Appropriate Assessment- screening Report




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Milton Keynes Council

Core Strategy

Appropriate Assessment- Screening Report
April 2007


1. Introduction
This document has been produced to determine whether policies and proposals in the Milton Keynes Council Core Strategy will have a significant adverse impact on any Natura 2000 sites.
Principally, the role of this document is to report on the ‘screening’ process undertaken to determine whether the Core Strategy will have any significant impact on the Natura 2000 sites and as such whether a full Appropriate Assessment (AA) will need to be undertaken.
1.1 Background
Legal protection is afforded to habitats and species of European importance through The Conservation (Natural Habitats &c) Regulations 1994, which transpose Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and Wild Flora and Fauna- known as the ‘Habitats Directive’ into UK law. Article 2 of the Habitats Directive requires the protected habitats and species to be kept in favourable condition through appropriate maintenance and restoration. Implementation of this occurs through a network of protected areas called Natura 2000 sites.
Articles 6(3) and 6(4) of the Habitats Directive require AA of plans to be undertaken. This involves assessing the contents of the plans, such as the Core Strategy, to ensure that their policies and proposals maintain the integrity of Natura 2000 sites.
There are two types of Natura 2000 site – Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA). SACs are mainly habitat features, stemming from the Habitats Directive, whereas SPAs are features comprising populations of bird species. A number of qualifying features are identified for each Natura 2000, for which conservation objectives have been developed.
The purpose of AA is to assess the impacts of land-use plans, such as the Core Strategy, against the conservation objectives of any related Natura 2000 sites. The assessment must determine whether the plan would adversely affect the nature conservation objectives of each site. Where negative effects can be identified, other options should be examined to avoid any potential damaging effects.
The application of the precautionary principle through the Habitats Directive means that plans, such as the Core Strategy, can only be permitted once it is shown that there will be no adverse effect on the integrity of any Natura 2000 sites. In the rare case of there being no alternatives available or over-riding reasons of public interest why a plan needs to be implemented, plans that do have negative impacts may still be approved.

1.2 The stages of Appropriate Assessment
There are three stages in carrying out Appropriate Assessment, as outlined in the DCLG Guide on Planning for the Protection of European sites: Appropriate Assessment consultation document1:
1. Determining whether the plan is likely to have a significant effect on a European site, either alone or in combination with other plans or projects- the screening stage
2. Appropriate Assessment ascertaining the effect on site integrity
3. Mitigation & alternative solutions- Where there is a risk of the plan having adverse effects on the integrity of a site, there should be an examination of mitigation measures and alternative solutions.
Together these three stages are described as Appropriate Assessment, which should not be confused with the second task in the wider process.
This report covers stage 1- screening.
2. Screening
The screening process involves 3 main stages
1. Identifying relevant Natura 2000 sites
2. Summarising potential effects of the Core Strategy on these Natura 2000 sites, including those in combination with other plans and programmes; and
3. Screening out those sites which are likely to be unaffected by the Core Strategy
2.1 Identifying Natura 2000 sites
Milton Keynes lies in an area void of any Natura 2000 sites. The nearest European site is the Chiltern Beechwoods to the south of the Borough although Natural England are of the view that the site would not be affected by Milton Keynes planning policy due to the distance of the site from Milton Keynes and there being no obvious impact pathways. However, in liaison with Natural England the Council has identified two sites that could potentially be affected by the Core Strategy, and other Local Development Documents, due to the pathway provided by the River Great Ouse, which feeds in to Natura 2000 sites. These sites are:


  • Ouse Washes SPA /SAC- The SPA designation is due to the site’s importance as an internationally important assemblage of birds. The presence of the spined loach (Cobitis taenia) – the clear water and abundant macrophytes, is particularly important in the Counter Drain, and a healthy population of spined loach is known to occur




  • Portholme SAC- It is the largest surviving traditionally-managed meadow in the UK, with an area of 104 ha of alluvial flood meadow. Supports a small population of fritillary Fritillaria meleagris.


