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3 / NATURAL ENVIRONMENT

NATURAL ENVIRONMENT POLICIES

Policy NE1 Sites of special scientific interest

Policy NE2 Species protected by law

Policy NE3 Sites of local importance

Policy NE4 Trees and hedges

Policy NE5 Tree Preservation Orders

Policy NE6 Woodland

Policy NE7 Wildlife corridors

Policy NE8 Replacement provision

Policy NE9 Conservation management

Policy NE10 Contributions to nature conservation

Policy NE11 Access to the countryside and interpretation facilities

Policy NE12 Landscaping in association with development

Policy NE13 Landscape management and protection

Policy NE14 Area of Great Landscape Value

Policy NE15 River Protection Area

Policy NE16 Flooding

Policy NE17 Open spaces

Policy NE18 Character of built areas

Policy NE19 Wyboston Land Settlement Association Area

Policy NE20 Landscape and environmental improvement

Policy NE21 Forest of Marston Vale

Policy NE22 Bedford Linear Park

Policy NE23 Bedford River Valley Park

Policy NE24 Protection and enhancement of water resources

Policy NE25 Pollution

Policy NE26 Agricultural land quality

Policy NE27 Wildlife habitats-v-agricultural land

Policy NE28 Land contamination

Policy NE29 Uncertain consequences of proposals

INTRODUCTION

3.1 The natural environment comprising land, water, air and associated assets, supports all mankind’s activities by providing for his needs whether this be for food, shelter, the material for economic goods, or places for relaxation or leisure. One of the key roles of planning is to balance the need for development with the need to protect and conserve the environment. Since the Rio Summit in 1992 and more recently the Johannesburg Summit in 2002 this role, in recognition of the increasing pressures on the natural environment, has taken on far greater importance, as the relationship between local actions and their global consequences is recognised. The Summit endorsed the concept of sustainable development as a guiding principle for assessing future development. This is fundamental to the strategy underlying this plan and the Borough Council intends to follow this principle when considering development proposals.

3.2 There are several definitions of sustainability, all of which seek to protect the environment while meeting the needs of the present, in order to avoid compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Within this broad context, this chapter identifies those natural assets that are potentially at risk and capable of influence through the planning system. Greatest protection needs to be given to irreplaceable assets. Other assets critical to the concept of sustainability will be protected and in some cases where displacement is unavoidable replacement will be required. The overall result will therefore be to enrich the quality of the whole countryside and other natural areas in the Borough.

KEY ISSUES

3.3 Thus the chapter addresses the following key issues:

  1. The protection of environmental resources, to ensure that the environment is preserved for the benefit of future generations.

  2. The protection and enhancement of finite and irreplaceable resources.

  3. The protection, enhancement and where necessary the replacement of critical resources.

  4. The achievement of overall environmental protection and enhancement through developer contributions where necessary and appropriate.

  5. The identification of areas where particular efforts are required to restore derelict or despoiled areas and landscapes.

  6. The protection and enhancement of the river environment as a fundamental part of the natural environment.

  7. 7 To improve and safeguard the quality of the existing landscape and to require a high standard of landscape design with new development.

  8. To improve accessibility to the natural environment for all.

  9. The resolution of the competing demands on the environment.

NATURE CONSERVATION

3.4 Areas or sites of natural history interest form important habitats in both urban and rural areas. Nature conservation interests will be a material consideration in determining planning applications.

3.5 Both County and Borough authorities keep a wide range of detailed information on sites of known natural history interest. Details such as the location of particular plants, animals or geological features are included. In view of their value and fragility these sites are considered worthy of protection. The Borough Council will identify relevant sites and will seek their protection.

3.6 Our natural wildlife heritage is not confined to the various statutorily designated sites. There is a continuous hierarchy of nature conservation interest throughout the countryside and in urban areas. The survival of the nation’s wildlife cannot be achieved solely by site protection. It also relies on sympathetic management practices aimed at conserving the environment and improving its quality throughout the countryside. Many features of natural history interest must be afforded protection. These can include ponds, hedgerows, green corridors, trees, copses, woodland, archaeological features, verges, grassland, watercourses and former mineral workings and areas of neglected land not identified for built development. Care will be taken on the edge of urban areas and villages to avoid developments affecting areas of wildlife interest and to maintain the continuity of wildlife corridors. Special attention will be paid to those areas supporting valued flora and fauna, both of local and national interest.

3.7 In June 1996, the Borough Council adopted its draft Nature Conservation Strategy. This document contains the Council’s policy and programme for the protection and enhancement of the natural environment. The strategy will guide the Council’s continuing commitment in the management of its own land. The Council will encourage other land owners to adopt the management patterns laid out in the Strategy.

3.8 In addition, a number of Wildlife Priority Areas have been identified in the County and these represent concentrations of wildlife habitats and important biogeographical features where positive action will produce the most significant benefits. Within the Borough, the main areas of relevance are the River Great Ouse Valley and the North Bedfordshire Ancient Woods.

3.9 The degree of protection afforded to sites with nature conservation value will depend on their identified international, national or local importance.

SITES OF INTERNATIONAL IMPORTANCE

3.10 These sites are subject to the most rigorous examination and development on or affecting them will be allowed only exceptionally. No such sites have been identified in Bedford Borough.

