a rich variety of landscape types. Upland areas cover a large proportion of the south of the District, bordered on the west by the deeply incised valley of the River Wye and to the east by the more open landscape of the River Severn. The north of the District is characterised by an open, rolling agricultural landscape.
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8.3 The District Council has produced a Forest of Dean Landscape Assessment (1991), identifying 15 different landscape areas in the District, each with its own character.
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8.4 One of the landscape areas is the ancient Forest of Dean, which traces its history back to its use as a Royal hunting forest. In 1938 the Forestry Commission designated the 10,700 hectares of the Forest of Dean and the adjacent woodlands of the Wye Valley as the first National Forest Park in England. This recognised both the scenic value of the woodland landscape and the desirability of promoting the recreational role of the Forest.
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8.5 The District includes a substantial part of the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and a small area of the Malvern Hills AONB. The original proposals for the Wye Valley AONB were drawn up by the Hobhouse Committee in 1947 and included most of the southern part of the Forest of Dean District. Although the boundaries of the AONB were eventually drawn more tightly, it is clear that the areas excluded were considered at that time to be of significant value in landscape terms. This view was later reinforced by the designation of an Area of Great Landscape Value in the County Development Plan, and a listing of Special Landscape Areas in the Structure Plan, both of which reflect the conclusions of the Hobhouse Committee.
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8.6 The landscape qualities of this area have been further reinforced by a study in 1999 (Forest of Dean - Review of Special Status). This study was commissioned by the Countryside Agency. Its conclusions support the case for a recognition of the special landscape qualities of the southern upland areas of the Forest of Dean. The Countryside Agency is currently considering its response to the study.
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8.7 The predominantly lowland agricultural areas of the District have their own special qualities. The land adjacent to the River Severn is considered to be a unique landscape of visual and natural history value, which affords qualities of distinctiveness, rurality and tranquillity and is particularly sensitive to development. Further north, the lowland agricultural area is more akin to the rest of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. It is a generally fertile, rich and well managed landscape with its origins in the enclosures of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The legacy of vernacular buildings and settlements reflects the rich agricultural past.
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8.8 The geology and variety of land uses have resulted in a wide range of wildlife habitats, including nature conservation sites of International, National and Countywide importance. In order to provide some general guidance and an insight into the general landforms and natural habitats that are present throughout the country, English Nature has defined a series of Natural Areas which complement the Countryside Agency's Character Areas (which are general areas of similar landscape character). Each of the Natural Areas has a characteristic range of landscapes, vegetation and animal communities. The Natural Areas related to the District are the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley, the Severn Vale and the Malvern Hills.
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8.9 Both English Nature and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust recognise the Forest of Dean as an important area of nature conservation interest, as illustrated by the large number of sites identified for their nature conservation importance within the District. Site designations include Ramsar Sites and Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation (inclusive of candidate designations), National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. These are complemented by a number of non-statutory sites variously managed as Nature reserves by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Woodland Trust and Forest Enterprise. There are also a large number of locally designated Key Wildlife Sites (Sites of Nature Conservation Importance) identified by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.
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8.10 Important sites for nature conservation within the District include:-
  1. The Severn Estuary, which contains two sites of Special Scientific Interest, namely the Upper Severn and Severn Estuary sites. Both are designated Ramsar Sites, Special Protection Areas, and possible Special Areas of Conservation. The Upper Severn Estuary is an important wintering site for wild fowl whilst the Estuary as a whole is an important run for migratory fish. The coastal zone abutting the estuary is the subject of a Policy which identifies the need to provide additional protection from development for this vulnerable area.
  2. Walmore Common SSSI, a Ramsar Site and Special Protection Area important for regularly supporting a wintering population of Bewick swans and several other species of wildfowl.

  3. Caerwood, Dean Hall coach house and cellar, Sylvan Barn and Blaisdon Hall, are all examples of SSSI=s which form part of a candidate Special Area of Conservation for Greater and Lesser Horseshoe Bats for which the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean are internationally important.

  4. National Nature Reserves at Highbury Wood and Lady Park Wood both of which are included on the list of candidate Special Areas of Conservation.

