Nature conservation sites - a complete building block?

United Kingdom

The SPA in the Thames Valley is causing problems for developers.

English Nature is advising against any development within 400m of the Thames Basin Heaths SPA and only within 5km if other green space is provided to reduce the number of visitors to the SPA.This is due to concerns about the impact of development on birds in the SPA. The Government and the relevant local authorities are trying to find solutions that will allow development to proceed. However, for some developers this is too little too late; many schemes have already been refused planning permission. These cases highlight the importance for developers with sites near to SPAs of dealing with this problem early on in the development process.

European Union countries must identify and protect areas which are home to rare birds, plants and animals. These areas are known as SPAs or SACs.

Development near to a protected site must pass a number of tests before planning permission can be granted.

1. Whether the development is likely to have significant environmental effects on the protected area.

2. Provision of detailed information to enable the local authority to assess whether the development will adversely affect the protected site.

3. Whether there are alternative sites for the development that would have less impact on the protected site.

4. Whether there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest why permission should be granted.

5. Whether measures will be taken to protect the protected sites affected.

These steps impose a heavy burden on any applicant for planning permission near to an SPA or SAC.

Developers considering building near a protected site should contact the local authority and English Nature at a very early stage in the planning process to try to agree a route that will protect the environment and allow the development to go ahead. At best, developers are likely to have to provide alternative open space. At worst, development may be prevented entirely.