SITES OF NATIONAL IMPORTANCE

3.11 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) form a national network of sites given statutory protection under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). The SSSI network alone does not contain a sustainable wildlife resource but the sites represent the best examples of biological, geological or landform features which must be protected if the biodiversity of Britain is to be maintained. SSSI account for just 1.2% of the land area of Bedfordshire compared to an average for England as a whole of 6.8%. There are just eight SSSI in Bedford Borough and these are shown on the Proposals Map.

3.12 Consultation with English Nature is required for any proposal which may affect an SSSI. Development outside SSSI can adversely affect the special interest within a site. Consultation areas around SSSI are defined by English Nature. These normally extend for 500 metres although in important or sensitive cases they can extend for up to 2 kilometres. Consultations with English Nature may be required beyond these limits where major developments are involved.

3.12a There will be a strong presumption against developments which either directly or indirectly adversely affect an SSSI. Any proposal for development which may affect an SSSI will be subject to rigorous examination and such developments will be allowed only exceptionally. Where there is no acceptable alternative to development affecting an SSSI appropriate measures will be required to mitigate or compensate for the effects of the development.

POLICY NE1
The Borough Council will not permit development that may directly or indirectly destroy or adversely affect a designated or proposed Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) unless the reasons for the development clearly outweigh the nature conservation value of the site itself and the national policy to safeguard the network of such sites.
Where development is permitted the authority will consider the use of conditions or planning obligations to ensure the protection and enhancement of the site’s nature conservation interest.

3.13 The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 sets out the protection which is afforded to wild animals and plants. Certain plant and animal species, including all wild birds, are protected under the Act, with some being protected under their own legislation. The presence of a protected species is a material consideration in considering a development proposal likely to affect them.

POLICY NE2
The Borough Council will not permit development that may directly or indirectly destroy or adversely affect animal and plant species protected by law (ie. those protected by Schedules 1, 5 or 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended and by the Badgers Act 1992) unless the reason for development clearly outweigh the nature conservation value of the site and/or the national interest.
Where development is permitted the developer will be required, where possible, to take steps to secure the protection of such plants and animals. In doing this, conditions and/or planning agreements may be used to reduce disturbance to a minimum, to facilitate the survival of individual members of the species and to provide adequate alternative habitats to sustain at least the current levels of population.

SITES OF LOCAL IMPORTANCE

Local Nature Reserves

3.14 Local Nature Reserves are habitats of local significance and may be established by local authorities under Section 21 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. They can make a useful contribution to both nature conservation and to the opportunities available for the public to enjoy or learn about wildlife. Within the Borough, LNRs have been designated at Fenlake Meadows, Putnoe Wood, Mowsbury Hill north of Bedford, Browns Wood, Hill Rise, Bromham Lake and most recently at Brickhill Allotments (Park Wood). Further sites may be designated during the plan period.

County Wildlife Sites

3.15 To supplement statutory conservation measures, a County based tier of non-statutory wildlife habitat protection has been developed, known as County Wildlife Sites. They were designated following the Phase I habitat survey conducted by the Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust. The selection guidelines were modelled on those used by English Nature when assessing SSSIs (ie. sites representing the best in the County, those with high species diversity, sites with highly natural ecosystems or those containing rare, endangered or threatened species or habitats).

3.16 The whole length of the River Great Ouse flowing through the Borough is identified as a County Wildlife Site (see Proposals Map).

Regionally Important Geological/Geomorphological Sites (RIGS)

3.17 Many of the County’s best geological and physiographical sites are under threat. Those of national significance will be notified as SSSI but there is a need to identify and protect other sites in the county and regional context. These are termed ‘Regionally Important Geological/Geomorphological Sites’ and may include archaeologically sensitive areas. They are non statutory designations.

POLICY NE3
The Borough Council will not permit development that may
i) directly or indirectly destroy or adversely affect a Local Nature Reserve, County Wildlife Site or Regionally Important Geological/Geomorphological Site or
ii) destroy or have an adverse effect on other sites supporting national, regional or County Rare Species unless alternative provisions can be agreed or it can be clearly demonstrated that there are reasons for the proposal which outweigh the need to safeguard the nature conservation value of the site or feature.
In all cases such damage will be kept to a minimum and where appropriate the Borough Council will consider the use of conditions and/or planning obligations to provide compensatory measures.

TREES AND WOODLAND

3.18 In 1994, the Borough Council produced its Tree and Woodland Strategy. This strategy explains the Council’s commitment to the protection and enhancement of trees and woodlands in the Borough.

Trees

3.19 Trees have an important visual and ecological value both in urban and rural areas. Small groups or individual trees make an impact by their shape or form, by giving shelter, or by providing enclosure. In a built up area, trees will also soften hard outlines, link different man-made features, provide shade and seasonal variety.

3.20 When granting planning permission the Borough Council will consider the need for the retention, protection and planting of trees. Applicants should, therefore, provide information on accurate site plans showing the proposal, site levels, tree position and size, trees to be retained and felled, and the provision for new planting. Trees on adjacent sites close to boundaries should also be shown, as they may be affected by the development or may provide screening. Where a number of trees exist on site, the Council may require the submission of a detailed tree survey to aid decision making.

3.21 In general existing trees, shrubs and hedgerows should be retained. During demolition and development they will need protection and it may be necessary to agree a management plan. Particular attention should be paid to the resultant relationships between retained trees and buildings. It is important to ensure that adequate space is secured and that the trees’ survival is not prejudiced by problems such as shading and root damage. (see also paras 4.76 to 4.85 and Policies BE38, 39 and 40).