  5. The Wye Valley Woodlands consisting of 8 SSSIs notified for their woodland interest forming part of a candidate Special Area of Conservation together with a number of sites in Gwent. These sites include The Hudnalls, Upper Wye Gorge and Shorn Cliff and Caswell Woods. The Wye Valley is also an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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8.11 A list of designated nature conservation sites is included as an Appendix to the Plan.
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Issues
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8.12 The strategy of the Plan Review concentrates new development primarily in the four towns of the District, and enables limited development in other villages. The principal development needs of the District over the Plan period have been provided for in these Plan policies and proposals. Development in the countryside therefore will be carefully controlled, in line with Government policy. The Plan strategy supports the conservation and enhancement of the countryside, its protection from inappropriate development, the promotion of biodiversity, and the protection and enhancement of sites and habitats of nature conservation importance.
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8.13 There are great pressures upon the agricultural industry to diversify into new activities and alter farming practices to increase returns. The most obvious examples of these changes are the conversion of redundant buildings, seeking new uses for agricultural land such as golf courses, and intensifying production through for example the removal of hedgerows. There is a need to deal with the changing nature of agriculture sympathetically to ensure the continuation of a well managed countryside. The nature of the change will need to be carefully assessed, in order to maintain the character of the different landscapes of the District.
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8.14 Much of the District is of considerable importance for outdoor recreation and tourism, in particular the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean. This inevitably leads to visitor pressures in some locations, together with a wider demand for facilities such as car parks, toilets, play areas, golf courses, attractions, accommodation and associated buildings. It will be important to ensure that these are sympathetic to their surroundings and draw on the history, culture and features of their setting for inspiration.
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8.15 Woodlands and forests are one of the most significant landscape features of the District. An important issue is to ensure that their future management maintains this contribution. Forest Enterprise in particular have a responsibility for large areas of woodland, including the Dean Forest Park. They are developing Forest Design Plans which will eventually cover all Forest Enterprise Woodland. These include all aspects of woodland management including a management plan for broadleaved woodland, archeological conservation, recreation and nature conservation. Woodland areas, particularly ancient semi-natural woodlands, are also of great value and interest for nature conservation.
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8.16 There are significant deposits of workable stone in the District, including locations adjoining the Wye Valley. Quarrying produces a significant localised impact in the process of winning the material. The transport of quarry materials extends the impact of this industry through the presence of large vehicles on the highway, particularly where routes pass through communities. The County Council is the Minerals Planning Authority and has placed a Minerals Local Plan on deposit. The District Council will work with the County Council to minimise the impacts of quarrying upon the landscape and local communities.
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8.17 The only working of coal deposits in the District is via a small number of active free-mines. These generally have little or no impact on the surrounding countryside. The District Council considers that proposals for the winning of coal by opencast methods will generally prove to be unacceptable, because of the impacts likely to arise on the landscape, on recreation and tourism, and on amenity generally in terms of the extent of lorry movements required to transport the coal.
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Strategic Framework
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8.18 The District Council will keep under review the issue of any further landscape and related designations for the Forest of Dean arising from the report on the case for Special Status for the southern part of the District.
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8.19 The Plan will adopt national planning guidance with respect to the priority to be given to the conservation of the natural beauty of the two AONB=s in the District, and the Council will continue to contribute to and support the active management of the AONB areas.
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8.20 Overall, the policies in the Plan Review with respect to the natural environment will seek to ensure that the rural economy is properly supported, while protecting the countryside from inappropriate development.
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8.21 The Plan policies will need to ensure the proper conservation and enhancement of the significant nature conservation interests in the District, as well as generally encouraging and enhancing biodiversity as part of the development process.
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8.22 The Plan strategy acknowledges the importance of protecting the countryside from inappropriate development and safeguarding it as a natural resource. This will include ensuring that development respects the key characteristics of the landscape, and that the natural environment is protected and nature conservation interests promoted. The Plan must also provide for essential development in the countryside and the social and economic well being of rural communities. The policies of the Plan will provide the framework for clearly identifying the interests to be taken into account when assessing the impact of development proposals upon the natural environment.