2.2 Potential effects of the Core Strategy
The CS will set out development objectives for growth in Milton Keynes, some 85 km upstream from upstream of the Ouse Washes SPA / SAC. Proposals include growth of 21,700 houses (on top of existing commitments), associated services and facilities, including employment sites, focused within the existing urban area and to the south east and west of the city up to 2021. It will also provide guidance on key infrastructure requirements needed to support the growth. The strategy will set out how the wider Milton Keynes Sub Regional requirements will be achieved in the Borough.
As such, the possible impacts of the Core Strategy on the identified Natura 2000 sites are identified as:


  • Indirect effect through increased drain inputs and hard surface run off into the River Great Ouse associated with development of homes, employment sites and roads;




  • Indirect effect through increased levels of input into the River Great Ouse through increased treated sewage effluent related to new development;







  • Indirect effect through raising concentrations of phosphorus by increasing inputs into the River Great Ouse of treated sewage effluent related to new development.

In liaison with Natural England, it was considered appropriate to consider the ‘in combination’ effects of wider sub-regional proposals. This includes proposals for growth around Northampton, Bedford and Aylesbury, which would see the development of approximately 170,000 new homes in total.


2.3 Screening of sites
The process of screening the Natura 2000 sites can be seen in the attached matrix. The process involved identifying and assessing existing data sources and consulting with the Environment Agency, who have the best scientific knowledge in the area of water quality and flow, the source through which the potential effects on the Natura 2000 sites had been identified. The conclusions drawn from the screening process have been clarified with Natural England.
3.0 Conclusions
As a result of the screening process it has been concluded that:


  • The impact of the Core Strategy on water flow will not be significant primarily because Milton Keynes already has a comprehensive flood management system in place that has ensured the effective control of water flows, alongside the continued growth of the city. The Core Strategy will include a continuation of this approach which, informed by the emerging Water Cycle Strategy, will ensure continued effective management of the flow of water into the Great Ouse from Milton Keynes.




  • The Growth Strategy developed for the city has used flood risk maps as a key constraint to directions for growth. As such, the broad locations for growth to be identified in the Core Strategy are away from flood risk areas, further reducing the potential of the plan to have a significant impact on water flow.




  • In combination with other proposals in the MKSM sub region, it is noted that the majority of proposals affect the River Nene Catchment area (in the case of Northampton) and ultimately the Thames for Aylesbury Vale.

Therefore, considering the above factors, it is concluded that any effect on the flow of water and subsequent impact on the Natura 2000 sites from policies and proposal in the Milton Keynes Core Strategy and other ‘in-combination’ plans and projects is likely to be minimal.


A summary of these conclusions and how they were drawn can be seen in Appendix 2- No significant effects table.
As a result of this screening process it has been concluded that the policies and proposals in the Core Strategy are unlikely to have a significant impact on the identified Natura 2000 sites. Therefore there is no need to subject the plan to a full Appropriate Assessment.

Screening matrix for the Milton Keynes Core Strategy




Brief description of the plan


The Milton Keynes Core Strategy (CS) covers the borough of Milton Keynes. It is a strategic document, which will replace the strategic policies in the Local Plan and help deliver other plans and strategies, in particular the Community Strategy. The CS will provide guidance on the future development of Milton Keynes, including how 21,700 new homes (above existing commitments) and associated jobs will be provided.


Brief description of the Natura 2000 sites

Ouse Washes SAC- The Ouse Washes represent Spined Loach Cobitis taenia populations within the River Ouse catchment. The Counter Drain, with its clear water and abundant macrophytes, is particularly important, and a healthy population of spined loach is known to occur.
Ouse Washes SPA- The main interest of the site is the internationally important birds. Much of the conservation importance of the SPA is due to its use as a functional washland, with extensive winter flooding and traditional forms of agricultural management, including grazing and mowing of permanent grassland and rotational ditch clearance, which forms the supporting habitat for the bird population. Recent summer flooding has affected the breeding birds and the traditional washland management regime. This may affect food availability for winter waterfowl. Nutrient enrichment continues to be a problem, possibly resulting in some plant species as well as some fish and invertebrate species declining.
Portholme SAC This large site in Cambridgeshire represents lowland hay meadows in eastern England. It is the largest surviving traditionally-managed meadow in the UK, with an area of 104 ha of alluvial flood meadow (7% of the total UK resource). There has been a long history of favourable management and very little of the site has suffered from agricultural improvement, and so it demonstrates good conservation of structure and function. It supports a small population of fritillary Fritillaria meleagris.-

Assessment criteria


Describe the individual elements of the project (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects), likely to give rise to impacts on Natura 2000 sites

The CS will set out development objectives for growth in Milton Keynes, some 85 Km upstream from upstream of the Ouse Washes SPA / SAC. Proposals include growth of 21,700 houses, associated services and facilities, including employment sites, focused within the existing urban area and to the south east and east of the city up to 2021. It will also provide guidance on key infrastructure requirements needed to support the growth.