POLICY NE4
In considering proposals for development, the Borough Council will seek to protect and retain trees and hedges which it considers to be of amenity, landscape or wildlife significance. Where development is permitted, conditions will be applied and, where appropriate, legal agreements sought to:
i) secure landscaping, tree and hedgerow planting on or adjacent to such sites appropriate to the character of the development and its setting, including using native species of local origin where suitable;
ii) protect existing and new planting;
iii) secure structural planting where required;
iv) secure the conditions to allow existing or newly planted trees to grow unhindered to full maturity;
v) provide for the reinstatement or replacement of such features consequently lost or adversely affected.

Tree Preservation Orders

3.22 In order to protect trees in the landscape, local authorities can impose planning conditions for the retention of trees when granting planning permission. Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) can be made to retain an individual tree or groups of trees for their own value and in the interests of amenity. Trees within Conservation Areas are afforded special protection in that six weeks notice is required by the Borough Council before they can be felled or lopped. Where appropriate, the Borough Council will consider the use of Tree Preservation Orders to secure immediate protection for newly planted trees as part of an approved landscaping scheme.

POLICY NE5
The Borough Council will make and enforce Tree Preservation Orders, and/or use planning conditions where it considers trees are worthy of retention.

Woodland

3.23 Bedfordshire is one of the least wooded counties in the country. Most of the remaining woodland is found in the north west of the Borough and much is considered to be ancient semi-natural woodland, generally having been in existence since at least 1600AD. This woodland represents a significant landscape and wildlife resource.

3.24 New mixed woodland will be welcomed as an economic, leisure or amenity resource. The Borough Council will generally support and encourage the planting of new woodland, subject to there being no conflict with local plan policies, the surrounding landscape or with other environmental features. To ensure the long term health and vitality of trees and woodlands, active management is necessary. New plantings should be maintained to assist its successful establishment. Woodland can be a particularly good after-use for reclaimed derelict sites. Within the Borough there are also proposals for the creation of the Forest of Marston Vale (discussed in more detail at section

3.50 to 3.53a).

3.25 The Borough Council supports appropriate management practices which will retain and enhance the landscape and ecological value of woodland. Requests for advice and guidance on all aspects of planting and preservation will be welcomed.

POLICY NE6
In considering proposals for development, the Borough Council will:
i) protect areas of woodland which it considers to be of landscape, amenity and/or, wildlife significance;
ii) protect ancient woodlands by a presumption against development or any potentially damaging use;
iii) seek appropriate management;
iv) encourage the creation of new woodland especially on ridges and hills;
iv) discourage recreation uses likely to have an adverse impact on woodland habitat.

WILDLIFE CORRIDORS

3.26 Sites of ecological interest can become isolated or adversely affected by intensive agriculture or by being surrounded by buildings. This may mean that the community of plants and animals becomes extremely vulnerable and may result in local extinctions. It is important that sites are linked in order that species are not cut off from the wider environment. Wildlife corridors are ecologically vital and can be important features in the landscape.

3.27 The main wildlife corridor within the Borough is the River Great Ouse. A number of other wildlife corridors also link the urban area with the countryside. They include tributaries, footpaths, tree belts, tracks, hedgerows, the road verges and railways, both active and disused. Such corridors may not be of consistent high ecological value throughout their length, or in isolation, but their integrity should be maintained for the overall distribution and abundance of ecological resources throughout the area.

POLICY NE7
The Borough Council will seek the protection and enhancement of the network of wildlife corridors shown on the Proposals Map. Proposals for development which would have an adverse impact on such a corridor will be resisted, unless satisfactory alternative provisions can be agreed, or it can be clearly demonstrated that there are reasons for the proposal which outweigh the need to safeguard this network.

REPLACEMENT PROVISION

3.28 If development is permitted which is likely to result in some environmental loss, the Council will attempt to secure adequate compensation by the creation of new environmental resources. The aim of this approach is to secure the overall character and quality of the environment in the longer term.

3.29 Both planning conditions and planning obligations will be used where appropriate, to achieve compensatory measures.

3.30 The types of benefit which might be required include

– landscape benefits, including more generous landscape treatment, and sensitive planting and management of trees and shrubs, providing that it takes account of archaeological resources, and is in keeping with the character of the area;

– protection, restoration, repair and management of important features such as trees, woodlands and boundary features like walls or hedges;

– creation or restoration of appropriate wildlife habitats such as ponds, wetland, meadows and woodland with appropriate access provision;

– the protection and repair or reuse of historic buildings, features of historic landscape interest or archaeological remains, with provision for access and interpretation where appropriate;

– enhanced provision for access and enjoyment, including new footpaths, cycleways and bridleways, open space such as informal parks, community woodland, meadows or pocket parks, and support for or provision of facilities such as visitor centres or information and interpretation.

3.30a In line with Circular 1/97, the benefit being sought must be reasonable in scale and kind, be directly related to the development proposed and necessary to the granting of planning permission.

POLICY NE8
Where development is permitted which results in the loss of natural history sites, habitats or features, the Borough Council will seek to secure a replacement asset of a comparable or enhanced nature conservation value. A detailed survey of the site or feature will be required before such development is permitted. In determining the nature of such required replacement provision, full consideration should be given to the following:
i) size;
ii) diversity of species and habitat, including rarity and national/local significance, soil type and quality;
iii) the relationship of the site or feature in question to other assets.

