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17. Natural Environment

Core Strategy Strategic Objective

To protect, enhance and link the natural environment through controlling the location and design of new development.

SCS Strategic Aim

The built and natural environment has been protected and enhanced

Why is this a Strategic Objective?

17.1 The natural environment provides us with a wide range of important benefits, including areas for recreation and education, healthy food, and clean water and air. These areas have a positive impact on the quality of people's lives, as well as providing many wider social and economic benefits for local communities. However, the fragile state of our natural environment means that it is important that we protect and enhance it to ensure that future generations can also benefit from these areas.

17.2 The District possesses an environment that is regarded by many as being of a particularly high quality. This applies not only to the built and historic environment, but also to the landscape and particular natural assets that contribute to the quality of life enjoyed by both residents and visitors alike. Although the District does not contain any nationally designated areas of high landscape quality, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or National Parks, there is a distinctive character to the District's rural landscape based upon its topography, history, farming and settlement patterns. The landscape is therefore a key part of the natural environment of the District which provides a setting for its towns and villages.

17.3 Ecological features, such as the particular flora and fauna that are prevalent, are also a very important attribute of the natural environment and its local identity, as well as the influence of soils, and the area's underlying topography and geology. The District contains a large number of habitats, species and natural resources in both its urban and rural areas. These include particular habitats of statutory importance, including seven designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's) and nine Local Nature Reserves that make a significant contribution in terms of nature conservation and education. The District is also the home of many designated areas of ancient woodland and local geological sites. In addition, there are also sites and features that are subject to non-statutory designations that reflect their particular local value. These include Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation that have been identified through the ongoing Habitat Biodiversity Audit project.

Evidence:

Participation

17.4 In response to the public consultation on the "Issues Paper", the majority of respondents considered protecting and enhancing the natural environment and landscapes a high priority. Moreover, protecting the natural environment was recorded as the key priority for the District from all respondents. However, the majority recognised it was acceptable to develop on some greenfield land on the edge of towns to meet the growth needs of the District.

Research

17.5 The Council has the following documents and evidence which summarise the value and importance of some of the various components of the District's natural environment, and provide a strategy for its enhancement:

  • Warwickshire Landscape Guidelines;
  • Landscape Character Assessment and Joint Green Belt Review of the urban fringe of the District's towns (also informed the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment);
  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest;
  • Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation;
  • Local Nature Reserves;
  • Ancient Woodlands;
  • Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites;
  • Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull Local Biodiversity Action Plan and Strategy; and,
  • Habitat Assessment of the urban fringe of the District's towns (also informed the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment).

National and Regional Planning Policies

17.6 Relevant national planning policy is contained within a number of planning policy statements. PPS1: Delivering Sustainable Development requires local planning authorities to give protection to the wider countryside and take account of the impact of development on landscape quality, the conservation and enhancement of wildlife species and habitats and the promotion of biodiversity.

17.7 In landscape terms, and specifically in relation to Green Belt areas of the wider countryside, PPG2: Green belts requires local planning authorities to apply very strict policies to restrict new development except in relation to certain categories of development or where very special circumstances exist. More generally, PPS7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas requires local planning authorities to include criteria-based policies to protect locally valued landscapes, supported by landscape character assessments. Local designations should only be used where such policies cannot provide sufficient protection.

17.8 PPS9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation requires local planning authorities to identify the location of designated sites of importance for biodiversity and geodiversity, and identify any areas for restoration or creation of new priority habitats having regard to regional targets.

17.9 Regional planning policy requires local planning authorities to conserve, enhance and restore the quality, diversity and distinctiveness of the landscape character of the region, and to maintain and enhance the region's biodiversity resources. This includes giving priority to specific species and habitats of national and sub-regional importance, and to biodiversity enhancement areas, including the strategic river corridor of the Avon.

What are the options?

17.10 National and regional planning policies are clear in terms of the approach to be taken by local planning authorities in protecting and enhancing the natural environment. The Core Strategy must therefore include appropriate strategic policies to control the location and design of new development within the wider countryside and in areas of importance for biodiversity and geodiversity. This could be supplemented in due course by more detailed policies in respect of particular sites or areas, such as the River Avon corridor, through the development of a subsequent supplementary planning document.

17.11 The only reasonable option available for the Core Strategy in relation to the natural environment is the inclusion and extension of local landscape designations. The Council has for many years designated 'Areas of Restraint' which are local landscape designations aimed at protecting the openness of areas of land within and adjacent to the District's towns. They have many purposes, including retaining attractive landscapes and open spaces within and adjoining the urban areas for the benefit of the urban population, and safeguarding the countryside from encroachment and preventing neighbouring settlements and urban areas from merging into one another.

17.12 It is an option to maintain this designation within the Core Strategy, but to amend the areas to recognise the possible strategic allocations required for housing and employment, and to include new areas where these are now required to protect the openness of land to prevent settlements from merging . This would result in the existing areas to the west of Europa Way, south of Sydenham and south of Whitnash being removed from the designation in order to allow development to take place. However, it would also result in the inclusion of a new 'area of restraint' between the village of Bishops Tachbrook and the developed areas of the strategic allocation south of Harbury Lane. These amendments are shown on the plan attached as Appendix Seven. There would be no amendments to the Areas of Restraint within Kenilworth. The alternative option for the Core Strategy would be to delete the 'areas of restraint' and rely upon a general criteria-based policy applicable to all areas of the District's open countryside.

Feedback - Options for the Natural Environment
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What is our Preferred Option?

17.13 The preferred option for the Core Strategy is to include strategic policies that will protect, enhance and link the natural environment in accordance with national and regional planning policy. In addition, the preferred option is also to continue the Council's designation of 'areas of restraint' within and adjoining the towns. It is considered a general criteria-based policy relating to the open countryside would not provide sufficient protection in terms of maintaining the openness of these areas. The designations would need to be amended to reflect the strategic allocations to the south of Warwick/Leamington/Whitnash and the inclusion of an additional area to prevent Bishops Tachbrook from merging with the urban area.

Feedback - Preferred Option for the Natural Environment
View Comments (108) Do you support or object to the preferred option for the Natural Environment, particularly in respect of amendments to the Area of Restraint designation?
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