Objectives

  1. To protect the countryside from inessential development
  2. To promote biodiversity

  3. To conserve and enhance sites, habitats and species of nature conservation interest

  4. To sustain an attractive and diverse countryside and landscape, and a sustainable rural economy.

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Policies and Proposals
Protection of the Countryside
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(R)FNE.1

In order to protect the open countryside development will be strictly controlled and will only be permitted where a location in the countryside is essential for the use proposed, and where the development:

  1. Does not result in the unacceptable loss of the best and most versatile agricultural land, or woodland
  2. Does not create amenity problems for adjoining or nearby land users
  3. Is not visually intrusive nor detracts from the character and appearance of the landscape
  4. Does not result in structures of a scale, form, design or appearance that would be visually intrusive or detrimental to the character and appearance of the area
  5. Does not result in an unacceptable impact on the biodiversity of the area or on sites or features of archaeological or historic importance
  6. Does not create unacceptable traffic generation or highway safety problems
  7. Makes proper provision for vehicular access and parking
  8. Makes provision for a high standard of landscaping and screening to assimilate the development into its surroundings
  9. Ensures that adequate services exist, or are reasonable accessible, or can be readily and economically provided.

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8.23 A fundamental aim of the Plan is to protect the open countryside from unnecessary development. Without such control the cumulative impact of development would lead to an irretrievable erosion of the landscape character and quality of the Forest of Dean District. This policy seeks to ensure that only development requiring a countryside location will be permitted in the countryside, an approach supported by Government advice in published Planning Policy Guidance.
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8.24 The Plan provides for development opportunities throughout the District in the towns and villages where employment, housing and other facilities can be provided close together. With a concentration of development in the towns and larger villages there is no general need for new development to encroach upon the open countryside.
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8.25 Some development proposals may well require a location in the countryside, including agriculture, horticulture, forestry, recreation, leisure and tourism. Other policies in the Plan recognise the exceptional circumstances in which these uses in the countryside may be permissible.
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Conservation and Enhancement of Landscape and Natural Character
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(R)FNE.2

Proposals for development in the countryside must have regard to conserving and enhancing the key characteristics of their surroundings with respect to landscape, wildlife and natural features and particularly in the Special Landscape Area identified on the Proposals Map. Where the surrounding landscape has suffered decline proposals must have regard to incorporating measures for enhancement.

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8.26 Within built-up areas planning policies seek to ensure that development has regard to the character of its surroundings. The same approach is appropriate to development in the open countryside, and can be even more essential given the generally undeveloped nature of the countryside where new buildings or uses may be potentially more intrusive.
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8.27 The District Council will adopt a Landscape Character Appraisal of the Forest of Dean as supplementary planning guidance, which will be placed on deposit with the Plan. The Landscape Appraisal identifies 15 different areas of the District, each of which is identified on a map within the document. Each of the 15 areas has an accompanying description of the nature of the landscape, the key characteristics thereof, and the issues to be addressed in considering development or enhancement proposals. The District Council will have regard to this guidance in the application of the above policy, and will also take account of the contents of the Character Map prepared by English Nature and the Countryside Agency. The Landscape Types identified by the Council are listed below.

List of Landscape Character Areas

  1. Forest of Dean
  2. Forest Fringes and Settlements
  3. Undulating Plateau
  4. Wye Valley
  5. St. Briavels Common
  6. Severn Escarpment: Upper Wooded Slopes
  7. Severn Escarpment: Lower Undulating slopes
  8. Severnside Grazing Marshes
  9. Ridges and Valleys
  10. Limestone Hills
  11. Leadon River Valley
  12. Rolling Agricultural Plains
  13. Sandstone Hills
  14. Malvern Hills
  15. Hereford Country

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8.28 Policy NHE.5 of the Structure Plan (Second Review) provides for the protection of the landscape and character of Special Landscape Areas, including the upland western and southern parts of the Forest of Dean District. The general area concerned is indicated on the Key Diagram accompanying the Structure Plan. The Local Plan identifies a precise boundary for this Special Landscape Area. It comprises seven of the fifteen landscape character areas listed above in paragraph 8.27, namely the Forest of Dean, Forest Fringes and Settlements, Undulating Plateau, Wye Valley, Severn Escarpment: Upper Wooded Slopes, Ridges and Valleys and the Limestone Hills.
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8.29 The study commissioned by the Countryside Agency (Forest of Dean - Review of Special Status) broadly defined a similar area to that above as being of a high landscape quality, and meriting national recognition. This itself echoes the views of the Hobhouse Committee in 1947. Overall therefore there has been a consistency of view that a large area of the southern part of the District merits special recognition as an area of high landscape quality. This area is therefore identified as a Special Landscape Area on the Proposals Map, where the requirements of the above policy will have particular relevance in enuring the conservation and enhancement of the particular qualities of the landscape.
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Protection of Important Natural Features
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(R)FNE.3

Proposals for new development will be required to retain and enhance important natural features such as ponds, river valleys, watercourses, hedgerows and trees. Where appropriate the submission of a landscaping scheme will be required with the planning application to show how this will be achieved. Where the loss of some natural feature is unavoidable, and its loss is not so severe in itself as to render the proposal unacceptable, replacement features of an at least comparable standard will be required as part of the development proposal.