MANAGEMENT OF SITES WITH CONSERVATION VALUE

3.30b Management is usually crucial to the retention and enhancement of habitats. The Borough Council is already implementing management and enhancement objectives on its own sites. Measures can often be as simple as cutting grass less frequently or at particular times. Similarly effective action by others will be encouraged and advice given as appropriate.

3.30c Where nature conservation interests are associated with development proposals, the Council will if required use its planning powers, and Section 39 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, to secure appropriate management agreements. Encouragement will be given to land management regimes that account for nature conservation and which enhance the natural and landscape value of the land.

POLICY NE9
Where the nature conservation interest of a site is considered to be at risk, the Borough Council will, where appropriate, enter into a management agreement, or pursue other means of controlling inappropriate forms of permitted or other development, or other potentially threatening activity.

3.30d The Council will continue to develop and implement appropriate strategies to enable long-term commitments to management and will continue to be proactive in seeking to protect, enhance and manage habitats of nature conservation interest.

POLICY NE10
Where appropriate, development will be expected to contribute to nature conservation.
The Borough Council will promote nature conservation by:
i) the designation and conservation by appropriate
management of Local Nature Reserves (shown on the Proposals Map);
ii) safeguarding and encouraging the appropriate management of sites of nature conservation interest;
iii) seeking opportunities for the creation of wildlife habitats;
iv) the implementation of a nature conservation strategy.

INTERPRETATION OF THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT

3.30e Increased public access in the countryside for the purposes of leisure and recreation provides the opportunity for educational visits. The provision of suitable low key interpretation facilities, such as appropriate information boards and signing will be encouraged at certain locations. In this way it may be possible to increase understanding of the countryside, increase enjoyment and thereby foster a sense of caring in visitors. In appropriate cases, negotiation may be used to secure developer contributions for such facilities at the planning application stage. Countryside access for recreation purposes is dealt with by Policy LR10.

POLICY NE11
In appropriate cases the Borough Council will seek opportunities to increase access to the countryside and for the provision of environmental interpretation facilities, subject to there being no conflict with other policies.

THE CHARACTER AND APPEARANCE OF THE BOROUGH

3.31 The Borough contains a diversity of rural landscapes including the open flat agricultural areas in the east, the changing valley of the Great Ouse, the Greensand Ridge to the south, the limestone ridge to the north and claylands in the Marston Vale. Agricultural use generally dominates the rural areas. Many of the characteristics of the landscape stem from its use and management. In some instances this has resulted in its enhancement but sometimes the result has been degradation, particularly where industrial and extraction uses have been abandoned. Development in the countryside and changing farming practices have changed the landscape considerably. However, many traditional elements remain and potential exists for its enhancement.

RETENTION OF LANDSCAPE FEATURES

3.32 Landscape considerations will play a significant part in the determination of planning proposals. Consideration will be given to the impact of proposals on the surrounding area in terms of visual intrusion and loss of landscape features. In exceptional circumstances, where the benefits of development outweigh the loss of landscape value and features are lost, the Borough Council will seek replacement or other compensatory measures to mitigate the loss. In order to ensure that landscaping becomes effective as soon as possible the Council may, in some cases, require structural planting to be implemented in advance or at the earliest stage of development. This will ensure quick integration of the scheme into the surrounding area.

3.33 The Borough Council has prepared a Landscape Design Guide setting out basic principles of landscape design and advice on detailed planting stock and materials. Developers are advised to consult this in advance especially when promoting large schemes. (See also Policies BE33 and BE34).

POLICY NE12
Development proposals should make early provision for adequate and appropriate landscaping which accords with the Borough’s Landscape Design Guide. Schemes should provide adequate screening. In exceptional cases, where the benefits of development outweigh any resultant loss in landscape features, the Borough Council will require compensatory provision as an integral part of the development.
POLICY NE13
Where landscape features are to be retained, or created the Borough Council will need to be satisfied that adequate provision has been made for their retention, protection, management and maintenance. Applications are required to show details of safeguards protecting the feature both during construction and after completion of development.

AREA OF GREAT LANDSCAPE VALUE

3.34 A large area in the north-west of the County is identified in the County Structure Plan as an Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV). This comprises two principal features, namely land dominated by the limestone ridge rising to just over 90m, and land in the valley of the Upper Ouse with its associated meadow lands. Grassland remains the most prominent feature in the AGLV although agricultural policies have encouraged the ploughing of pasture land in recent years.

3.35 Within the Area of Great Landscape Value, matters of landscape concern will normally take precedence; landscape features will be retained, and consideration of development proposals will need to take particular account of their visual impact.

POLICY NE14
Within the Area of Great Landscape Value as defined on the proposals map, priority will be given to protecting and enhancing the character of the landscape. Development will not be permitted, except where, it does not adversely affect the character and value of the area and is in accordance with other policies of the Local Plan or it can be clearly demonstrated that there are reasons for the proposal which outweigh the need to safeguard the landscape value of the site.

RIVER PROTECTION AREA

3.36 The River Great Ouse is one of the Borough’s most attractive features. It is an important wildlife resource and provides drainage and flood protection. Wetland habitats within river floodplains are in general decline. The Council will seek to retain the ecological benefits of flooding by opposing development which would adversely affect flood regimes.

