Introduction to the Habitats Regulations Assessment Process
Introduction to the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) Process
The Replacement Powys Local Development (LDP) will plan for the needs of the Powys LDP area (the County of Powys excluding the area within the Brecon Beacons National Park) over the period 2022 to 2037. It is important that the Replacement Powys LDP contributes to the sustainable development of the area's communities, economy and environment. In order to meet this requirement, Wood Group UK Limited (Wood) has been appointed by the Council to assist its assessment of the Replacement Powys LDP. This work will involve undertaking an Integrated Sustainability Appraisal part of which is a separate Habitats Regulations Assessment.
This document provides an introduction to the Habitats Regulations Assessment process that will be part of preparing the Powys Replacement LDP. A separate introduction is available which explains the Integrated Sustainability Appraisal process.
What is Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA)?
Habitats Regulations Assessment is a process to determine whether there will be any 'likely significant effects' on any European designated nature conservation sites (now referred to as National Site Network sites) as a result of the Replacement LDP. This will assess the impacts of the Powys Replacement Local Development Plan on: Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Ramsar sites.
Approach and Key Issues
Guidance and established case-practice suggest a four-stage process for meeting the relevant legislative tests of the Habitats Regulations, although not all stages will necessarily be required as alternatives to specific policies or proposals can often be found.
The Study Area and National Site Network Site Data
Some 63 sites have been identified as falling within Powys, are within 15km of the County boundary or downstream estuaries which are hydrologically connected to rivers within the Powys LDP area. Data on the European sites and their interest features (i.e. habitats and/or species) will be compiled to include information on the attributes of the European sites that contribute to and define their integrity, current conservation status, and the specific sensitivities of the site, notably:
- the site boundaries and the boundaries of the component Sites of Special Scientific Interest;
- the conservation objectives;
- the condition, vulnerabilities and sensitivities of the sites and their interest features;
- the current pressures and threats for the sites; and
- the approximate locations of the interest features within each site (if reported); and designated or non-designated 'functional habitats' (if identified).
Potential HRA Issues for the Powys Replacement LDP
Air quality, visitor pressure and water quality are the three predominant issues to be considered as part of addressing the HRA process within the plan-making and implementation.
Air quality changes that might be associated with the scale of development growth proposed, principally related to the consideration of effects due to traffic increases, as well as 'in combination' effects associated with the proposals of other plans.
Public Access / Visitor Pressure
Public access has the potential to have an adverse effect on sensitive sites, particularly those with substantial visitor catchments and a range of visitor behaviours. These effects can include issues such as air quality (associated with car traffic), disturbance and habitat damage.
Water Quality and Nutrient Neutrality
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has identified the following National Site Network sites which are sensitive to phosphate discharges and which have catchments partly within Powys:
- Afon Tywi / River Tywi SAC
- River Dee and Bala Lake / Afon Dyfrdwy a Llyn Tegid SAC
- River Usk / Afon Wysg SAC
- River Wye / Afon Gwy SAC
NRW require that special attention is paid to the likely effects of development proposals on phosphate-sensitive sites, specifically how they will achieve phosphate neutrality or betterment, for example through water treatment.
There is ongoing engagement with NRW and other bodies to agree the precise scope and content of the HRA. An initial HRA Report will be produced at the Preferred Strategy stage and will be published alongside the Preferred Strategy for public consultation in May 2023.