The strategy will set out how the wider Milton Keynes Sub Regional requirements will be achieved in the Borough.




Describe any likely direct, indirect or secondary impacts of the project (either alone or in combination) with other plans or projects) on Natura 2000 sites by virtue of:

  • Size and scale

  • Land-take

  • Distance to the Natura 2000 site or key features of the site

  • Resource requirements (water abstraction etc…)

  • Emissions (disposal to land, water or air)

  • Excavation requirements

  • Duration of construction, operation, decommissioning etc…

  • Other

The plan has no direct impacts on any Natura 2000 sites.

It would not reduce the size and scale of any sites, involve any land-take, nor would it affect any Natura 2000 sites during any construction or operations.

There could however be indirect effects of resource requirements and emissions through water. These are:

1. Increased drain inputs and hard surface run off into the River Great Ouse associated with development of homes, employment sites and roads;

2. Increased inputs to the Great Ouse through increased treated sewage effluent related to new development;

3. Modification of the river corridor and flood plain by new roads, bridges, riverside development etc, needed to deliver the strategy



4. Raised concentrations of total phosphorus by increased inputs into the River Ouse through treated sewage effluent related to new development.

Describe any likely changes to the sites arising as a result of:

  • Reduction in habitat area

  • Disturbance to key species

  • Habitat or species fragmentation

  • Reduction in species density

  • Changes in key indicators of conservation value (water quality etc…)

  • Climate change

Increased input into the Great River Ouse could cause increased instances of flooding, which would have an impact on the habitats in the Natura 2000 sites.
An increase in sewage effluent discharged into the Great Ouse could affect water quality, disturbing the balance needed to support key species.
The plan would not see any direct reduction in habitat area or direct fragmentation of habitats or species. It would not have any influence on the climate at the two sites.


Describe any likely impacts on the Natura 2000 sites as a whole in terms of:

  • Interference with the key relationships that define the structure of the site

  • Interference with key relationships that define the function of the site

Any change in water quality could affect the composition of aquatic macrophytes needed to support the Spined Loach in the Ouse Washes SAC. This could also possibly result in adverse impacts on the interest features of the SPA, through the decline of some plant species as well as some fish and invertebrate species, which could lead to a decline in the internationally important breeding and wintering birds, if nutrient enrichment continues.
Any increase in water flow could have in impact on the flood patterns which support the function of the Ouse Washes SPA and the Portholme SAC.


Provide indicators of significance as a result of the identification of effects set out above in terms of:

  • Loss

  • Fragmentation

  • Disruption

  • Disturbance

  • Change to key elements of the site (e.g. water quality)

The Environment Agency monitors the chemical and biological quality of river water through the UK.
Monitoring results at 5 sites in Milton Keynes show 4 out of 5 have been in conformity with quality targets on a consistent basis since 1988, throughout the growth and development of Milton Keynes.
Environment Agency research for the Regional Spatial Strategy shows that the Sewage Treatment Works at Cotton Farm in Milton Keynes has the potential to deal with the increased waste water treatment required to support housing growth.


Describe from the above those elements of the plan, or combination of elements, where the above impacts are likely to be significant or where the scale or magnitude of impacts is not known.

It has been concluded that the proposals in the plan, in isolation or in combination with other plans, will not have a significant impact on the Natura 2000 sites. This is explained fully in the ‘No Significant Effects Table’ (Appendix 2).




Appendix 2- No Significant Effects Table




Name of the project or plan


Milton Keynes Core Strategy

Name and location of the Natura 2000 sites

Ouse Washes SPA/SAC (Cambridgeshire/ Norfolk) and Portholme SAC (Cambridgeshire)

The sites lie approximately 85 km downstream from the area covered by the Milton Keynes Core Strategy.




Description of the plan

The Milton Keynes Core Strategy (CS) covers the borough of Milton Keynes. It is a strategic document, which will replace the strategic policies in the Local Plan and help deliver other plans and strategies, in particular the Community Strategy. The CS will provide guidance on the future development of Milton Keynes, including how 21,700 new homes (above existing commitments) and associated jobs will be provided.


