7.1 The quality of Mendips natural and built environment is one of its main assets. It adds to the quality of life of residents, attracts visitors and is important to the prosperity of the area. Protection and enhancement of environmental assets is also fundamental to sustainable development. Only by maintaining and improving the environment at the local level can the quality of the global environment be maintained and improved.
7.2 This section sets out policies designed to protect environmental assets and seek improvements to the environment wherever appropriate. Where the impact of a development on the environment is uncertain the Council will apply the precautionary principle.
7.3 The Draft Plan objectives related to Protecting and Enhancing Environmental Assets are:
to conserve and enhance the quality and character of the Districts countryside, especially areas identified as having particular landscape or nature conservation value;
to enable the provision of additional sites which will contribute to the stock of natural assets such as wildlife habitats, woodland and areas of landscape value;
to protect and enhance the Districts water environment, including ponds, rivers, wetlands and groundwater, for their own sake, for their contribution to nature conservation and the landscape and for their contribution to water supply;
to enable and encourage the redevelopment or reuse of suitable vacant, under used or derelict land and buildings;
to protect statutorily designated areas, sites, features and buildings; and
to conserve and enhance those spaces and environmental features which contribute to the character of settlements.
7.4 The conservation of biodiversity was recognised as a priority at the 1992 Earth Summit. As part of its commitment to the Earth Summit the UK Government published a Biodiversity Action Plan in 1994. This makes it clear that the conservation of biodiversity should be regarded as a key test of the sustainability of any development.
7.5 Mendip District Council has produced a Mendip Biodiversity Action Plan which sets out priorities for the conservation and monitoring of wildlife in the District. The Council will seek to maintain the overall abundance and diversity of the areas wildlife and its habitats, to prevent any loss and encourage a net gain in biodiversity. It recognises that the protection of habitats is most important in the conservation of species.
7.6 Where development takes place the Council will ensure that the adverse impacts on wildlife are minimised.
Statutorily Designated Sites
7.7 A wide range of features have been identified as having outstanding importance for nature conservation, either because of their wildlife value or because they have special geological or geomorphological interest.
7.8 Sites of Special Scientific Interest are identified by English Nature as representative examples of semi-natural habitats forming a nationally important set of sites. These are the most important sites in the District for wildlife and earth science conservation. Some are additionally designated as Nature Conservation Review and Geological Conservation Review sites, indicating that they are unique and that their interest is irreplaceable. Others that are of particular importance have international designations which include the ECs Special Protection Areas (for the conservation of wild birds) and Special Areas of Conservation (proposed for the conservation of habitats and wild flora and fauna). In addition a wetland site of international importance for wild birds has been designated under the Ramsar Convention.
7.9 Proposals for the development or change of use of land which may affect a European site, a proposed European site, a Ramsar site or a SSSI will be subject to the most rigorous examination.
7.10 Effects may be direct or the result of changes in other environmental systems such as hydrology or air quality caused by a development or change of use which is at some distance from the designated site. The assessment of whether a development will have a damaging impact on a site will include the risk posed to the site in the event of the failure of any system designed to protect its nature conservation value during construction or operation.
7.11 If, exceptionally development is permitted which would damage the nature conservation interest of a statutorily designated site (e.g. where it is necessary to site management for nature conservation), the developer will where a Special Protection Area or a Special Area of Conservation is affected be expected to follow the steps that are set out in C10 of Annex C to Planning Policy Guidance 9 (Nature Conservation), and in other cases should be able to demonstrate that such damage will be kept to a minimum. In such cases environmental compensation of at least similar scale and nature to the loss will be sought through planning obligations and conditions.
7.12 Currently designated sites are shown on the Proposals Map.
County Wildlife Sites/RIGS/Local Nature Reserves
7.13 A number of other sites of wildlife importance have been identified as County Wildlife Sites (CWS). These are identified by the Somerset Environmental Records Centre (SERC) using a set of criteria based on current scientific knowledge. The criteria detail the types of habitat, species and plant communities which must exist on a site in order for it to qualify. These will include, for example, U.K. Biodiversity Action Plan priority species and key habitats. The criteria are set by SERC according to national guidelines and are agreed by the SERC Management Group which includes Somerset Wildlife Trust, English Nature and Local Authorities. Sites of geological and geomorphological importance have also been identified and these are designated as Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGS). CWS and RIGS are of county or regional importance and are often highly valued by local people. A list of sites identified as CWS and RIGS is available from the Council and lists of those identified at the time of the publication of the plan are shown in Appendices 5 and 6 for information. In all cases Local Nature Reserves are statutorily designated for their local interest.
