The authorities - Castle Point, Chelmsford, Colchester, Basildon, Braintree, Brentwood, Maldon, Rochford, Southend-on-Sea, Tendring, Thurrock and Uttlesford - supported by Essex County Council and Natural England, are working together to protect the Essex coastline from the Blackwater in North Essex to the Thames Estuary.
The majority of the coast is designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Ramsar sites of national and international importance for bird life. The councils have a duty as competent authorities to ensure that these are protected in accordance with the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.
The new Essex Coast Recreation Disturbance, Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy (RAMS) is being promoted by Natural England in response to increased pressure from recreation and new housing. A Southend-on-Sea Borough Council report states that the regulator “identified an urgent need to develop comprehensive strategies to ensure that this pressure is mitigated and does not worsen the favourable status of protected habitat sites”.
The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (SI 2017/1012)
09 Jan 2018
RAMS would supplement planning policy and future planning applications along the coast would need to conform to it in order to secure planning permission. It would also see developers charged a levy, which would go towards mitigating environmental impacts.
A project steering group, including officers from the councils and representatives from Natural England, has been set up to consider cross-boundary issues that would be addressed in councils’ local plans.
Natural England wants to ensure that councils, when preparing their local plans, “secure a series of fundable and deliverable mitigation measures that will endure for the lifetime of the plan and beyond”, according to the council report.
The report says that, without a RAMS, “Natural England is likely to raise material objections to [a local] plan’s planning policy provisions relating to nature and habitat conservation which could be found to be ‘unsound’ by a planning inspector”.
Similar strategies have been prepared for sensitive areas of coastline including the Solent, Severn Estuary, Suffolk Coast and North Kent Coast, it says.
Councillor Carole Mulroney, cabinet member for environment and planning at Southend-on-Sea, said:“RAMS are promoted by Natural England and we are ensuring that we are working closely with them to create a strategy that ensures the Essex coastline is not only protected, but is enabled to thrive, particularly for birdlife.
“Following surveys completed in 2018, we are now able to proceed with the next phase of the project which will involve consulting on a single planning document that will apply across much of the county.”