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Chapter 15

ENVIRONMENTAL APPRAISAL OF THE PLAN

INTRODUCTION

15.1 The Government expressly requires that local authorities shall have regard to environmental considerations when formulating policies in their development plans. Planning Policy Guidance Note 12 - Development Plans and Regional Planning Guidance also suggests that account should be taken of environmental issues in the widest sense. In addition to local factors such as the conservation of Listed Buildings and the protection of wildlife habitats, plans need to consider more regional impacts, such as air and water quality, and factors in relation to energy conservation which assist in combating global warming.

15.2 To try to ensure that environmental matters are taken fully into account alongside social and economic objectives during the preparation of a local plan, Government guidance suggests that an environmental appraisal should be undertaken. The purpose of the appraisal is as follows:

  • to examine the environmental effects of policies and proposals in the Local Plan in a systematic and structured way, thus bringing an environmental discipline to the Plan;

  • to assist in the formulation of policies and to test these against the environmental objectives of the Plan;

  • to allow those examining the Plan to see how the environmental objectives have been met and to comment themselves on the environmental impact of individual policies.

15.3 The environmental appraisal of the Local Plan is an on-going process which involves:

  • a check on the environmental content of the Plan to ensure that environmental issues have been covered in each chapter of the Plan having regard to the Government's planning policy guidance;

  • an examination of the likely impact of policies and proposals on the District's environmental stock;

  • the development and refinement of policies and proposals to achieve the least harmful impact and the maximum achievement of environmental objectives, having regard also to economic and social objectives.

15.4 An appraisal of the Consultation Draft of the Plan, involving the process outlined above, was carried out and the results included in the Plan's written statement. A further appraisal of the Deposit Version was also undertaken and the results verified by the Council's Environmental Strategy Co-ordinator.

15.5 The detailed results of the appraisal of the Deposit Version of the Local Plan - the impact of the Plan's policies and proposals on the District's environmental stock - are set out in a separate background document which is available on request.

SUMMARY OF THE STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENTAL APPRAISAL

15.6 The following is a broad overview of some of the main issues arising from the environmental appraisal.

Protection of the Environment

15.7 The quality of the natural and built environment of Mole Valley, together with the planning strategy for the District which stresses the importance of environmental objectives, makes Chapter 4 a key chapter in the Plan. There are policies on the Green Belt to protect its open character. Beyond the Green Belt the countryside is protected for its own sake. Policies covering designated landscapes seek to maintain its special character, its distinctiveness and variety. Special protection is also afforded to sites containing habitats which are important for their flora or fauna. The Plan is also concerned with the urban fringe countryside which is highly valued by local people because of its proximity to their homes and which is also important for landscape, amenity and recreational reasons. This is vulnerable countryside subject to pressures which, if uncontrolled, would degrade the countryside around built-up areas.

15.8 Chapter 4 of the Plan is also concerned with the built environment. There are policies which promote quality in new development as well as conserving or enhancing areas of special character: open spaces, trees, Listed Buildings, archaeological sites and Conservation Areas, for example. Many of these are finite resources which, once lost, cannot be replaced and as features which contribute to the special character of the District, they are dealt with in detail in the Plan.

15.9 Other environmental issues cover important matters such as water conservation and energy conservation, provision of infrastructure such as telecommunication masts and overhead power lines, problems of contaminated land and hazardous substances. All of these can have a considerable impact on the environment which may extend beyond the local level.

15.10 The Plan's appraisal revealed where the effects of a policy are not clear and where more research is desirable. In this regard there are uncertainties in respect of Green Belt policies. For example, a fundamental role of the Metropolitan Green Belt is to prevent the spread of London and other towns. This clearly has environmental benefits in encouraging urban renewal and protecting the openness of the countryside. However it is not known what the overall effects are on trip generation or whether a nucleated settlement pattern might result in concentrations of environmental pollution. Some policies may also have secondary benefits, as in the case of the countryside policies which have the potential to conserve wildlife habitats or enhance public access.

15.11 The environmental appraisal of the Deposit Version of the Plan highlighted the not easily resolved conflict between landscape conservation and the need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels through the promotion of renewable energy schemes. In designated landscapes and the Green Belt the Plan's policies are weighed in favour of landscape conservation and the preservation of visual amenities. This may have negative implications in terms of renewable energy potential and air quality. In view of the high quality of the local environment this is considered to be the correct balance in Mole Valley.

Development in Rural Areas

15.12 The environmental appraisal of Chapter 5 of the Plan considered the impact of settlement policies designed to protect the open character of the countryside. It revealed questions about the impact of these policies on energy efficiency reflecting again the uncertain impacts associated with policies which seek to prevent a more dispersed pattern of development. A more nucleated settlement pattern is considered to encourage walking to local services and may make public transport services easier to provide, but the overall impact on the generation of trips is difficult to measure.

15.13 A balance needs to be struck between the need to encourage diversification of farm enterprises, thus maintaining the viability of existing farm units and preventing the break up of farm holdings, and the negative impact of more dispersed and isolated commercial enterprises which may encourage additional traffic and have implications for landscape and amenity. The policies in the Plan seek to harness the benefits of rural enterprise but limit the adverse environmental consequences.

15.14 Chapter 5 of the Plan also covers airport-related development at Gatwick Airport and its possible impact on the Green Belt and other countryside, and the valuable built heritage in the south of Mole Valley. The impact of further development or changes to the operations at Gatwick Airport has considerable implications for a wide area around the airport and this is reflected in the environmental appraisal of the Plan. Policies in this section of the Plan are therefore important to safeguard the character of the countryside, avoid additional traffic generation, control noise levels and safeguard the fabric and setting of the built heritage.

