Limitations of housing in SPD to protect European site supported by inspector

45 dwellings at a former horticultural nursery in the open countryside outside a settlement boundary in Dorset have been approved to address a housing shortfall despite being contrary to locational policy and near to a European protected site.

Apart from a determination that the housing land supply position was insufficient, one of the issues the inspector focussed on was the biodiversity impacts of the proposed housing on a European protected heathland located 1.2km away. 

In the zone between 400m and 5km from the heathland the council’s policy stated that any residential development should provide mitigation through a range of measures set out in the local plan and a supplementary planning document. This was to ensure no significant adverse effect on the European site under the Habitats Directive. These included on-site and off-site natural greenspaces and/or other appropriate avoidance/mitigation measures. The policy documents stated that large sites of approximately 50 dwellings and above would be expected to include natural greenspaces as part of the infrastructure of the site, particularly where greenfield sites were proposed. The SPD had been adopted by the local council, county council and four other local authorities in Dorset.

The scheme, which was originally for 60 dwellings, had proposed contributions towards infrastructure projects and access management for the protected site but did not propose a natural greenspace. The inspector, in carefully assessing the biodiversity impacts of the scheme, felt that, on its own, it was not likely to have a significant effect on the heathland in terms of recreational pressure from dog walking, cycling and rubbish dumping. He also considered that the mitigation measures proposed would be consistent with the SPD and that the scheme would provide appropriate avoidance and mitigation measures in relation to the potential for in-combination effects on the heathland. However, in reaching his overall conclusion of acceptability in principle, the inspector held the scheme needed to be reduced from 60 to 45 dwellings to meet the size capacity requirements of the local plan and SPD policies in relation to proposals within the vicinity of the heathland, which were well supported and based on sound evidence.

Inspector: David Prentis; Inquiry

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