Is the plan directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site?

No

The assessment of significant effects


Describe how the plan (alone or in combination) is likely to affect the Natura 2000 sites.

The plan affects land uses upstream from the Natura 2000 sites. In combination with other local plans, it will control the development of new houses and associated development planned for the borough. Natural England indicated that this has potential to impact indirectly on the two Natura 2000 sites through affecting the flow and quality of water in the Great River Ouse, which feeds into the sites.


Explain why these effects are not considered significant



Water flow

It is considered that the impact of the Core Strategy on water flow will not be significant primarily because Milton Keynes already has a comprehensive flood management system in place that has ensured the effective control of water flows, alongside the continued growth of the city. The Core Strategy will include a continuation of this approach which, informed by the emerging Water Cycle Strategy, will ensure continued effective management of the flow of water into the Great Ouse from Milton Keynes. The Growth Strategy developed for the city has used flood risk maps as a key constraint to directions for growth. As such, the broad locations for growth to be identified in the Core Strategy are away from flood risk areas, further reducing the potential of the plan to have a significant impact on water flow.


In considering the Core Strategy in combination with other proposals in the MKSM sub region, it is noted that the majority of proposals affect the River Nene Catchment area (in the case of Northampton) and ultimately the Thames for Aylesbury Vale.
Therefore, considering the above factors, it is concluded that any effect on the flow of water and subsequent impact on the Natura 2000 sites from development in Milton Keynes and other ‘in-combination’ plans and projects is likely to be minimal.
Water Quality

In terms of water quality, Environment Agency monitoring figures show that since 1988, throughout the continued growth of the city, water quality levels have consistently been compliant with set targets at 4 out of the 5 monitoring stations, with only occasional failure to comply with targets. The one area where water quality has not complied with targets being the Broughton Brook tributary, which is a relatively minor watercourse in the catchment area.


Environment Agency reports suggest that existing Sewage Treatment facilities in Milton Keynes are adequate to cope with the increased in waste-water resulting from new development. It is felt that any potential decrease in water quality in the Natura 2000 sites, resulting from increased levels of effluent discharged into the Great Ouse, will be negligible due to the distance (approximately 85km) between the point of discharge and the sites and the resultant dilution factor associated with the level of water in the catchment area. There are also stringent procedures in place through the Environment Agency that would prevent inappropriate levels of sewage effluent being discharged into the water course.
As with water flow, the ‘in-combination’ effects on water quality of the Core Strategy, alongside other MKSM sub-regional proposals will be insignificant due to the spread of impacts over various catchment areas.

List of agencies consulted


Environment Agency- Mr Adam Ireland Planning_Liasison.Anglian_Central@environment-agency.gov.uk
Natural England- Sarah Mansbridge

Sarah.Mansbridge@naturalengland.org.uk


Response to consultation

Initial consultation with Natural England helped establish protected sites that could be affected by the Core Strategy and how this may occur.
Consultation with the Environment Agency helped to confirm that the impacts of implementing the Core Strategy would not be significant.
This was subsequently clarified with Natural England, who concurred with the conclusions of the screening report.

Data collected to carry out the assessment


Who carried out the assessment?

Sources of data

Level of assessment completed

Milton Keynes Council, Spatial Planning Team

  • Existing Environment Agency data.

  • Environment Agency submission to the South East Plan EiP.

  • JNCC – UK SAC/ SPA site list

The assessment took the form of a desktop study, utilising existing information and knowledge. Given the responses to higher level plans, the comments of the Environment Agency and the relationship between Milton Keynes and the Natura 2000 sites, it can be concluded that there is a high level of confidence in the assessment results.

Overall conclusions


On the basis of the information collected and in consultation with Natural England and the Environment Agency it is the Council’s opinion that the Core Strategy, to which this screening relates is-

  1. not directly connected with or necessary to the management of any European sites; and

  2. not likely to have significant effects on either of the two European sites located down stream from the Core Strategy area (including in combination with other plans and projects)

Accordingly, a full appropriate assessment will not be required of those effects under Regulation 48, 49 and 54 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994, before the Council decides to undertake, or give any consent, permission or other authorisation for this plan.






1 Available online at http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1502244


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