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Chapter 7 - Countryside, Nature Conservation and Landscape

Introduction

Policy Context

7.1 The Local Plan countryside, nature conservation and landscape policies and proposals have been prepared in the light of government advice, the Rural White Paper and the Essex and Southend-on-Sea Replacement Structure Plan. Aims and Objectives

7.2 This Chapter takes into account a range of government advice and publications, notably PPS7 Sustainable Development in Rural Areas and PPG9: Nature Conservation. The Essex Structure Plan and the Braintree Quality of Life Plan (June 1999) are the basis for the aims and objectives of the Chapter.

7.3 The Essex Structure Plan Policy CS2 (Protecting the Natural and Built Environment), sets out succinctly the strategic role for Local Planning Authorities in protecting the rural environment. Other relevant Structure Plan policies are C5, NR1, NR4, NR5, NR6, NR7, NR8, and NR9. The following are relevant to this Chapter and Braintree generally:

- Giving priority to protecting and enhancing areas designated as having intrinsic environmental quality at international, national and strategic level;

- Sustaining and enhancing the rural environment, including conserving the countryside character and the protection of the countryside for its own sake;

- Enhancing and managing by appropriate use, land in the urban fringe;

- Retaining the best and most versatile land for agriculture except where other sustainability considerations apply;

- Preserving and enhancing the biodiversity of the area;

- Preserving historic landscape features.

7.4 The Quality of Life Plan also includes the following objectives which act as pointers to key aspects of this Chapter: - Recognition that places are different and distinctive, needing valuing and protection - relevant to landscape as well as townscape character - To value wildlife in town and country - local as well as national, habitat as well as species - Making opportunities for leisure and sports available to all - including the broad appeal of the countryside for walking and a variety of informal leisure and tourism activity.

Policies

COUNTRYSIDE

Policy RLP 78 Countryside

(Policy superseded 19 September 2011 by Core Strategy Policy CS5 The Countryside.)

The countryside will be protected for its own sake, particularly for its landscapes, natural resources and areas of ecological, historic, archaeological and recreational value. This will be achieved by the restriction of new uses to those appropriate to a rural area, and the strict control of new building in the countryside outside existing settlements to that required to support agriculture, forestry or other rural uses or development. Development should be well related to existing patterns of development and of a scale, siting and design sympathetic to the rural landscape character.

SPECIAL LANDSCAPE AREAS; LANDSCAPE CHARACTER AND FEATURES

7.5 A large proportion of the rural area in Braintree District consists of distinctive and attractive landscapes, which should be protected for their own sake. These areas have been defined as Special Landscape Areas, recognised originally through work by Essex County Council specialist staff, which derive their high quality from a combination of natural features including topography, vegetation cover and water and river features. It is proposed to replace the special landscape area designations with landscape character areas, which will cover the whole District. These will describe the distinctive features of each character area and provide guidance for development in the area. Work on the definition of the character areas has recently commenced as part of the review of the Essex and Southend-on-Sea Replacement Structure Plan. These will therefore be incorporated into the Local Development Framework when it is prepared.

7.6 Other rural areas also exhibit distinctive individual landscape features, including not only vegetation and water but also walls, and archaeological, geological or geomorphological features. Active conservation and enhancement approaches are encouraged by the Council in both Special Landscape Areas and other areas with distinctive landscape features, through the husbandry of farmers and other owners and when opportunities arise through development proposals.

7.7 The Council will encourage the management of features of the landscape, which are of major importance for wild flora and fauna, in accordance with the Conservation Regulations 1994. Policy RLP 79 seeks to protect Special Landscape Areas from inappropriate development, and to secure acceptable design and layout where development is appropriate. Policy RLP 80 is similarly designed to protect and enhance individual landscape features.

Policy RLP 79 Special Landscape Areas

(Policy superseded 19 September 2011 by Core Strategy Policy CS8 Natural Environment and Biodiversity.)

Development likely to cause permanent loss or damage to the traditional rural qualities of the countryside, or its essential landscape character will be refused, especially in Special Landscape Areas. Special Landscape Areas are defined as a series of areas of distinctive scenic attraction: The Stour Valley, The Pant Valley, The Colne Valley, The Upper Blackwater, The Chelmer-Blackwater Ridges and Terling, The Pods Brook Valley and the Brain Valley, as defined on the Proposals Map. Any development that is permitted in Special Landscape Areas will be expected to conform to the highest standards of design, siting and layout with materials appropriate to the character of the area, with appropriate landscaping. The conservation and maintenance of features important to the local landscape such as trees, hedges, copses, woodlands and ponds will be encouraged. Planning obligations will be sought to secure the management of new landscape areas.

