Local Plan 2036: Issues and Options Stage

2. North Somerset Local Plan 2036 Sustainability Appraisal: Scoping Report

6. Other Assessments Linked to the SA Process

6. Other Assessments Linked to the SA Process

Equality Impact Assessments

6.1 Ensuring equality of opportunity for all members of the community is at the heart of sustainable development. North Somerset Council works with all parts of every community and is committed to ensuring that its policies and plans provide equality of opportunity for all. The council has an adopted Equality and Diversity Policy to maintain this commitment.

6.2 To ensure that the plans, policies and strategies produced by the council accord with the Equality and Diversity Policy, a brief but concise Equality Impact Assessment will be undertaken for the North Somerset Local Plan in conjunction with the SA process.

6.3 These assessments will be carried out at the draft plan stage, when the sustainability appraisal is conducted. The assessment will review the potential impact of the preferred options only.

Appropriate Assessment of the Local Plan under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (Habitats Regulations)

6.4 In recognition of its internationally important natural features and wildlife, the Severn Estuary is protected by a range of national and international nature conservation legislation. As well as being notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000, it is also designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under EC Directive 79/409 on the Conservation of Wild Birds ('the Birds Directive'); and is a Ramsar site under the Ramsar Convention on the Conservation of Wetlands of Importance. It is also a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under European Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and Wild Fauna and Flora ('the Habitats Directive 1992'), currently implemented in England and Wales by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (Habitats Regulations).

6.5 In addition to the Severn Estuary, North Somerset also has three other SACs - Avon Gorge Woodlands, Mendip Limestone Grasslands, and North Somerset and Mendip Bats.

6.6 Regulation 105 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2017) requires that:

'Assessment of implications for European sites and European offshore marine sites:

This section has no associated Explanatory Memorandum

(1) Where a land use plan-

(a) is likely to have a significant effect on a European site or a European offshore marine site (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects), and

(b) is not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site, the plan-making authority for that plan must, before the plan is given effect, make an appropriate assessment of the implications for the site in view of that site's conservation objectives.'

6.7 An appropriate assessment addresses the likely impact on those features of interest (e.g. waders or wildfowl) for which the site has been designated and has to be carried out regardless of whether those effects are direct or indirect, temporary or permanent, alone or in combination, negative or beneficial. The 'competent authority' can ask for sufficient information as is reasonable to enable that assessment to be carried out. Under European and national law, this has to be carried out before any planning permission can be granted.

6.8 The same legislative protection and constraints applies to habitat (e.g. coastal floodplain grassland) used by the European protected species, even if the land in question lies outside the SPA/Ramsar site.

6.9 The Habitats Directive applies the precautionary principle to protected areas; plans and projects can only be permitted having ascertained that there will be no adverse effect on the integrity of the site(s) in question. However, plans and projects may be permitted if there are no alternatives to them and there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest as to why they should go ahead. In such cases, compensatory provision will be necessary to ensure the overall integrity of the site network.

6.10 To ascertain whether or not site integrity will be affected, a scoping assessment should be undertaken of the plan or project in question. The policies in the North Somerset Local Plan that may impact upon any Natura 2000 sites in the District must therefore be subject to this scoping process, which will be carried out in conjunction with the SA.

6.11 Any policy relating to, or impacting in any way upon, the conservation objectives of the designated sites will be tested in strict accordance with the provisions of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.