3.37 In order to preserve the character of the riverine areas, the Local Plan includes a River Protection Area where development will not normally be permitted unless it meets criteria i) to iv) of policy NE15. The Borough Council will pay particular attention to preserving and enhancing the habitat and landscape character of this area and will encourage other agencies to follow the same objectives. The boundaries of the River Protection Areas have been drawn, as far as possible, to follow identifiable features and are not intended to be a reflection of the extent of the floodplain, in fact in places the RPA covers a wider area than the floodplain. To further the enjoyment of river areas, facilities such as car parks may be provided if this can be done without conflicting with the following and other policies of this plan. The RPA is not related to concerns about flood protection.

POLICY NE15
Within the River Protection Area, as defined on the proposals map, the Borough Council will give priority to the retention and where appropriate the enhancement of the landscape. Development will not be permitted within the Area unless:
i) it would not adversely affect the landscape character of the Area;
ii) it does not adversely affect the nature conservation value of the Area;
iii) it accords with proposals and policies set out elsewhere in this Plan or
iv) it can be clearly demonstrated that there are reasons for the proposal which outweigh the need to safeguard the river protection area.
POLICY NE16
The Borough Council will not permit development where
i) it would intensify the risk of flooding; or
ii) it would be at an unacceptable risk from flooding; or
iii) it would prejudice existing flood defences or interfere with the ability to carry out flood control and maintenance work; or
iv) it would adversely affect wildlife habitat in the floodplain unless, the Borough Council, in consultation with the Environment Agency and Internal Drainage Board as appropriate, is satisfied that the developer will provide appropriate mitigation, protection and compensatory measures.

(See Policy U2 also)

SAFEGUARDING OPEN SPACE

3.38 Some open spaces within built up areas in both the urban and rural parts of the Borough serve a range of important functions for which they are recognised as Urban Open Spaces and Important Open Spaces respectively. They can provide public access and contribute to the overall quality of life for those who visit, live or work in the area. Open space can enhance the setting of historic parts of a town, such as conservation areas, it can help to attract investment and tourism, aid regeneration, provide a break in the urban fabric, allow the creation of habitats as well as providing an important recreational resource. The value of open space is not necessarily dependent upon active use or public access.

3.38a Reasons for designating Urban Open Spaces and Important Open Spaces may therefore be very similar for example where they provide visual relief in an otherwise built up area. However, open space in the urban and rural areas may perform subtly different functions. For example open space in the urban area may be important where it forms part of the town wide network of spaces affording permeability not only for residents and visitors but also for wildlife moving both within the town and between the town and countryside beyond. In rural areas, space on the edge of a village might be particularly important and warrant designation if it affords pleasing views from the settlement to the wider countryside or from distant points into the village. For this reason the character of Urban Open Spaces and Important Open Spaces may also be quite different. Urban Open Spaces are likely to have been planned in association with surrounding built development and as a result are likely to be formally managed with a more manicured appearance. Important Open Spaces on the other hand are often a reflection of the remaining undeveloped land within and close to the village framework. Their character is more likely to be informal and rural as a result. Further detail on Important Open Spaces is given in paragraph 5.49.

3.38b If built on, such open space is likely to be lost to the community irrevocably and there will therefore be a presumption against the loss of designated spaces. The planning process must take full account of the long term implications of such losses.

3.39 In the urban area the designation of land as Urban Open Space on the Proposals Map and in the policies of the local plan will ensure that its amenity, recreational and habitat value are safeguarded. When proposals come forward which pose a risk to such open spaces within the presumption against the loss of urban open space, full account will be given both to the localised impact and to the overall impact on the structure of the network of open spaces, such as the river corridor, footpaths, parks and the Wildlife Corridors. The sustainability argument favours the reuse of vacant or redundant land especially in urban areas, but this must not be at the risk of town cramming and the loss of open spaces which are a vital resource to be protected. In the exceptional cases where development does occur on such open space, developer contributions will be sought for either the provision of new space or the enhancement or maintenance of existing open space facilities, including where appropriate and necessary, consideration of the potential for habitat/wildlife benefit.

3.40 The provision of open space within the urban area is not uniform and some parts have poor access to parks and recreational areas. The creation of additional open spaces in areas of inadequate levels of local provision will be taken into account when development proposals are considered. The Council’s Parks Strategy provides guidance on this issue.

POLICY NE17
The Borough Council will safeguard and enhance open spaces as defined on the Proposals Map by:
i) not permitting proposals which would be likely to have an impact on the open space in terms of its function as part of the wider open space network and/or as a wildlife corridor, its setting, its existing or potential contribution to the townscape or its value as a wildlife resource unless the proposals are able to provide a replacement of at least equal value, in terms of the above qualities;
ii) seeking in association with development, the provision and/or the enhancement of open space and the creation of areas having high ecological value.

3.41 The loss of small gaps and natural breaks both in urban areas and villages is cause for concern. Such gaps fulfil a number of functions and reflect the natural and structural development of an area, thereby contributing to the identity of a place and community. They add to the variety which makes an area attractive and are as important as other land uses in this respect. Even one new dwelling in a gap may destroy distant views and create ribbon development. Such green spaces and even derelict land may be a wildlife resource. In villages, open gaps and spaces are sometimes the last remaining remnants of declining habitats. Development on such sites could destroy both the natural wildlife and characteristic form of the settlement.

3.42 Policies that particularly deal with infilling within villages and on Important Open Spaces are included in the Housing Chapter, see Policies H24 and H25. However, non identification of land as an important open space or urban open space does not mean that development will be permitted.

POLICY NE18
Development will only be permitted where:
i) it will not adversely affect the built character of villages or the urban area;
ii) it will not result in the adverse loss of open space between or adjacent to buildings;
iii) it will not result in the loss of wildlife habitat.

