Under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (commonly referred to as the Habitat Regulations), a Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) is required for land use plans and for planning applications that are likely to have significant effects on a Habitat Site.
Habitat Sites are protected at the highest level and are of international importance. They are designated through the EU Birds Directive and EU Habitats Directive, and these Directives are transposed into UK law.
In Colchester, we have the Colne Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA), the Blackwater Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA), Abberton Reservoir Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA) and the Essex Estuaries Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The three SPAs are also Ramsar sites, which are wetlands of international importance. The Essex Estuaries SAC includes the Colne and Blackwater estuaries. Due to the close proximity of the River Stour, the southern shore of the Stour and Orwell Estuaries Special Protection Area (SPA) is also likely to be affected by development in Colchester.
Population growth in Essex is likely to significantly affect Habitat Sites through increased recreational disturbance in combination with other Local Plans. Consequently, in partnership with Natural England, the government's advisor on the natural environment, and other LPAs in Essex, Colchester Borough Council has prepared a Recreational Disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy (RAMS) for the Essex Coast. The RAMS identifies necessary measures to avoid and mitigate likely significant effects from recreational disturbance in-combination with other plans and projects.
The RAMS sets out a tariff of £127.30, which applies to all residential development within the Zone of Influence (ZoI). The whole of Colchester Borough is within the ZoI. All residential proposals within the borough should make a contribution towards the measures in the RAMS to avoid and mitigate adverse effects from increased recreational disturbance to ensure that Habitat Sites are not adversely affected and the proposal complies with the Habitat Regulations.
Proposals for 100 dwellings or more will also require a shadow appropriate assessment to be submitted with the application, which assesses likely significant effects alone. This should clearly show how necessary avoidance measures are incorporated into the proposal. Payment of the RAMS tariff will address in-combination effects.
The alternative to paying the tariff is for applicants to submit a shadow appropriate assessment report, which includes details of bespoke avoidance and mitigation measures. This shadow appropriate assessment report must be prepared by a reasonably qualified person in support of the application and Natural England will need to be consulted.