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8.30 This policy is complementary to Policy (R)FNE.2. The latter primarily is concerned with a broader definition of landscape types and their key characteristics. An awareness of these key characteristics provides a general context for the design of development proposals to ensure that they have regard to their setting. Policy (R)FNE.3 is concerned primarily with the immediate site and surroundings of a development proposal, and the need to assess the specific features of that site.
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8.31 The effects of new development on the landscape can be positively mitigated by ensuring that important natural features of the site are retained and enhanced wherever possible. Development proposals therefore should demonstrate how such features can be incorporated into a design, as well as showing the means by which replacement features can be provided if any are lost. Opportunities for opening up culverted watercourses should be taken where appropriate.
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8.32 In some instances the natural characteristics of a site will be considered of such importance that it will be necessary to identify at the outset how a proposal for development will affect these features. In these circumstances a landscaping scheme will be required in the early stages of consideration of a planning application. The use of native trees and shrubs in landscaping proposals will be encouraged.
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Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
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(R)FNE.4

In the Wye Valley and the Malvern Hills AONBs priority will be given to the conservation of the natural beauty of the landscape. Development which would harm the natural beauty of the landscape will not be permitted. Major industrial or commercial development will only be permitted where it cannot be located elsewhere and is justified by proven national interest.

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8.33 AONB's are statutory designations, comprising areas where the landscape is considered to be of national importance. The 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act gives the aim of designation as >to preserve and enhance the natural beauty, natural features, flora and fauna=. It is anticipated that this aim will be achieved inter alia by a co-operative approach by Local Authorities, landowners and other interested parties, by the preparation and implementation of Management Plans, and by strict development control.
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8.34 The Wye Valley AONB was designated in 1971. It extends into the Counties of Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. Approximately 18% of the AONB (23 square miles) falls within the Forest of Dean District. In the north of the District, only a very small portion (5%) of the Malvern Hills AONB falls within the Forest of Dean District, comprising 2 square miles.
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8.35 The District Council will have regard to the stated statutory purposes of AONB designation when considering proposals for development in the AONB's, together with the guidance in the above policy which reflects national planning advice with respect to major industrial or commercial development.
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8.36 The District Council will continue to work closely with the Joint Advisory Committees of the two AONBs, and will co-operate in the implementation of their respective Management Plans.
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Protection of Agricultural Land
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(R)FNE.5

Development which would result in the loss of the best and most versatile agricultural land (MAFF Grades 1, 2 and 3A) will not be permitted unless the importance of the development outweighs the need to protect such land and, where there is a choice of site within these grades, the lowest grade of land suitable for the development is used.

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8.37 Only about one third of agricultural land in England and Wales is classified as Grades 1, 2 and 3A by the Ministry of Agriculture. This is the land which is the best and most versatile for agricultural production, and is an important resource to be protected. Development should take place on land of lower quality wherever it is possible. To accommodate the future needs of the Forest of Dean it has been necessary to make a number of housing and industrial allocations on greenfield sites, some of these being on high grade agricultural land. The concept of sustainable development does not preclude the possibility of developing greenfield sites. However, exceptions should only be made where the need for the development outweighs the need to protect the land in question.
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3.38 In judging whether or not this is the case, the Council have undertaken appropriate consultations in order to establish both the importance of the agricultural land concerned and the importance of the development proposals. This Policy will always be a fundamental consideration when considering any proposal affecting the higher grades of land, because when such land is lost from agricultural production through development it is seldom possible to consider that it will ever be returned to that use. Within the protected grades, the higher quality land will generally be given priority for protection. While at present policies such as Aset aside@ operate to assist in regulating agricultural production, these policies generally would enable such land to be returned to agriculture. It should not be assumed that potentially productive agricultural land may not be required to return to agriculture in future.
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8.39 In considering proposals for development under this policy it will be a material consideration to assess the effect of the proposal upon the viability of the farm unit, and surrounding holdings, as a development may have a serious effect by introducing for example incompatible uses, nuisances, or loss of important buildings or parts of a holding. All these factors can lead to a cumulative loss of productive farm land.
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Protection of the Coastal Zone
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(R)FNE.6

Proposals for development within the undeveloped coastal zone as defined on the Proposals Map will not be permitted except where essential to agriculture.

