The Dorset Heathland Planning Framework Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) was adopted in June 2012 and was in place until end of 2014. It replaced the Interim Planning Framework (in place between 2007 and 2012). The SPD document sets out an approach to the alleviation of the harmful effects of residential development on Dorset’s lowland heaths. According to the SPD document, developers who receive planning permission for residential buildings within the zone between 400m and 5km from protected heathland sites pay contribution fees. In general, no additional residential development is permitted within 400m straight distance from protected heathland sites, with the exception of purpose built schemes for the elderly or the disabled.
The due obligation is applied to every residential development where there is a net increase in dwellings. The financial contribution is based upon a standard charge, with adjustment for the different occupancy rate for houses and flats. To provide certainty to those making applications for residential development and to ensure transparency and accountability, a mechanism for the calculation of the planning obligation has been adopted, based on the forecast 2-year average population increase by type of dwelling in 2012-2026. The factors that are taken into account for calculating the developers’ contribution consider:
- Forecast 2 year average population increase in south east Dorset 2012-2026 = 4871 people;
- Local Authority housing trajectory forecasts 2012-2014 = 2934 housing;
- Relative proportion of households (houses/flats) = 73% houses; 27% flats;
- Projected net population increase per dwelling (persons/dwelling) = houses: 1.81; flats: 1.13;
- Cost of the mitigation measures (as of November 2011) = £4.1 million.
Large-scale developments will be expected to explore ways of avoiding or mitigating their adverse impacts through on-site or more likely off site measures to facilitate the implementation of alternative natural greenspace. Recourse to financial payments in line with the SPD should be the fall-back position only after exploration and agreement with Natural England and the relevant local planning authority of potential avoidance or alleviation measures.
The cost of alleviation divided by the forecast population growth i.e. £4.10 million divided by 4871 gives a charge per person of £842. However, an adjustment to the charge to allow for the net population increase per dwelling type results in a charge per dwelling of a cost per house (£842.00 x 1.81) of £1,524.00 and a cost per flat (£842.00 x 1.13) of £952.00.
These fees are applied to fund a number of measures to mitigate the impact of urban development on heathlands, that can contribute in reducing heathlands sensitivity to climate change induced effects, as in particular to increased fire risk. Mitigation measures include: (i) improvement of existing recreational sites and development of new recreational infrastructure to divert the recreational pressure from the most valuable and sensitive heathlands; (ii) land purchased as alternative open space; (iii) provision of more rangers and wardens; (iv) purchasing monitoring equipment; (v) land management to reduce fire load and risk of fires; and (vi) purchasing firefighting equipment.
In 2008, the project collected £1.75 million, and a number of alleviation projects have been implemented across South east Dorset. The system of calculating the financial contribution is clear, robust and easy to operate. In addition, the legal basis in nature conservation regulations provides a clear reference point for considering appeals to planning permission decisions.
Consultation on the draft updated SPD (2015-2020) commenced on January 2015 and closed on middle February 2015. Representations and changes that are necessary are being considered. It is likely that a revised version will be available during 2015. In this document, an approach to enabling development through the implementation of measures to avoid likely significant effects on the Dorset Heathlands in South East Dorset was set out. Residential development that cannot avoid or mitigate its own adverse effects upon the Dorset Heaths Natura 2000 sites is required to contribute towards the overall Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy. This strategy has two elements, Heathlands Infrastructure Projects (HIPs) that provide facilities to attract people away from protected heathland sites, and Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMM), which is non-infrastructure provision such as wardening, education and monitoring.
The Borough of Poole is implementing one aspect of the draft SPD ahead of the document as a whole, and this relates to the introduction of a charge for SAMM. Any new dwelling that comes forward by whatever course will pay a direct contribution toward mitigating the adverse effects of its impact upon the Dorset Heaths. The charge will be £355 for a house and £242 for a flat.