 

Policy RLP 80 Landscape Features and Habitats

Proposals for new development will be required to include an assessment of their impact on wildlife and should not be detrimental to the distinctive landscape features and habitats of the area such as trees, hedges, woodlands, grasslands, ponds and rivers. Development that would not successfully integrate into the local landscape will not be permitted. All new development will be expected to provide measures for any necessary mitigation of their impact upon wildlife and for the creation and management of appropriate new habitats, with particular attention paid to species and habitats mentioned in National and County Biodiversity Action Plans. Where development is proposed close to existing features, it should be designed and located to ensure that their condition and future retention will not be prejudiced. Additional landscaping including planting of native species of trees and other flora may be required to maintain and enhance these features.

TREE PRESERVATION ORDERS, HEDGEROW RETENTION NOTICES

7.8 Trees have a key role in setting the tone of the urban and rural environment. Both individual trees and groups of trees can be significant features in both town and country. It is crucial not only to preserve trees from built development, but also agree suitable detailing of schemes to avoid long term damage to root systems, branches and healthy growth. The policies in this Plan aim to preserve trees, and allow for works in the interest of the long term health of trees where unavoidable, and benefits of development are clear cut, with replacement where felling is unavoidable. Management agreements will be sought under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, where appropriate, to resolve potential conflicts with new uses and activities, and positive support will be given for Forestry Commission Woodland Grants in appropriate cases. All hedgerows are recognised as fundamental features of the countryside and important green corridors within towns and villages and will be protected through the Hedgerow Regulations 1997. Management agreements will also be sought with landowners to ensure their long term maintenance and health.

Policy RLP 81 Trees, Woodlands, Grasslands and Hedgerows

The Planning Authority will encourage landowners to retain, maintain and plant, in appropriate locations, locally native trees, woodlands,grasslands and hedgerows. The Planning Authority may make grants available in appropriate cases and orders and notices to protect trees, woodlands and hedgerows. New planting of appropriate native species will normally be required to replace the loss of any protected trees, woodland or hedgerow.

SITES, AREAS AND FEATURES OF NATURE CONSERVATION IMPORTANCE

7.9 The Council shares the objectives of the Government and County Council to ensure that the local planning process positively assists the conservation of the abundance and diversity of wildlife. Where there is conflict with essential development and the natural assets are agreed as not ‘critical’ or irreplaceable, acceptable mitigation to minimise the effects on wildlife must be put in place, including effective monitoring.

7.10 In all wildlife sites, there is a need for a check and balance, emphasising management not just protection. It is important to assess overall effects on biodiversity, where the developer or promoter should carry out detailed assessment of losses and gains of the development. Habitats as well as species need to be protected: for example, translocation should be seen only be a last resort. Enhancement and Management Plans for more significant sites will be required, underwritten by Legal Agreements that bear upon all future owners of the land. Proposals affecting nationally important assets, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) will not be permitted.

7.11 There are four SSSI’s in the District; at Glemsford Pits, Foxearth, Chalkney Wood, Earls Colne, Belchers’ and Broadfield Wood, Stisted, and Bovingdon Hall Woods, Gosfield. Applicants with development proposals, which might affect these Sites of Special Scientific Interest should seek advice from, and discuss proposals with English Nature prior to submitting an application to the Council.

7.12 There are three designated local nature reserves in the District; at Brickfields/Long Meadow, Earls Colne; Whetmead, Witham; Brockwell Meadows, Kelvedon; together with the Rodbridge Picnic Site, Borley which is part of the Suffolk County Council local nature reserve at Rodbridge. There are three proposed local nature reserves at the former Gravel Pits, Gosfield; the disused railway line at Earls Colne; and land adjacent to the River Colne at Sible Hedingham. These are shown on the Proposals Map. The Essex Wildlife Trust has also compiled details of County Wildlife Sites, which are listed in Appendix 6. Maps of these safeguarded sites are available separately. A review of County Wildlife Sites (now termed Local Wildlife Sites) was undertaken in 2006. Local Nature Reserves and County Wildlife Sites Local Wildlife Sites comprise a substantial part of the District’s identified wildlife habitats and significantly contribute to the District’s biodiversity resource. Applicants with proposals, which might affect Local Nature Reserves or County Wildlife Sites Local Wildlife Sites should seek advice from, and discuss proposals with, Essex Wildlife Trust and/or Braintree Biodiversity Forum, prior to submitting an application to the Council. Developments which harm their nature conservation role will not normally be permitted. Appropriate compensatory or mitigation measures that would need to be provided, would be covered by planning conditions or obligations. The Council will support proposals that would increase the number, size and diversity of Local Nature Reserves and Wildlife Sites.

