Assessment of the County Durham Plan
The County Durham Plan (CDP) must ensure sustainable development whilst protecting local habitats and must not unfairly discriminate against anyone. An assessment process is in place to assess each of these.
There are three key elements to the appraisal process:
- Sustainability Appraisal (which also covers the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment EU Directive)
- Habitat Regulation Assessment
- Equality Impact Assessment
The overall aim of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Sustainability Appraisal (SA) is to help protect the environment and to promote sustainable development through the integration of social, economic and environmental considerations into the preparation of plans which are likely to have significant effects on the environment.
Both SEA and SA are assessment tools required by European and National law. We,as the local planning authority, must carry out a sustainability appraisal of each of the proposals in a Local Plan, such as the CDP, during its preparation. Integrating the assessment with the development of a plan enables its policies to be changed or modified to better reflect, promote and address sustainability objectives and issues.
The SA process can be undertaken to satisfy the requirements of the SEA directive through a single assessment process. It should:
- Take a long-term view of how the area covered by the plan is expected to develop, taking account the social, environmental and economic effects of the proposed plan.
- Provide a mechanism for ensuring that sustainability objectives are translated into sustainable planning policies.
- Reflect global, national, regional and local concerns.
- Provide an audit trail of how the plan has been revised to take into account the findings of the SA.
- Form an integral part of all stages of plan preparation.
- Incorporate the requirements of the SEA Directive.
Habitat Regulation Assessment
Habitat Regulation Assessment (HRA) is a statutory process under the Europa: Habitats EU Directive and is used to screen the CDP or project for likely significant effects. Screening is a risk assessment used to determine whether the subsequent more detailed stage of assessment, known as Appropriate Assessment is required. The question that must be asked is:
- Is the County Durham Plan, either alone, or in combination with other relevant projects and plans, likely to result in a significant effect upon Natura 2000 sites?
The Habitats Directive applies the precautionary principle to Natura 2000 sites. Plans and projects can only be permitted having ascertained that there will be no adverse effect on the integrity of site(s) in question.
In the case of the Habitats Directive, potentially damaging plans and projects may still be permitted if there are no alternatives to them and there are Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest (IROPI) as to why they should go ahead. In such cases, compensation measures will be necessary to ensure the overall integrity of Natura 2000 sites. The HRA will:
- Make a decision as to whether there is any possible mechanism by which the plan can affect any Natura 2000 site by altering its environmental conditions, focusing on those sites within the administrative boundary or which may be linked to development within the boundary by a pathway (scoping).
- Explore the reasons for the designation of the Natura 2000 sites.
- Explore the environmental conditions required to maintain the integrity of the selected sites and become familiar with the current trends in these environmental processes.
- Gain a full understanding of the Local Plan and consider each spatial option, policy and allocation within the context of the environmental process - could the policy lead to an impact on any identified process?
- Decide if the identified impact is likely to lead to an adverse effect.
- Identify other plans and projects that might affect these sites in combination with the plan and decide whether there is likely to be a significant effect "in combination".
- If likely significant effects have been identified, the HRA must progress to Task 2 (Appropriate Assessment), which will involve consideration of avoidance and mitigation measures.
Equality Impact Assessment
We have statutory duties (set out in the Equality Act 2010) in relation to equality. Equality Impact Assessments are a way of understanding the impacts of policies, decisions, and proposals upon groups with 'protected characteristics' as set out in the Act.
The Equality Impact Assessment of the CDP allows us to assess any risk of discrimination before introducing new policies, and informs their preparation. It will allow us to assess whether one group will be more affected by a policy. For example, it may be necessary to treat older people, the disabled or Gypsy, Roma,Traveller communities differently in order to ensure that our housing policies are meeting their specific needs. It will ensure that all the policies in the CDP are effective and do not have unintended consequences.
Click here to view a copy of the.