Proposals for development within the developed coastal zone as defined on the Proposals Map and which require a coastal location will be permitted only where they:

  1. Are not within flood risk areas
  2. Do not increase the risk from flooding, erosion or land instability
  3. Do not require additional sea or tidal defence works prior to or over the lifetime of the development
  4. Do not alter the water table
  5. Do not alter the integrity of the sea or tidal defence works, or the ability of the responsible body to maintain them
  6. Do not have an unacceptable impact on the conservation value of the coastal zone especially international and national designated areas.

Where it is considered that a development would have a significant impact upon the coastal zone then an Environmental Impact Assessment will be required to accompany the proposal.

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8.40 The coastal environment is susceptible to change as a result of human activities. Current Government advice (Planning Policy Guidance 20: Coastal Planning) emphasises that development requirements should be reconciled with the need to protect, conserve, and where appropriate, improve the landscape, environmental quality, wildlife habitats and recreational value of the coast. Therefore any development along the Severn estuary must safeguard its ecological value and its conservation for the enjoyment of future generations. The Severn Estuary is a designated Ramsar Site, Special Protection Area and candidate Special Area of Conservation. As a result the area will benefit from protection under other sections of the Local Plan. Inter-Agency work is progressing to prepare a Severn Estuary Strategy and Management Plan. The District Council will continue to support and encourage the preparation of this Plan.
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8.41 The eastern boundary to the Forest of Dean District from Minsterworth to Beachley is formed by part of the Severn Estuary. The coastal lowlands in this area are essentially low-lying, open and rural and retain much of their natural character. It is a distinctive and very sensitive landscape which cannot easily absorb change and would be particularly vulnerable to intrusive new build development. The main exception within the coastal zone are the already developed areas, which are shown as such on the Proposals Map.
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8.42 Proposals that require a coastal location will be directed to the developed part of the coastal zone where other development will also be permissible where it accords with the policies of the Plan. Within the developed coastal zone planning applications that are likely to have a significant effect on the coastal environment must be accompanied by an assessment of the environmental impact of the proposal.
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8.43 The coastal zone for the Forest of Dean is shown on the Proposals Map.
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Definition of the Coastal Zone
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8.44 The coastal zone extends seaward and landward of the coastline. For the purposes of the District Local Plan the limit of the coastal zone in the seaward direction is the mean low water mark and the limit of the coastal zone in a landward direction is based on information supplied by the Environment Agency which uses as a starting point the area covered by the West Gloucestershire Internal Drainage Board. The coastal zone has been divided into two parts, the developed coastal zone and the undeveloped coastal zone. The undeveloped coastal zone is essentially open countryside where the general assumption is the need to protect the environment from unnecessary development and where policy (R)FNE.6 will apply in conjunction with other relevant Plan policies. PPG 20 states that few developments require a coastal location.
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Promotion of Biodiversity
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(R)FNE.7

Proposals for development will be required to incorporate appropriate opportunities to enhance biodiversity. Particular emphasis will be placed on creating or enhancing habitats and populations of species identified as priorities in the Biodiversity Action Plans for Gloucestershire, the South West Region and the United Kingdom.

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8.45 It is expected by the government that Local Authorities will play a key role in the conservation of biodiversity. This can be achieved in part by the conservation and enhancement of key habitats as identified in the U.K. and South West Region Biodiversity Action Plans and in the Gloucestershire Biodiversity Action Plan. New development will be expected where possible to provide for the planned retention of existing habitats and wildlife features. Where appropriate, the creation or restoration of habitats will be encouraged as a part of new development. Guidance will be sought from English Nature or other organisations about the appropriateness of particular proposals.
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Sites of Special Scientific Interest - National and International
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(R)FNE.8

(a) International

Development not directly connected with or necessary to the management of a European site, proposed European site or a Ramsar site and which is likely to have a significant effect on the site (either individually or in combination with other plans or projects) will be subject to the most rigorous examination. Where it cannot be ascertained that the development would not adversely affect the integrity of the site it will not be permitted unless:

  1. There is no alternative solution; and
  2. there are imperative reasons of over-riding public interest for the development.