Housing

15.15 The release of land for housing will trigger some negative impacts. However the Plan's strategy to ensure sufficient housing land is provided will allow the Green Belt boundary to be maintained and the intention to manage the release of housing land over the Plan period ensures that the environmental effects are minimised. The impact of the housing policies on issues of energy and transport efficiency is difficult to measure. In general terms however, there are positive environmental benefits of the housing strategy in terms of the protection given to landscape and countryside and the emphasis on the need to design new developments which respect local amenities and meet specific housing needs for sections of the community, such as the elderly.

Employment

15.16 The careful use of existing industrial and commercial land is the basis for policies in Chapter 7 of the Plan. Redevelopment of sites ensures the re-use of existing land rather than encouraging development in the Green Belt which would have implications for the conservation of non-renewable land resources and landscape. Industrial and commercial sites are concentrated in the built-up area generally within easy reach of public transport and close to existing services. In particular railway stations in Leatherhead and Dorking are relatively close to the main business and industrial areas. Leatherhead Station is also near the main business area of the town centre. There is potential therefore to increase transport efficiency, reduce air pollution and conserve scarce energy resources.

15.17 For Vincent Lane, Dorking, a sensitive location where the quality and form of development has townscape and amenity implications, there is guidance on the conservation and enhancement of important local features.

Shopping

15.18 The emphasis in this Chapter 8 of the Plan is on the maintenance of the vitality and viability of existing town centres. This has very positive environmental benefits for both the natural and built environment. The existing character of the historic town centres and the upkeep of the fabric of the buildings depends to a considerable extent on the maintenance of the retailing base of the District's traditional shopping streets.

15.19 The Plan seeks to direct new retail floorspace to the District's two town centres to maintain their vitality and viability. This also has positive benefits by protecting the countryside and urban fringe from freestanding commercial developments.

15.20 Issues of local amenity and character have also been addressed in the Plan's shopping policies. As with other areas of policy, the impact on transport and the generation of trips is uncertain but the overall approach is to make shopping facilities accessible by foot and public transport and this is considered to be positive in environmental terms.

Dorking Town Centre

15.21 A theme running through Chapter 9 of the Plan is the objective of maintaining the traditional role and character of the town centre. Fundamental to this objective is the mix of uses which together create local character and vitality. Policies in the Plan include making provision for retaining the retail heart of the town, encouraging the use of premises above shops for residential purposes, for cultural and entertainment activities on the Dorking Halls site and so on. This set of policies has positive benefits for the cultural heritage and urban 'liveability'.

15.22 Other policies in Chapter 9 are directed at conserving or enhancing the best buildings of the town, and encouraging tree planting. These are also very positive for local environmental quality.

15.23 The car parking policy (Policy DTC7) reflects a conflict between the desire to provide ample, easily accessible car parking in small towns in order to maintain their attractiveness as shopping centres in the face of out-of-town or rival town centre shopping, and the environmental objective of discouraging the use of private motor cars.

Leatherhead Town Centre

15.24 The strategy for Leatherhead town centre mirrors the approach in Dorking in many respects. Maintaining the viability and vitality of the town centre is important for the economic well-being of Leatherhead and has environmental advantages as outlined under the shopping chapter. Proposals to open to traffic areas of the town centre that are currently pedestrianised (LTC2) has a negative impact on the townscape and environmental quality by giving preference to motorists over walkers. However these policies have been carefully framed to limit their environmental impact while achieving the economic objectives of revitalising the town centre.

Movement

15.25 Measuring the environmental effects of the movement policies in Chapter 11 is not without difficulty. For example, highway schemes which prevent congestion can ease local problems of atmospheric pollution, but may in the long term encourage more private vehicle usage. Underlying the strategy therefore is the need to manage demand rather than seeking to meet in full the demand for travel by car. Where appropriate, facilities for walkers and cyclists are promoted and this has environmental benefits. Policy MOV14 promotes this sustainable form of transport; in particular there is reference to the possible development of a District-wide network of cycle routes.

15.26 With regard to improvements to the Primary Route Network, balanced judgements have to be made. On the one hand, environmental benefits may arise from road schemes such as improvements in highway safety and the removal of traffic from town centres, residential areas and country lanes. On the other hand, improvements can encourage increases in car-borne traffic. Road improvement schemes can also have an effect on the local environmental quality such as landscape and townscape, and wider concerns such as air quality, wildlife habitats and the conservation of land resources. Generally, the strategy clearly indicates that environmental benefits will weigh heavily in decisions made on individual road schemes.

Recreation

15.27 The creation of a better living environment through the provision of opportunities for exercise and recreation is important. Policies in the Plan relating to outdoor sport and outdoor recreation, the retention of existing built recreation facilities and the provision of informal recreation in the countryside have therefore a positive environmental benefit. However, formal facilities, especially those which require locations in the countryside, can result in an increase in the traffic on rural roads, remodelling the landscape, an impact on wildlife habitats or the creation of additional noise. However, the Plan seeks to ensure the openness of the Green Belt and the rural character of the countryside are not compromised. The locational element of these policies seeks to encourage the siting of recreation facilities close to centres of population to limit the demand for travel which would otherwise occur if facilities were to be provided in more remote locations.

Community Facilities

15.28 The provision of community facilities has positive benefits for the quality of life for all residents of Mole Valley, but particularly for more dependent members of the community for whom they may be crucial. Such facilities need to be well-located in respect of other services and public transport, and to be sensitive to local amenities and, if this can be achieved in line with the Plan policies, environmental objectives will be met.



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