WYBOSTON LAND SETTLEMENT AREA

3.43 In the late 1930s provision was made in the area of Wyboston and Chawston for small agricultural holdings. A distinctive land use pattern has resulted and has become known as the Land Settlement Association Area (LSA). Each holding was around 1.5 to 2 ha in size and had a modest detached house fronting the access road. The character of the area is determined by the open nature of the land and the spaciousness about the dwellings which by contrast is quite different to that of the nearby housing.

3.43a In the LSA the design of the houses would originally have been very similar and a number have survived without substantial alteration. In addition little infill development has taken place over the years thus retaining opportunities for horticulture, agriculture and horsiculture in the locality.

3.43b In order to protect the special character of the LSA, proposals which seek to adversely alter the established rhythm of spaces and buildings, such as infill or backland development, or which seek to extend dwellings substantially beyond the modest scale of the original will be resisted.

POLICY NE19
Within the Wyboston Land Settlement Association Area defined on the proposals map development will only be permitted where:
i) it would not result in a significant adverse impact on the unique agricultural character or appearance of the area;
ii) it would not result in an adverse impact on residential amenity or create unacceptable disturbance;
iii) it would be on a scale appropriate to the area;
iv) it would not result in increased traffic generation or the need for significant related development.

ENHANCING THE CHARACTER & APPEARANCE OF THE BOROUGH

3.44 As part of a long term commitment to improving the character and appearance of the Borough, the Council will prepare and promote schemes and programmes which will include landscaping, tree planting or other proposals. In the rural area, small schemes may be undertaken in cooperation with other bodies such as the County and Parish Councils and involvement of the local community is always important. Encouragement will be given to landowners and other agencies to carry out works that maximise landscape and environmental benefits.

3.45 The need for environmental improvement is particularly apparent along some stretches of main roads and railway lines and at the gateways to the urban area, which are perhaps the most visible and important, though possibly the most neglected parts of the Borough. The image this creates is not a true reflection of the Borough but it is a disincentive to investment. The Council will take every opportunity to improve the character and appearance of these high profile areas. Where appropriate, negotiation will be used to secure developer contributions for landscape and environmental improvements. (See also Policy BE33 relating to gateways and paras 3.28 to 3.30a).

POLICY NE20
Where appropriate and necessary, the Borough Council will seek to improve the character and appearance of the Borough by seeking developer contributions for landscape and environmental improvement.

LANDSCAPE IMPROVEMENT INITIATIVES

3.46 In addition to the general policies which set the context for promoting landscape quality, the Borough Council has identified four specific priority areas for landscape improvement, increased public access and recreation opportunities. These areas overlap and concentrate attention around much of the urban area. Within these areas the Borough Council will be seeking to ensure that development proposals contribute to a programme of enhancement schemes.

3.47 The four initiatives involve:

– the Marston Vale Strategy centred upon the brickfields;

– the Forest of Marston Vale which overlaps with the Marston Vale Strategy Area but stretches over a much wider area to the south and east of Bedford;

– the Bedford Linear Park;

– the Bedford River Valley Park Project.

3.48 Both of the Marston Vale initiatives are being pursued jointly with Mid Bedfordshire District Council, and the County Council, in partnership with a wide range of bodies including the key commercial interests in the area.

3.49 The emphasis and approach to landscape improvement is different in each of these areas and separate policies have been developed by the Borough Council.

3.49a The adopted Minerals and Waste Local Plan identifies sites which are currently operational or preferred for mineral extraction and some of these sites fall within the following landscape improvement initiatives. As such, restoration of mineral workings have already and can continue to make a significant contribution to the stated aims and objectives of policies NE21, NE22 and NE23.

MARSTON VALE STRATEGY

3.50 The Marston Vale is of regional significance because of its strategic location, the presence of the brick industry, the capacity of the former clay workings for landfill and the scope for environmental improvement. A Strategy has been agreed by the parties involved, recognising that through joint efforts major environmental improvements can be achieved. Policy S5 arises in the context of this agreement. The Marston Vale Strategy Area is defined on the Proposals Map. A diagrammatic map showing the relationship between the Marston Vale Strategy Area boundary and the Forest of Marston Vale is given at Figure 3 in Chapter 2.

FOREST OF MARSTON VALE

3.51 The Forest of Marston Vale is one of 12 such Countryside Agency and Forestry Authority projects. It covers an area of some 60 square miles that includes the whole of the Marston Vale Strategy Area (see above), additional land in the Parishes of Wootton, Kempston Rural, Elstow, Wilshamstead, Eastcotts, Cardington, Cople and Willington as well as part of Mid Beds. The aim is to create multi-purpose forests on the edge of towns and cities, which meet a range of needs such as extensive areas of woodland for wildlife, timber production, jobs and for leisure. The principal objective is to increase woodland cover to 30% of the area over 40 years (by 2035). A variety of grants and supplements are available to encourage farmers and landowners to carry out (on a voluntary basis) tree planting and access improvements.

The Forest Plan is a non statutory plan which has been approved by the Department of the Environment. Whilst it does not form part of the Local Plan, it is a material consideration in both the preparation of this Local Plan and in deciding planning applications. The Forest Plan has as its objectives to:

– improve the landscape, including reclamation of derelict land, to create a visually pleasing and varied countryside

– increase opportunities for access, sport and recreation and cultural events for all social groups in the Borough

– protect the best and most versatile agricultural land from irreversible development, ensure that farm land manages to recreate attractive landscape and wildlife areas and that opportunities for farm diversification are increased.