Where the site concerned hosts a priority natural habitat type and/or a priority species, development will not be permitted unless it is necessary for imperative reasons of human health or public safety or for benefits of primary importance for the environment.

Where development is permitted in accordance with the Habitats Regulations, the use of conditions or planning obligations will be considered in order to avoid and minimise harm to the site, to enhance the site=s nature conservation interest and to secure any compensatory measures and appropriate management that may be required.

(b) National

Development in or likely to have an adverse effect on a Site of Special Scientific Interest will be subject to special scrutiny. Where such development could have an adverse effect, directly or indirectly, on the special interest of the site it will not be permitted unless the reasons for the development clearly outweigh the harm to the special nature conservation value of the site.

In any case where development is permitted, harm to the nature conservation interest must be avoided where possible and minimised. The appropriate use of conditions or planning obligations will be considered in order to protect and enhance the site=s nature conservation interest and to provide appropriate compensatory measures and site management.

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8.46 Sites of Special Scientific Interest are areas of land or water identified by English Nature as being of outstanding value for their flora and fauna, geological or physiographical features. Since their conception in the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, statutory measures for the protection of the environment have been applied and strengthened by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, as amended by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1985.
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8.47 There are at present 39 designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest within the District which are listed in an Appendix to the Plan. Some have additional actual or proposed designations which give them international importance. Sites in this category are protected not only by national legislation but by European law or international convention for example. All the above sites contribute significantly to nature conservation interests and also to the amenity and quality of the landscape of the Forest of Dean District. All International and Nationally important sites as defined in the policy are shown on the District Plan Proposals and Inset plans.
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8.48 As a result of both their international and national importance, the Council will give priority to protecting these sites from development. Development proposals that are likely to have a significant effect on an identified site of international, national, or regional importance will not be permitted unless there are demonstrable reasons of overriding public interest. To determine whether an application (individually or in association with other proposals) is likely to qualify as having a significant impact upon the integrity of a site, the Council will take account of advice from English Nature and other appropriate bodies through the statutory consultation process for such sites.
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8.49 If it is determined that development will adversely affect the integrity of a site (ie. the coherence of its ecological structure and function as listed within Annex C of PPG.9), permission for development will be refused except in closely defined circumstances. The Council must be satisfied that in meeting the criteria outlined within The Conservation (Natural Habitats &c) Regulations 1994 (the Habitats Regulations), there are no alternative solutions to the proposal. These may include reasonable alternatives to the proposed development itself, or different, practical approaches which would have a lesser impact. An applicant will be required to show they have considered all solutions. The Council will be mindful of advice from English Nature in determining alternative solutions.
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8.50 If there do not appear to be alternative solutions to a proposed development, and the proposal site does not host a priority natural habitat or species as defined in The Habitats Regulations, permission will only be granted where the proposed development has to be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, inclusive of social and economic factors. Any proposal will need to demonstrate sufficient importance to override the ecological importance of the designation. If a site hosts a priority habitat or species, and there is no alternative solution to a proposed development, the only reasoned justification for the granting of planning consent are those relating to human health, public safety, or beneficial consequences of primary importance to the environment.
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8.51 In cases where planning permission is granted for a development proposal which would adversely affect the integrity of a Special Protection Area or Special Area of Conservation, Annex C of PPG 9 states that compensatory measures will be required from the applicant to meet the requirements of regulation 53 of The Habitats Regulations which requires the Secretary of State to secure the overall coherence of the community-wide network of Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation.
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8.52 Sites of Special Scientific Interest can be damaged or even destroyed by development that takes place outside their defined boundary. Consultation will also be required for any development within the immediate vicinity of a SSSI, or where an application is likely to affect the interests of either existing or proposed site designations. Specific consultation areas around sites of international importance are to be introduced by English Nature.
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Requirement for an Environmental Statement
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8.53 The European Community Directive on 'the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment' (85/337/EEC) came into effect in July 1988. Environmental Impact Assessment is an important technique for ensuring that the likely effects of new development on the environment are fully understood before development is allowed to proceed.
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8.54 There is a mandatory requirement for the submission of an environmental impact assessment statement for all development proposals listed within Schedule 1 of the Town and Country Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1988.
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8.55 Where a development proposal falls within Schedule 2 of the Regulations, and would be likely to have a significant environmental effect in respect of such factors as size, nature or location on any designated or proposed Ramsar Site or Special Protection Area, designated or candidate Special Area of Conservation, National Nature Reserve, or Site of Special Scientific Interest, the Council will require the submission of an environmental impact assessment with the proposal. Any form of development likely to have an adverse effect upon such sites will be required to include sufficiently detailed information so that the likely effects of the development can be properly assessed for its impact upon nature conservation interests. The Council will consult English Nature to determine the impact of such projects. The statement must be prepared by a professional and reputable source.
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8.56 Development proposals which are not identified within Schedule 1 or 2 of the Environmental Assessment Regulation, but would be likely to have an adverse affect on the nature conservation interests that occur on a site, will be required to submit additional information in order to ascertain the impact of development proposals on sites with acknowledged nature conservation interests.
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Sites of Local Nature Conservation Interest
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(R)FNE.9

