The countryside of Dover District is particularly rich and varied and includes a significant number of sites designated for their international, national and local biodiversity importance. With regard to internationally designated sites, the District Council has a statutory duty to protect habitats and species of European importance and to consider potential significant impacts upon these sites. At the time of writing it is not clear what the future of the UK’s relationship with the European Union, and specifically European legislation, will be after December 2020. The European Union Withdrawal Act (2018), section 3, states that the whole body of existing EU environmental laws will be carried over into UK law. However, recent statements issued from the government appear to bring the future of this Act into question. A specific policy is therefore considered essential to ensure the Plan complies with relevant legislation.
In this regard, the NPPF requires local planning authorities to enhance their natural environments and as part of this requirement to distinguish between the hierarchy of designated sites in their areas. The option of a single policy addressing the hierarchy of protected biodiversity sites was preferred to separate policies for each tier in the hierarchy international, national and locally designated sites as better fulfilling this requirement of the NPPF and reducing unnecessary repetition within the Plan itself.
Regular monitoring of the designated sites in the district, together with ongoing HRA work, has revealed the potential for harmful effects as a result of visitor pressure on the integrity of the internationally protected sites of the district, in particular at the Thanet Coast and Sandwich Bay SPA and Ramsar sites. Under guidance from Natural England, the Council has been proactive in delivering on its legal duty to put in place measures at the Thanet Coast and Sandwich Bay SPA and Ramsar sites to mitigate any potential for harm and to provide positive solutions to reduce or avoid conflict between the demands of recreational pressures and the protected habitats and species. The Strategic Access and Management Plan (SAMM) currently in place for this SPA is based on the levying of a tariff on all residential developments greater than 15 dwellings across the district to contribute to ongoing monitoring and mitigation measures. Given a continued need for such measures, a policy to address this is considered appropriate. Options under consideration include whether a whole district approach remains appropriate or whether a ‘Zone of Influence’ approach is more applicable, or a combination of both. In addition, options are being considered as to whether the current threshold of 15 or more dwellings for tariff eligibility should be carried forward, or a threshold of 10 or more dwellings, aligned to the threshold for other S106 requirements in this Plan is more appropriate, or whether a tariff should be levied on every new dwelling permitted, as a number of other local authorities have implemented. On the spatial extent of the tariff levy it is concluded, on the current evidence, that a combination of both a Zone of Influence, which visitor survey work concludes should be set at 9km from the SPA, and a whole district approach, is the preferred option. With regard to the quantum of development for which a tariff is required, evidence is not yet concluded and the preferred option in this Draft of the Plan is therefore to require tariff contributions for residential developments of 10 dwellings or more in line with the approach for all other developer contributions arising from this Plan, pending the completion of evidence on this matter. With regard to potentially harmful visitor pressure impacts on the Dover to Kingsdown Cliffs SAC and the Lydden and Temple Ewell Downs SAC, evidence gathering is ongoing.
Adverse effects on the integrity of internationally protected sites which are home to endangered and protected species can also occur through non-physical disturbance ie as a result of increased noise, vibrations and light spill. The HRA which informs this Plan has recommended wording with respect to the protection of the bird life of the Thanet Coast and Sandwich Bay SPA and Ramsar. This wording is included in Strategic Policy 16 and Policy DM17.
Turning to biodiversity, the Environment Bill (at the time of writing going through its final readings in the House of Commons) introduces a legal requirement that all developments provide net gains in biodiversity in perpetuity. As drafted the Bill mandates that such net gains should amount to 10% as a minimum and aim to achieve more wherever possible. As with the duty to protect habitats and species of international importance and to consider potential significant impacts on these sites, such a legal obligation requires a policy to deliver such a net gain across the plan period. The Kent Nature Partnership, of which the District Council is a member, is currently considering a doubling in the requirement to 20% in net gain from all developments across the county. The evidence for the need for a 20% requirement is still emerging and the increased requirement has the potential to impact upon development viability. It is therefore the preferred policy option for Biodiversity Net Gain that it be set at 10% in the Regulation 18 Draft Local Plan.
The landscape character of this district is unusually diverse, ranging from marine conservation zones to protected chalk grasslands. More than 20% of its land area falls within the Kent Downs AONB. The current development plan includes policies that seek to protect the countryside and landscape character of Dover District from inappropriate development (Policies DM15 and DM16). Evidence demonstrates that these policies, along with the relevant paragraphs of the NPPF, are among the most frequently used in the determination of planning applications and appeals. In addition, an extensive and up-to-date evidence base is available to support the inclusion of a locally specific landscape policy within the Plan, rather than the option of relying on the relevant sections of the NPPF. The preferred option is therefore to continue with the current approach but to combine landscape protection policies into one, rather than continue with two as the issues on this matter are aligned. The option of a separate policy for the Kent Downs AONB was considered but the preferred option is to provide coverage within an overarching landscape policy, given the areas of overlap between conserving and enhancing the scenic beauty and character and appearance of the AONB and the other landscapes of the district.
The NPPF requires local planning policies to contribute towards compliance with national air quality objectives, and, specifically that opportunities to make improvements in air quality or to mitigate impacts should be identified at the plan-making stage. This district has air quality problems, and two AQMAs, associated with road traffic on the trunk roads leading to the port of Dover and from shipping movements in the port itself. Given that air quality issues are particularly pertinent to individual districts and that mitigation measures are most appropriate when targeted to particular circumstances, the inclusion of a local plan policy on air quality , as opposed to a reliance on policy at a national level only, is therefore considered essential.
Similarly, the NPPF requires planning policies to deliver improvements in water quality. The option of relying on paragraph 170 of the NPPF for assessing the impact of proposals coming forward over the plan period on water supply and quality was considered, however it was concluded that the preferred option is for a Dover specific policy, in order to address the specific issues addressing these matters in this district. These include existing water quality target failures in the Stodmarsh European sites in neighbouring Canterbury District and consequent current advice issued by Natural England that a likely significant effect on the Stodmarsh designated sites from development that increases nutrient impacts cannot be ruled out, on objective evidence, at this stage. Finally, the current development plan contains a separate policy for the River Dour, one of two rivers in the District. The option of continuing such an approach was considered alongside the option of including policy requirements for proposals within the river corridor of the River Dour within a water supply and quality policy, given the overlap between issues and the desire to avoid repetition in the new Plan. However, ecology advice was that a separate policy is necessary.