– protect and manage areas of high quality landscape, and areas of archaeological interest

– improve physical links between urban areas and countryside sites in the vale

– protect and manage sites of nature conservation value and create new opportunities for conservation

– provide new opportunities for educational use of the area and ensure that community forests can be used for the environmental educational needs of local communities

– establish supplies of local timber and encourage development of timber based industries, employment opportunities and woodland projects

– improve the economic well being of towns and cities through the creation of more appealing locations for industry and commerce.

– improve the environment near housing and local industry, enhancing the value of properties and business and adding to the quality of life for residents and employees

– encourage a high level of local community ownership of the concept and community involvement in implementation.

– seek available grant funding and private sector support to implement the Forest of Marston Vale and to invest in the area.

3.53 The Borough Council has contributed to this project on land that it owns at Berry Farm, Wootton, where an extensive tree planting programme has been implemented together with access improvements. Where development opportunities arise which are consistent with the policies of the Local Plan, contributions will be sought to the environmental enhancement of the Vale. These could equally apply (dependent on location) to either the Forest of Marston Vale or the Marston Vale Strategy and in certain cases the environmental improvements achieved may be common to both initiatives.

3.53a Additionally the Beds and River Ivel Drainage Board is, through the Marston Vale Surface Waters Group, actively pursuing strategic solutions to deal with surface water drainage in the Forest of Marston Vale. The group has published ‘The Marston Vale Surface Waters Plan’ which identifies strategic options for storm-water control and flood protection as alternatives to piecemeal solutions prepared by developers in response to individual development opportunities. It is hoped that such a comprehensive approach to water management will result not only in more sustainable and environmentally acceptable solutions but will also maximise the opportunities for environmental enhancement within the Forest area. The Borough Council fully supports this strategic approach and as such is actively involved in the Marston Vale Surface Waters Group and has had an active input into the preparation of the Surface Waters Plan.

POLICY NE21
The Borough Council will provide continuing support to the Forest of Marston Vale. When considering development proposals (within the area defined on the proposals map) it will expect proposals to incorporate the aims of the project and in appropriate circumstances seek contributions towards its implementation.

BEDFORD LINEAR PARK

3.54 The countryside on the edge of the urban area can play an important part in providing for the informal recreational needs of the Borough and the creation of new habitats through the provision of open space and parkland adjacent to the urban area.

3.55 The Borough Council has identified two potential parkland areas, Bedford River Valley Park (see Policy NE23) and Bedford Linear Park. The Linear Park formed part of the 1993 Bedford Borough Local Plan. The Council will encourage the development of the Linear Park to the north of Bedford and wishes to see access to the area for informal recreation including walking, cycling and horseriding improved. The park could provide a strategic buffer between the urban and rural areas and protect the visual quality of the rising land to the north of the town. It would also provide an important opportunity for the establishment of new habitats and routes for wildlife. Policy H10a will contribute significantly towards the delivery of the Linear Park.

POLICY NE22
Within the area defined on the Proposals Map the Borough Council will encourage the creation of Bedford Linear Park as an area where opportunities exist for informal recreation and increased public access.

BEDFORD RIVER VALLEY PARK

3.56 The Borough Council has identified an area of land known as the Bedford River Valley Park within which it will seek to maintain and enhance public access and leisure and the level and diversity of wildlife.

3.57 The area covers approximately 860 hectares of land predominantly in agricultural use, although mineral extraction and subsequent poor restoration has rendered parts less suited to farming. The land lies adjacent to the River Ouse, is rich in archaeology, and links strongly with Priory Country Park and the town centre.

3.58 The area has potential for landscape improvements, provision of wildlife habitats (eg. reed beds, summer pasture, woodland etc) opportunities for countryside access (footpaths, including riverside access, bridleways and cycle routes), farm diversification and green tourism. The area could also accommodate a rowing course, subject to the resolution of a number of issues (see also Leisure and Recreation chapter, para 10.26).

3.59 Within or immediately adjacent to the area defined on the proposals map, if and when development opportunities arise, the Borough Council will seek contributions to the River Valley Park as appropriate and necessary.

3.59a Development proposals should respect the high quality of agricultural land in this area and have regard to the need to protect Grades 1, 2 and 3a agricultural land as a non renewable resource.

POLICY NE23
When development opportunities arise, within the area defined on the Proposals Map, the Borough Council will seek the creation of the Bedford River Valley Park as an area where opportunities exist for landscape enhancement, nature conservation, recreation and increased public access whilst protecting sites of acknowledged archaeological importance (see Policies BE24 and BE25).

NATURAL RESOURCES

3.60 It is essential that planning authorities take account of the effect of development activity on the stock and qualitative factors such as the accessibility of non renewable resources. The principle of sustainability requires that the quality and quantity of resources such as water, air and soil are protected or where possible improved. (Matters concerning minerals and waste are covered by the Bedfordshire Minerals & Waste Local Plan).

WATER

3.61 Increasing demands arising from population growth and changing use patterns can increase pressures on water resources in terms of demand and pollution. Some development proposals could adversely affect water quantity and quality. Where the local authority (following liaison with the Environment Agency [formerly the National Rivers Authority]) consider that granting planning permission would give rise to a risk to surface or ground water reserves, the presumption will be against development. The Environment Agency document ‘Policy and Practice for the Protection of Groundwater’ provides some useful information relating to the water environment. In addition the Borough Council will, in liaison with the Environment Agency, prepare supplementary planning guidance to aid developers in achieving sustainable methods of surface water management. Anglian Water Services are responsible for supplying water allocated to them and will continue to liaise with the local authority and the Environment Agency to prepare more detailed guidelines to assist the analysis and management of potential risk to water resources from specific forms of development.