7.14 If, exceptionally development is permitted which would damage the nature conservation interest of a non statutory site, the Council will expect it to be demonstrated that such damage will be kept to a minimum. In such cases environmental compensation of a similar scale and nature to the loss will be sought through planning obligations and conditions.
7.15 Currently identified sites of County or Regional importance are shown on the Proposals Map.
7.16 A number of species of plant and animal, are protected by legislation such as The Habitats Directive and The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (amended 1985). Great crested newts, badgers and bats are among those species which are protected. It is an offence to kill, injure or take protected species or to intentionally damage, destroy or obstruct their places of shelter.
7.17 English Nature can provide advice on how best to treat protected species. Often, they can be accommodated within development proposals.
Nature Conservation Outside Designated Sites
7.18 It is important to conserve the nature conservation value of the wider countryside as well as protecting designated sites and species. This will help guard against further decline in commonplace species and their habitats. In particular linear or continuous features often act as routes for migration, dispersal and genetic exchange. Other features which are not continuous may act as stepping stones along such routes. Examples include rivers and their banks, field boundary systems, ponds and small woods. The management of these features is often of vital importance in maintaining their value to wildlife.
7.19 The Mendip Biodiversity Action Plan identifies a number of Prime Biodiversity Areas. These are areas that support the greatest diversity of species and the greatest extent and highest quality of semi-natural habitat and offer the greatest potential for restoration of characteristic habitat. The aim of the Mendip Biodiversity Action Plan goes beyond maintaining these areas and is to reverse the fragmentation and reduction of habitat that has occurred
7.20 The Biodiversity Action Plan will form a useful guide to the types of habitat which should be protected or recreated, particularly within the Prime Biodiversity Areas.
7.21 Woodland is important for its contribution to biodiversity. It is also an important resource in terms of its ability to fix CO 2 from the atmosphere and has a role to play in reducing global warming. Community woodland, where public access is provided also allows for informal recreation and is a valuable amenity for local residents.
7.22 The Council will use all opportunities to increase the abundance and variety of wildlife in the District including the provision of new woodlands and other habitats.
Trees, Hedgerows and Woodlands
7.23 Trees and hedgerows are important for their contribution to landscape, townscape and biodiversity. They also have a vital role in absorbing carbon dioxide and influencing climate change at the global scale. It is important that trees, hedgerows and woodlands are protected, especially as new tree planting takes many years to become established.
7.24 The Council will use its powers to protect trees and hedgerows where appropriate and will encourage new planting in suitable locations. However, care should be taken to ensure that new planting does not result in the loss of other sorts of habitat or archaeological features.
Landscape Value of AONBs
7.25 AONBs are designated for their nationally important landscapes. The primary objective of the designation is the conservation of the natural beauty of the landscape although the economic and social well-being of the area may also be material in the consideration of any development proposals within it. The promotion of recreation is not an objective of the designation although these areas can meet demand as far as this is consistent with the conservation of natural beauty and the needs of agriculture, forestry and other uses. Major development will seldom be appropriate in these areas. The impact of development close to the edge of the AONB must also be considered.
7.26 Part of the Mendip Hills AONB and part of the West Wiltshire Downs and Cranborne Chase AONB fall within Mendip District. Policy EN6 will apply in those areas in addition to the landscape and countryside policies elsewhere in the Development Plan. The Mendip Hills Management Plan deals with various management and administrative matters relating to the welfare of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Special Landscape Features
7.27 Within the character areas as referred to in 4.8 of the Plan there are a number of features which are of particular value and require special protection. These are often the most vulnerable areas and the least able to accommodate change whilst retaining their particular value.
7.28 Some of the features are defined for their contribution to the scenic quality of the District. Others have historical or cultural associations which make them special. The sites are shown on the Proposals Map and a list including a brief description that includes a reason for designation is at Appendix 7.
Parks and Gardens Listed for their Historic Interest
7.29 Within Mendip, there are a number of parks and gardens registered by English Heritage for their historic interest. Those currently on the Register are shown on the Proposals Map. They make a significant contribution to the heritage and character of the District and are of interest in their own right. These parks and gardens are vulnerable to damage, either through inappropriate development or neglect. Their landscape setting can also be vital to their interest.
7.30 If, exceptionally, development is permitted which affects a historic park or garden, the Council will negotiate to secure the restoration and long term management of the park or garden.
7.31 Some of the areas defined as Special Landscape Features are examples of well preserved historic landscapes. Historic features are also an important part of the wider Mendip landscape and lend a strong sense of place and continuity to the District. These include small features of local significance such as walls, pathways, paving, gates and styles, milestones and other signs and markers as well as larger features such as earthworks, roadways, green lanes and the pattern of field boundaries. These features are often highly valued by the local community and collectively illustrate the historical development of the area. It is often possible to incorporate the conservation of such features into a scheme for development.