Proposals for development affecting sites of local nature conservation interest will not be permitted unless:

  1. The key features of that interest would not be unacceptably damaged; or
  2. The use proposed can be limited to times of the year which are not sensitive to the continued existence of the main habitats or species for which the site was designated; or
  3. The development proposed is necessary in the public interest or in connection with the economic or social well-being of the locality in which case nature conservation features must be provided in compensation for those that would be lost or harmed as a result of the development.

In all these cases the unavoidable harm to nature conservation interests must be minimised.

Sites of Local Nature Conservation Interest are:

  1. Key Wildlife Sites identified by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust
  2. Local Nature Reserves
  3. Non-statutory nature reserves
  4. Ancient woodland inventory sites.
  5. Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGS)

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8.57 Sites of Local Nature Conservation Interest comprise designations awarded by local conservation organisations such as the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, national conservation bodies such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and local authorities. Sites identified by the Gloucestershire Wildlife trust, known as Key Wildlife Sites, are non-statutory site designations of nature conservation interest and are judged to comprise a significant proportion of Gloucestershire's irreplaceable wildlife habitats. Non-statutory nature reserves are reserves under the management of nature conservation organisations (RSPB, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust). Ancient woodlands are of great importance for their ecological and historical value and are identified in the Gloucestershire Inventory of Ancient Woodland.
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8.58 Where development proposals come forward which encompass part of or a complete Site of Nature Conservation Interest, the Council will look to the implementation of planning conditions or obligations in seeking to alleviate the effects of development on such sites. Examples of the implementation of planning conditions could include a restriction of times of operation, reducing conflicts between site operations and wildlife species that may exist on all or part of the site at certain times of the year, such as over-wintering bird populations, or, where areas of unimproved grassland may exist, it could be agreed that these areas be fenced off and protected when a prospective development takes place, together with agreeing and implementing a future management cycle and funding once development is complete. A thorough investigation of the impact of the proposed development upon the site must be carried out, in the appropriate seasons, and submitted with the planning application.
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8.59 In exceptional circumstances where a proposed development is deemed to be necessary in respect of overriding public interest, or in connection with the economic or social well-being of the locality, the Council will consult with the relevant nature conservation body in respect of determining the implementation of planning obligations in respect of the provision of compensatory nature conservation features for those lost when the development is implemented. It should be noted however, that in many instances habitats cannot be satisfactorily transferred or relocated. The aim overall is to ensure no net loss of biodiversity.
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8.60 Consideration will be given by the Council to the designation of Local Nature Reserves over the period of the Plan.
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Features of Habitat Interest
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(R)FNE.10

Proposals for development will be required to minimise the loss or significant alteration of features of habitat interest. Where development is permitted which would adversely affect features of habitat interest the permission will be conditional upon securing appropriate arrangements for the necessary creation or retention and the management of the habitats concerned. Features of habitat interest include heathland, hedgerows, woodland, unimproved grass land, marshes, water courses and their flood plains, ponds, parks, disused quarries, natural rock outcrops, and green lanes and wildlife corridors which because of their linear structure are important for the migration, dispersal or genetic exchange of wild flora and fauna.