3.62 Waterside environments can provide significant opportunities for recreation and nature conservation. Development likely to have a detrimental effect on the recreation, landscape, amenity or conservation value of these areas will be resisted. Elsewhere, negotiations will take place, as appropriate, through the development control process, for measures to mitigate problems where development is permitted.

POLICY NE24
The Borough Council will seek to protect, and where possible, enhance, the water resources in the Borough by:
i) not permitting developments which would adversely affect the quality or quantity of water resources or their amenity or nature conservation value;
ii) not permitting development which would unduly restrict access to the River and other water bodies with recreational potential;
iii) actively negotiating with developers in order to achieve more sustainable methods of surface water management and drainage.

AIR

3.63 Good air quality is essential for health and the well being of people and natural ecosystems. The planning and public transportation functions of local government have the potential to have a significant impact on air quality. The development of integrated transport policies to divert movement away from private cars to more environmentally – friendly modes, coupled with a wider debate on appropriate forms of development and locational policies will therefore play a vital role. By seeking sustainable development in the form of both land use and transportation patterns, the effects of pollution can be reduced. Further, the implementation of detailed controls relating to potential polluting activities and sensitive uses such as schools or housing, as well as sensitive nature conservation interests can be implemented. As such, the location of polluting uses adjacent to sensitive uses will be resisted as will the location of sensitive uses by sources of pollution.

3.63a Circular 15/97 ‘Part 1V The Environment Act 1995 Local Air Quality Management’ promotes a corporate approach to the issue of local air quality. It establishes the adoption of a National Air Quality Strategy as well as requiring a co-ordinated approach to local air quality management. DETR Guidance Note 4 ‘Air Quality and Land Use Planning’ identifies the links between planning and achieving better standards of air quality. In this respect the Borough Council will continue to work with others to assess the need for the designation of Air Quality Management Areas in the Borough to deal with identified pollution “hot spots”.

POLICY NE25
The likelihood of proposed development creating or exacerbating pollution, its effect on sensitive surrounding uses and the location of sensitive uses adjacent to polluting development will be material considerations in the determination of planning applications.

SOIL AND LAND

3.64 The north and east of the Borough has a high proportion of good quality agricultural land (particularly Grade 2). A number of changes are occurring to agricultural policy and practices, with implications for the landscape in the Borough. These stem from a cut back in agricultural production and are expressed in agricultural policies concerning diversification and set aside. Against this background the Borough Council seeks activities compatible with the protection of land, especially the best quality agricultural land in the countryside. Allied to this it will also seek to protect the landscape, ecological and historic assets and seek to maintain a healthy rural economy.

3.65 The best and most versatile land, Grades 1, 2 and 3a will be protected as a non renewable natural resource wherever possible to be preserved for the future. Whilst the loss of grades 3b, 4 or 5 agricultural land would not normally be resisted on agricultural land quality grounds, in some areas grades 3b and 4 land can have special importance to rural economic activity and management of individual farms. Where the choice of development locations is limited to higher grade land development will be directed to the lowest of these grades. In allocating sites in the plan, full consideration as been given to these matters and wherever possible sites selected accord with this procedure. Conservation interest will be protected in favour of lower grade agricultural land such that potential development will be directed away from areas of conservation interest towards lower quality agricultural land. An up to date detailed survey may be required by the Council to establish the precise agricultural value of a particular site.

POLICY NE26
The Council will not permit irreversible development where it results in the permanent loss of agricultural land falling within Grades 1, 2 and 3a, unless it can be demonstrated there is an overriding need for development and no alternative site is available. Where development on Grades 1, 2 or 3a, is permitted it will be directed to the lowest grade suitable.
POLICY NE27
Where a choice of otherwise acceptable development sites is available, the Council will favour the development of low grade agricultural land (ie. 3b, 4 or 5) over that of alternative sites (not in agricultural use) where these sites are of greater nature conservation interest.

LAND CONTAMINATION

3.66 Land is a scarce resource, and should be protected from damage, including contamination, particularly as this may have knock-on implications for other natural resources, for example, water courses and aquifers. Contaminated or derelict land can reduce options for development in the future. The move towards increased sustainability requires that natural assets should be passed to future generations in the best possible condition.

POLICY NE28
Planning applications which involve a potential risk of ground contamination will not be permitted unless appropriate preventive measures can be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Borough Council. In considering proposals for development, the Council will seek to ensure that ground with existing contamination or potentially contaminated ground is reinstated to acceptable levels.

ASSESSMENT OF THE EFFECTS OF DEVELOPMENT

3.67 Assessment of the environmental effects of development is covered by Regulations. These require that applications for certain types of development described under Schedule 1 and 2 of the Regulations are accompanied by an environmental statement. There may, however, be other instances, where the Borough Council require further information in order to assess fully the impacts of proposed development not falling within Schedule 1 or 2. In such cases, the Borough Council may require the applicant to provide details on a range of issues before the application can be determined.

POLICY NE29
Where there is uncertainty about the possible consequences of development, the Borough Council will require additional information relating to proposals in order to assess the full extent of the impact of development.

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