7.32 Green belts are designated to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open and encourage urban regeneration and the recycling of urban land.
7.33 The openness of the land is the most important consideration in these areas but they also have a role to play in providing access to open countryside, opportunities for outdoor sport and recreation, retaining attractive landscapes, retaining land in agricultural and forestry uses and securing nature conservation interests.
7.34 There is a small area of the Bath and Bristol green belt in the extreme north eastern corner of Mendip. There is a small hamlet within the area but no villages. Policies E7 and E8 on the conversion of agricultural buildings are also of particular relevance.
7.35 Archaeological remains are a finite and non-renewable resource which are in many cases fragile and vulnerable to damage. They contain irreplaceable information about the past and are valuable for their own sake and for their role in education, leisure and tourism. They also contribute to local identity and are often highly valued by local people.
Nationally Important Archaeological Remains
7.36 Many nationally important archaeological sites are designated as Scheduled Ancient Monuments. However, scheduling is not comprehensive. Much remains to be discovered and on some occasions sites may be acknowledged to have national significance but are not scheduled. Both scheduled and unscheduled sites of national importance should be protected for their intrinsic value.
7.37 Scheduled Monuments and other remains of national importance currently identified are shown on the Proposals Map.
7.38 Where development is proposed which may affect a site of national importance, planning permission will not be granted unless an evaluation has been carried out to determine the effect of the proposal on the archaeological value of the site. The Council will also seek the long term management and interpretation of the site as part of any scheme.
Sites of Local Importance
7.39 Not all the archaeological remains in Mendip are of national importance. The County Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) records known sites and buildings of local importance. In some instances the remains detailed in the SMR will be indicative of a wider area of interest. Others may be isolated finds. Although these sites are not of national importance they have intrinsic value and should be protected.
7.40 A list of sites recorded on the SMR is available from the Council and a list of the SMR at the time of the publication of the plan is shown at Appendix 8 for information. In all cases developers should consider whether their site is likely to contain archaeological remains as part of their initial research into its development potential.
Areas of High Archaeological Potential
7.41 Where there is reason to believe archaeological remains exist but limited or no investigations have yet taken place, Areas of High Archaeological Potential have been defined and shown on the proposals map. These may be based on sites in the SMR or on an assessment of historic landscape, settlement patterns, documentary or cartographic evidence or archaeological research. Within these areas it is important to ensure that proper investigations are carried out before development is permitted. Where remains are discovered which are judged to be of national or local importance, Policies EN11 and EN12 will be relevant as appropriate.
Treatment of Remains and Access and Interpretation of Archaeological Sites
7.42 Where a site with some archaeological interest is included in a development its interests should be safeguarded as far as possible. The opportunity may arise for public access and interpretation of the site to be secured as an educational and recreational resource for local residents. The opportunity may also arise to secure the long term management of the site as part of a scheme.
7.43 Where remains are retained in situ, the Council will negotiate with the developer to secure the long term management, public access to, and interpretation of, the site. Where remains are preserved by record, it will negotiate to secure the long term preservation and interpretation of artefacts and the publication of the record.
Groundwater Source Protection Areas
7.44 Groundwater is an important resource throughout Mendip with extensive abstraction of water from underlying aquifers. The protection of both the quality and quantity of groundwater is of great importance. Once pollution has occurred it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to clean up. Pollution can put drinking water supplies at risk and may impact on surface water quality where the baseflow is dependent on groundwater. Over abstraction or development which affects recharge of the aquifer may also damage water courses and put drinking water supplies at risk.
7.45 The Environment Agency has defined Groundwater Source Protection Zones for the majority of large abstractions for potable supply. These are designed to protect against the effects of human activity on the groundwater source. Those currently identified are shown on the Proposals Map. However, they are not definitive and the Environment Agency may modify them in the light of improved information.
7.46 Three categories of Groundwater Source Protection Zones are recognised:
1) ZONE 1 (INNER SOURCE PROTECTION); located immediately adjacent to the groundwater source. It is defined by a 50 day travel time from any point below the water table to the source;
2) ZONE 2 (OUTER SOURCE PROTECTION); defined by a 400 day travel time from any point below the water table to the source;
3) ZONE 3 (SOURCE CATCHMENT); the complete catchment area of a groundwater source. All groundwater within it will eventually discharge to the source;
Development which would affect groundwater resources will be considered on a site specific basis, in consultation with the Environment Agency. Activities which are outside of planning control will continue to be regulated by the appropriate legislation and codes of practice.
