Chapter Two: Natural Environment
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2.1 Over recent years there has been a rapidly increasing recognition of the value of the natural environment and its influence on the quality of life. The Government’s sustainable development strategy ‘A Better Quality of Life’ (1999) recognises that “the special natural, cultural and archaeological characteristics of our landscape are highly valued and must be retained. We must also reverse the decline in wildlife and habitats – our biodiversity” (para 8.53). PPG 7 (The Countryside) reaffirms that the Government’s policy is to safeguard the countryside for its own sake and that non-renewable and natural resources should be afforded protection.
2.2 Norwich has historically been characterised as a green and attractive city. Policy N6 of the Norfolk Structure Plan (1999) draws particular attention to the high priority which should be given to the environmental assets of the area with special regard to the historic landscape character or setting of the City. The river valleys, heath, historic parklands and woodland are specifically mentioned. Regional Planning Guidance for East Anglia recognises the conservation and enhancement of the ‘outstanding’ environment as a strategic aim.
2.3 Importantly, the Government also makes clear that nature conservation should be viewed holistically in the drive towards sustainability, PPG 9 (Nature Conservation. para 3) stating that “attractive environments, where attention is given to nature conservation, are essential to social and economic wellbeing”. This Chapter deals specifically with maintaining and enhancing the environmental quality within the Local Plan area, although there are clearly strong interrelationships with both the potential for use of this environment for recreational and amenity benefits set out in other chapters, and with the environmental assets of the adjoining districts.
2.4 This chapter has a direct relationship with the Government’s core sustainability objective to ensure the effective protection of the environment through policies to protect and enhance landscapes and wildlife. It therefore relates closely to the Plan’s objective of sustainable use of resources (SOBJ7), since the requirement to sustain landscapes and their intrinsic features is in part a recognition of land as a finite commodity. It also reflects the need to ensure protection of the natural environment (SOBJ3).
Main Issues Arising From Consultation
2.5 The consultation on issues carried out in April to June 1999 gave a number of responses on the Natural Environment, although it was one of the sections which attracted fewer comments than other subjects. The main comments on this topic were as follows:
Norwich’s Historic Setting
2.6 Norwich remains a compact and sustainable city. This is at least in part due to the River Yare, which has formed a physical barrier around the west, south and east of Norwich. This historic setting of a tightly defined city within a rural environment is enhanced by ‘green wedges’ such as Eaton golf course, Eaton Park, Earlham Park, Mousehold Heath and the River Wensum, which further enhance the environmental quality of Norwich. However, modern pressures for development are threatening the rural landscape setting of the City and the open countryside between the built up area and surrounding villages, as well as these green wedges. If these open lands are developed, the quality of the natural environment would be severely eroded as well as significantly altering the historic landscaped setting of the City, and potentially reducing the overall attractiveness of Norwich for future investment, and the quality of life for local residents. The green wedges are not separately defined on the Proposals Map, being protected under other policies, but the Structure Plan (policy N6) applies to these areas the definition of ‘inappropriate development’, which is included in policy NE1. A high priority will be given to the protection of the environmental assets which enhance the historic landscaped character of the City and its historic setting, including the river valleys, and areas providing green wedges into the City from the adjoining countryside including woodlands, parklands and other open spaces.
River Valleys and Other Environmental Assets
2.7 Norwich is strategically placed at the head of the navigable waters of the River Yare and the confluence of its major tributary the Wensum, which passes through the City Centre. The navigable stretch of the River Wensum, as far as New Mills, falls within the planning jurisdiction of the Broads Authority.
2.8 These river corridors help to link a continuous network of open spaces that contain and reach into the urban area. They offer many benefits; acting as a visual amenity and recreational resource for residents, providing valuable natural habitats, a floodplain to alleviate potential flooding in the developed area and a pollution filter. They are, therefore, one of the most significant natural environmental features in the setting and character of Norwich.
2.9 For these reasons it is vital that these important ‘green lungs’ within and around the City are protected for their own sake. In co-operation with adjoining Districts, and part funded by public and government agencies, the City Council has prepared a Norwich River Valleys Strategy and will prepare associated supplementary planning guidance to provide consistency and co-ordination in the management and enhancement of this important resource. Any development proposed within or adjoining the river valleys and which may alter their character or environmental quality, including those set out in policy NE1, will need to be accompanied by an environmental impact assessment of the consequences of the scheme and to determine if mitigating measures could make the proposal acceptable. The definition of appropriate development is based on Structure Plan policy N6.
2.10 Norwich has historically been described as “A Fine City” and it has always been recognised that the landscape is fundamental to its character. Mousehold Heath is one of the most important landscape elements and features prominently in the history of Norwich and in English landscape paintings.
2.11 Before Norwich was developed as a settlement, there existed a broad tract of heathland, which extended from the north-eastern bank of the River Wensum almost as far as the present settlements of Woodbastwick and South Walsham. The modern heath is a relic of this former expanse, of which there are now few traces beyond the City boundary. In 1880, the 184 acres that comprise the present heath were conveyed to the City for recreational use, and a scheme for management of the Heath was embodied in an Act of Parliament in 1884, subsequently replaced by the Norwich City Council Act, 1984. The area is shown on the Proposals Map. The management of the Heath is the responsibility of the Mousehold Conservators and the Mousehold Study provides the basis of the management policies. Mousehold Heath will be managed in accordance with The Mousehold Study and Act of Parliament. Only appropriate development, as defined in policy NE1, will be accepted.