Policy RLP 82 Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Development likely to adversely affect Sites of Special Scientific Interest, either directly or indirectly, will not be permitted.

 

Policy RLP 83 Local Nature Reserves, Wildlife Sites and Regionally Important Geological/Geomorphological Sites.

Development likely to have an adverse effect on a Local Nature Reserve, a Wildlife Site, or a Regionally Important Geological/Geomorphological Site, will not be permitted. Where appropriate, the authority will consider the use of planning conditions and/or planning obligations to provide mitigation or compensatory measures.

PROTECTED SPECIES

7.13 A large and increasing number of species of flora and fauna are afforded statutory protection by UK and EU legislation, from the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 onwards. Their presence on or near to a development site is a material consideration. Applicants will be required to supply protected species survey information and relevant mitigation plans with any planning application. In those exceptional cases where permission is given, where there may be effects on the species and/or its habitat, conditions or legal agreements will be utilised to replace the habitat, or minimise the impact. Development proposals which may have an effect upon protected species are not only those in rural areas (including the conversion of agricultural buildings) but also other proposals within conservation areas, those affecting listed buildings and other proposals within urban areas.

Policy RLP 84 Protected Species

Planning permission will not be granted for development, which would have an adverse impact on badgers, or species protected under various UK and European legislation, or on the objectives and proposals in National or County Biodiversity Action Plans as amended. Where development is proposed that may have an impact on these species, the District Council will require the applicant to carry out a full ecological assessment. Where appropriate, the Planning Authority will impose conditions and/or planning obligations to:

a) Facilitate the survival of individual members of the species

b) Reduce disturbance to a minimum; and

c) Provide supplementary habitats.

ACCESS TO THE COUNTRYSIDE

7.14 Braintree District offers the opportunity for residents and visitors to enjoy the countryside, with its mix of urban and rural areas. The Council wishes to improve access to the countryside particularly for walkers, cyclists, and horseriders and by public transport. In the River Stour and Colne Valleys, this is an integral part of the Countryside Management Projects for these areas. Opportunities for countryside access and recreation have also been provided by the creation of the Essex Way, the long distance footpath and at the Marks Hall Estate, north of Coggeshall, where there is a visitor centre and arboretum owned and operated by the Thomas Phillips Price Trust. The Council wishes to extend this approach to other parts of the District.

7.15 Particular routes include the Stour Valley Path and the proposed Colne Valley Path, which will help form regional strategic green routes, that can integrate countryside and urban areas, through wildlife corridors. The latter is due to be opened in 2005/6 and will link Colchester town centre with Steeple Bumpstead (and with Newmarket via the Stour Valley Path) using existing rights of way. The John Ray Path is a good route connecting Braintree and Witham, as the path runs near to their respective railway stations. Proposals for the National Cycle Network are referred to in the Transport Chapter. Opportunities for the improvement of the bridleway network will be sought through the countryside management projects and as part of new development.

7.16 The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 is the principal legislative framework determining public rights of access to the countryside. It creates a new statutory right of access to open country and registered common land and modernizes the rights of way system. Within the terms of the Act, the District Council will seek to identify opportunities to improve sustainable and fully accessible access to the countryside and to enhance existing visitor facilities. Support and encouragement will be given to measures that seek to improve, extend and link the existing networks of footpaths and bridleways. The District Council will in appropriate circumstances enter into management agreements with landowners, to achieve improved access to the countryside.

EQUESTRIAN FACILITIES

7.17 Where equestrian facilities are proposed, there will be a need to ensure that access can be gained to the bridleway network without the need for horseriders to use heavily trafficked roads. Any buildings should also be sited and designed to ensure that they are compatible with their surroundings.

Policy RLP 85 Equestrian Facilities

New riding schools, stable buildings or other equestrian facilities,or extensions to such facilities will be permitted where:

(a) There is no significant effect on a Special Landscape Area, other important landscape or nature conservation interests or any adjacent residential area;

(b) No alterations to vehicular highways in the area are required;

(c) Bridleways and byways in the vicinity are located and designed to accommodate horse riders from the site; and

(d) No additional residential accommodation is consequently required to supervise the facilities.