7.47 Development which takes place in floodplains can be at risk of flooding putting property, and potentially life, at risk. It may also impair the effectiveness of the floodplain in conveying and storing water, causing an increased risk of flooding elsewhere. Construction of flood defences is not always a cost effective solution to these problems and may be damaging to the river environment in themselves. River corridors often have value as wildlife habitats and provide corridors of movement for wildlife. They also often have a recreational and amenity value to local people.
7.48 Floodplains currently defined by the Environment Agency are shown on the Proposals Map, although a risk of flooding may exist outside these areas. Floodplain maps are continuously updated by the Environment Agency. Where a development proposal is on land that is considered to be at risk of flooding, the developer will be expected to demonstrate that no reasonable alternative sites in a lower risk category are available. The sequential test should take into account the distribution of actual flood risk, the availability of flood defences, and the effects of flood risk on both local public transport availability and the surrounding road network serving any proposed development.
Amenity Value of Watercourses
7.49 Watercourses contribute to the local scene, both in terms of their visual value and as habitats for wildlife. They also form corridors along which wildlife can move, often providing a route through otherwise hostile areas, allowing migration and the linking of isolated pockets of habitat.
Surface Water Runoff
7.50 Many forms of development result in an increase in the area of impermeable surfacing on the site. This can increase the speed of runoff, increasing the danger of flooding downstream. There is also likely to be an increased danger of contamination of runoff as it passes over these impermeable services from small spills of oil or other chemicals. The Environment Agency has produced guidance on Best Management Practice for the sustainable disposal of surface water runoff using mechanisms such as swales, reed beds, soakage lagoons and permeable paving.
AGRICULTURAL LAND PROTECTION
7.51 Agricultural land is one of Mendips most important resources. The quantity and quality of agricultural land lost to development is an important consideration and development should be directed away from the best and most versatile land.
7.52 Agricultural land is classified by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs into one of six categories. Grades 1, 2 and 3a are considered to be the best and most versatile. The nature conservation, landscape, historic or other environmental value of grades 3b, 4 and 5 should not, however, be overlooked.
7.53 Conservation Areas are designated for their special architectural or historic interest. There are separate procedures (outside the local plan process) for designating them, which incorporate public participation and consultation. The Council will keep under review the need for new Conservation Areas to be designated or for the boundaries of existing areas to be reviewed.
7.54 The Council has a statutory duty to formulate and publish proposals for the preservation and enhancement of Conservation Areas and this does not form part of the Local Plan. However, development proposals will impact on Conservation Areas and the Council will ensure that their special architectural or historic character is protected and enhanced. This will mean the protection of those features which contribute to the character and quality of the area. These may include the historic street pattern, plot boundaries, the form of the settlement and individual buildings, the spaces between buildings, the materials used in construction, street furniture, the floorscape and the uses and activities which are carried out there. Any new building, alterations, changes of use or demolitions should respect the special architectural or historic character of the Area.
7.55 All planning applications in Conservation Areas should be made with full details so that the impact on the area can be properly assessed. Partial demolition of a building in a Conservation Area does not appear to constitute development, and therefore does not require consent. The Council will consider the need for Article 4 Directions in Conservation Area controlling the partial demolition of buildings. Conservation Area Consent is required for the demolition of buildings in Conservation Areas.
7.56 Conservation Areas currently designated are shown on the Proposals Map.
7.57 Buildings which represent the best of the nations historic and architectural built heritage are Listed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. They are irreplaceable. The Council has a statutory duty to ensure that Listed Buildings, their setting, and any features of special architectural or historic which they possess, are preserved.
7.58 The best way of ensuring the maintenance and protection of such buildings is for them to have a viable long term use. The Council will therefore be flexible in considering changes of use of Listed Buildings, provided this does not result in damage to the building or its setting or in inappropriate alterations to the building fabric.
7.59 Many Listed Buildings also have archaeological value and appear on the County SMR (see Policy EN12).
7.60 Any application for permission to carry out works to, or change the use of, Listed Buildings should be accompanied by details of all the intended alterations to the building and its curtilage in order that their impact on its appearance, character and setting can be assessed. Listed Building Consent is required for the demolition or partial demolition of Listed Buildings.
7.61 Changes of use should provide for the use of the whole building and should not, for instance, prejudice access to upper floors. The raising or lowering of ceiling heights, removal of floors or construction of new staircases will seldom be appropriate.
Development Affecting the Setting of a Listed Building
7.62 The appearance and interest of a Listed Building can be greatly affected by its setting. This might include gardens or grounds, but also includes the general street scene within which the building fits. This may be affected by inappropriate new development, by ancillary uses such as roadways or car parking or by the removal of trees or other features.