Assessment of the County Durham Plan
The County Durham Plan aims to deliver sustainable development whilst protecting local habitats, meeting the needs of our rural areas, and must not unfairly discriminate against anyone. We must complete four processes to ensure we achieve this.
The four processes are:
- Sustainability Appraisal (which also covers the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment EU Directive)
- Habitat Regulation Assessment
- Rural proofing
- Equality Impact Assessment
The main aim of the Sustainability Appraisal (SA) is to help protect the environment and 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.
The SA is an assessment tool required by European law (under the Strategic Environmental Assessment EU Directive) and National law. We (as the local planning authority), must carry out a sustainability appraisal of each of the policies and proposals in the County Durhem Plan, during its preparation. Integrating the appraisal 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 into 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 a plan 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.
Rural proofing aims to confirm that the needs of, and issues affecting, those living and working in rural areas are considered as all new planning policies are developed. We must consider the impact a planning policy option might have in rural areas and how to assess whether or not a planning option will have a positive or negative impact on rural parts of the county. This in turn informs the adjustment of the proposed planning response to the needs of rural communities.
Rural proofing is not about special treatment for rural areas, but about understanding the fact that policies with urban solutions will not necessarily work in rural areas with their dispersed population, settlements and economic markets.
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 plan 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 plan are effective and do not have unintended consequences.
Copies of the latest versions of the above assessments are available to view in our evidence base.