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8.61 It is essential to protect wherever possible nature conservation features that do not fall within designated sites safeguarded by other policies of the Plan. It is recognised that the bulk of wildlife exists outside of designated sites. Reference should be made to the Gloucestershire Biodiversity Action Plan for information about habitats requiring protection.
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8.62 Through the implementation of the development control process, the Council will reinforce the need to protect and enhance the nature conservation interests of development sites. This can be achieved through planning conditions, Section 106 Agreements, or when considering landscape assessment proposals for a site.
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8.63 Developers must take account of existing features on development sites with the intention of 'working around' these features and retaining existing habitats. If it is impossible to retain existing site habitats/features, then provision should be made for the creation of new habitats elsewhere on the development site to ensure there is no net loss of biodiversity.
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8.64 The District Council will seek to complement this proposal through the designation of Tree Preservation Orders and highlighting the need for hedgerow/pond management where they form important habitat features. Agricultural hedgerow removal is controlled by the Hedgerow Regulations 1997. The Council will aim to ensure the retention of hedgerows identified as important under those Regulations.
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Species Protection
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(R)FNE.11

Development will not be permitted which would have an adverse effect upon a site supporting rare or endangered species protected by law, unless adequate provision is proposed to safeguard such species. Important populations of other species listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and the South West Region and Gloucestershire Biodiversity Action Plans will be protected wherever possible.

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8.65 Government advice and legislation highlight the need to protect and conserve the habitats of endangered species. This primarily concerns the protection of rare and endangered species as listed within the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 particularly those important in a local context within the District including bats, barn owls and great crested newts. The Council recognises the pressures put upon these species through habitat loss, pollution and changing agricultural trends and recognises the need for the protection of their dwindling numbers.
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8.66 In addition to the statutory protection of species, protection will be given wherever possible to important populations of other species listed in the above Biodiversity Action Plans. This will be achieved by a variety of methods including the application of planning conditions or agreements.
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Severn Estuary
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8.67 English Nature have established as a priority the preparation of Management Plans for England's estuaries as a means of co-ordinating action for the enhancement of these areas in the interests of wildlife and the local community. The Severn Estuary, a designated Ramsar Site, Special Protection Area and proposed Special Area of Conservation, is a particularly complex area in which to secure such coordination due to the very large number of bordering local authorities, across national boundaries. Its nature conservation interests have the statutory protection of the various designations but in management terms a co-ordinated approach is required because of the many and various bodies that currently share the role. The Forest of Dean District Council currently supports a group of relevant agencies preparing a Severn Estuary Strategy and management plan. In preparing a Management Plan consideration should be given to the defined coastal zones adjacent to the Estuary which are shown on the Local Plan Proposals Map and referred to in policy (R)FNE.6.
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Groundwater Protection
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(R)FNE.12

Proposals for development will not be permitted which would adversely affect the quantity or quality of groundwater resources or the management and use of these resources.

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8.68 The Environment Agency has responsibility for conserving and managing water resources, including groundwater resources. It has prepared national and regional water resource strategies, and Local Environmental Action Plans (LEAPs). It has also prepared a >Policy and Practice for the Protection of Groundwater=, with supporting maps defining groundwater protection zones, including identifying their vulnerability to pollution.
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8.69 Groundwater resources are an essential element in the provision of potable water supplies and in maintaining the base flow of rivers. Development which might affect these functions, including the proper future management of the resource, will not be permitted. The Council will have regard to the policies and information provided by the Environment Agency in assessing proposals for development and will note the fact that pollution of groundwater resources is almost invariably irrevocable.
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Development Affecting Surface and Coastal Waters
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(R)FNE.13

Proposals for development will not be permitted which would adversely affect the quality and ecology of rivers, watercourses and other bodies of water.

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8.70 Maintaining and enhancing the water quality of rivers, lakes, ponds and coastal waters is crucial to sustaining bio-diversity, ensuring human health and providing for a range of uses including recreation and the economy. The Environment Agency has published guidance on best practice with respect to the management of risks of pollution or damage to the water environment arising directly from development, or via surface water or sewerage systems. In particular the disposal of surface water run-off from development can be effectively managed by the adoption of sustainable drainage techniques. The Council will expect development proposals to have regard to the published advice of the Environment Agency, and will expect proposals to incorporate the recommended measures.
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8.71 Water bodies and coastal margins have the potential to provide facilities for water related recreation, which are growing activities. The policies for tourism, recreation and leisure provide a framework for assessing such developments. However, proposals will also need to comply with policy (R)FNE.13 to ensure the maintenance of the quality of the water body concerned.
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Forest of Dean District Local Plan Review, 1st Deposit Draft. July 2000


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