Floodlighting will not be allowed in association with such facilities. Proposals for new, or extended residential accommodation, will only be permitted if a submitted business plan demonstrates that there is a convincing case for residential accommodation, and provided that they accord with criteria (a) to (d), the accommodation permitted will only be the minimum required to meet the needs of the relevant business.

RIVER CORRIDORS

7.18 The immediate edges of rivers, and also their open margins for several metres on either side, have a number of important functions for river conservation and recreation and the Environment Agency accords a high priority to these.

7.19 Plants growing in close proximity to watercourses attract insects specialised in feeding in and on the surface of the water, and animals move and migrate, often at night, along these margins. In some towns, river banks are increasingly the only uninterrupted routes to and from the surrounding countryside. In order to protect this habitat, it is therefore desirable that previously undeveloped floodplain areas should be retained as open space. The Environment Agency opposes the construction of culverts as they remove sections of wildlife corridor habitats (see paragraph 6.15).

7.20 River corridors also have a recreational role, for walking, fishing and other informal activity, which the Council and the Environment Agency wish to encourage, in all areas where there is no direct conflict with nature conservation.

Policy RLP 86 River Corridors

Development will not be permitted which would harm the open character, nature conservation importance or recreational importance of the floodplains of the Rivers Stour, Colne, Brain, Pant, Blackwater, Ter Valley and their tributaries and the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation.

PROTECTED LANES

7.21 A number of lanes, generally still adopted as public highways, exist within the District, which have a particular historic and landscape value for the character of the countryside. They are enclosed by a combination of mixed deciduous hedges, ditches and raised verges that can be indications of great age. The Council will seek to protect, or influence other agencies such as the Highway Authority to similarly protect these features and any mature trees alongside them.

7.22 The Council expects the County Council to pursue traffic management measures to bring the volume and speed of traffic, and permissible vehicle weights, down to levels reasonably compatible with their capacity and amenity value, particularly where they are well used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Material increases in traffic due to development proposals will not be permitted. The locations of Protected Lanes are shown on the Proposals Map. (Please note that an updated assessment of the protected lanes in the District was undertaken in July 2013, which resulted in some changes in protection status. The Braintree Protected Lanes Assessment July 2013 is available on the Council website.)

Policy RLP 87 Protected Lanes

The District Council will seek to conserve the traditional landscape and nature conservation character of roads designated on the Proposals Map as Protected Lanes, including their associated verges, banks and ditches. Any proposals that would adversely affect the physical appearance of these protected lanes, or give rise to a material increase in the amount of traffic using them will not be permitted.

AGRICULTURAL LAND

7.23 The quality, affected by consistency, tilth and fertility of arable soils is a well established material consideration in Development Plans and Planning Control. This is reinforced by growing awareness that the concept of ‘critical natural capital’ can be applied to permanent development on good quality farmland. The best and most versatile land is spread around the District, and includes that currently defined as Grades 1, 2 and 3a in Government records.

7.24 Recent policy statements by the Secretary of State confirmed that government departments (DEFRA) would cease to make formal recommendations in individual development cases, but that intrinsic soil quality would continue to be of central importance to decisions on greenfield development on agricultural land. A sequential approach is referred to as potentially appropriate in limited circumstances, where other considerations or national designations obtain, but the Development Strategy for Braintree District seeks concentration on the main towns in any case.

Policy RLP 88 Agricultural Land

(Policy superseded 19 September 2011 by Core Strategy Policy CS8 Natural Environment and Biodiversity.)

Development of the best and most versatile agricultural land should only be permitted where opportunities have been assessed for accommodating development on previously developed sites or within existing settlement boundaries. Where development of agricultural land is required, developers should seek to use areas of poorer quality except where other sustainability considerations suggest otherwise.

NEW FARM BUILDINGS

7.25 Many new agricultural buildings, and extensions and alterations do not require express planning permission. Although the Council therefore has limited control over one of the main built environment elements in the countryside, it will promote and encourage high standards for their siting, layout and design. Supplementary Guidance prepared by a Working Group of Essex Districts and the County Council has already been adopted, and this Guidance shows clear and practical ways of enhancing designs for common barn and other farm building types.

7.26 The fullest consideration will be given before permission is contemplated for intensive livestock breeding and other uses raising wider impact issues, where they are to be located in close proximity with dwellings.

Policy RLP 89 Agricultural Buildings

New agricultural buildings in the countryside should be of a design that is sympathetic to its surroundings in terms of scale, materials, colour and architectural detail. A condition will be imposed to prevent the change of use of agricultural buildings to intensive livestock use.



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