Woodlands and Trees
2.12 Norwich has over 200 acres of woodlands in public ownership and an abundance of well-wooded areas. Parts of Lion Wood date back at least to the 12th Century. A number of woods have been established in old marl and chalk pits, for example Danby Wood and Eaton Chalk Pit. As Norwich has expanded, it has incorporated into the urban area a number of rural estates, for example Twenty Acre Wood and the woodlands at County Hall. These woodlands need to be actively managed to allow growth of the shrub layer, ground flora and natural regeneration. Such sites contribute to the image of Norwich as a ‘green city’. Woodland in public and private ownership also offers opportunities for public use as informal open space. These objectives integrate with the principles of the ‘Norwich Urban Forest Strategy’ and ‘Trees and Development’ supplementary planning guidance notes, which seek to ensure that a long term management plan is prepared and implemented when new development impacts upon the City’s existing tree stock. The Trees and Development SPG also provides guidance on opportunities for commuted sums for ongoing maintenance in appropriate circumstances. Any payment will need to be secured through a planning obligation under S106 of the to wn and Country Planning Act 1990. Advice on positive management of trees and woodland will also be given to owners, developers, schools, etc. Development proposals that include areas of protected woodland, or could have a significant impact on them, will be expected to submit a woodland impact assessment and may be required to agree a management plan for their longer-term maintenance.
2.13 The City of Norwich was developed where the chalk ridge is cut by the river valleys of the Yare and Wensum. Consequently the City contains several prominent ridge lines which are generally well wooded and link with the areas of old woodland referred to in paragraph 2.12. The City Council seeks to promote and encourage the implementation of appropriate management of these slopes as indicated in the supplementary planning guidance, ‘The Norwich Urban Forest Strategy’. This seeks to implement the emphasis in PPG11 (Regional Planning) on increasing community forest cover. Where these ridges are identifiable, the Council will seek to promote additional native and locally sourced planting to enhance the wooded appearance and visual ‘backdrop’ to the City as well as providing natural green corridors between larger wooded areas. This will include the consideration of landscaping of new development under policy NE9. When planted, these areas will be protected under policy NE2. Supplementary Plan 2.1 indicates diagrammatically where the ridges occur.
Tree Preservation Orders
2.14 With increasing commitment to sustainability and biodiversity, tree preservation orders (TPOs) are an important element in maintaining the City’s environmental quality. In recognition of the important role that trees play as a landscape feature and environmental asset, the City Council has issued over 360 Tree Preservation Orders on predominantly private trees, ranging from individual trees to groups and woodland in excess of 0.6 hectare. Within Conservation Areas trees are also afforded a degree of protection, as consent is required for lopping or felling. Existing trees will be protected in the interests of amenity by making Tree Preservation Orders and by imposing planning conditions where appropriate. The Council will play a more proactive role in issuing TPO’s since, when a tree is already under threat, enforcement action may be too late to prevent damage or loss.
2.15 Planning conditions will be imposed and enforced to ensure physical protection of trees where necessary. The City Council has adopted supplementary planning guidance entitled ‘Trees and Development' to ensure appropriate protection and design measures are considered with regard to trees retained on development sites.
2.16 The City Council’s supplementary planning guidance, ‘An Urban Forest Strategy’, also provides advice to ensure that appropriate measures are employed towards maintenance and management of trees. This should be referred to when considering works to any trees.
Street Tree Planting
2.17 Norwich has a history as a ‘green city’. In the eighteenth century Thomas Fuller described Norwich as ‘either a city in an orchard, or an orchard in a city, so equally are houses and trees blended in it…’. Subsequent development has retained this perspective and it is regarded as important in providing a positive green image for visitors entering the City, as well as other environmental and amenity benefits.
2.18 Trees play an important role in the amenity and quality of life of an urban area. In addition to general amenity value, trees provide important wildlife habitats, can provide a heritage value, assist in filtering out some pollutants, thus improving air quality, and provide shade to help protect from harmful ultra violet rays. There is also firm evidence that the presence of trees has a positive effect on human stress and health.
2.19 In order to enhance these benefits and the image of Norwich as a ‘green city’, the City Council will seek to ensure that, where appropriate, development provides for the planting of street trees in addition to any other landscaping requirements. Native species such as Field Maple, Alder, Silver Birch, Hornbeam, Ash, Beech, Oak, Lime or Rowan or non-native species may be used. The City Council will produce revised Supplementary Planning Guidance on Trees and Development to assist in the choice of species, siting, maintenance payment, and the circumstances in which a commuted sum rather than on site provision may be more appropriate. Street trees will not be sought in limited instances where there is a conflict between policy NE4 and highway safety requirements.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Special Areas of Conservation
2.20 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981, as amended) by English Nature. These are areas of particular interest due to their flora, fauna, geological or physical features. There are currently five such sites in Norwich, at Eaton Chalk Pits, Catton Chalk Pits, St. James’ Hollow (Mousehold) and Sweet Briar Road Meadow. The fifth, the upper part of the River Wensum above Hellesdon Mill, is also a designated candidate Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the Conservation (Natural Habitat) Regulations 1994. There is a strong presumption against development which adversely affects the special interest of these sites All proposals affecting these sites will be the subject of rigorous examination regarding their potential impact on the scientific environment. Policies NE5 and NE6 follow current Structure Plan policies that have already been adopted.
Locally Designated Sites of Nature Conservation
2.21 Local Nature Reserves are selected and managed by the City Council. Eight sites have been designated, including Mousehold Heath, Lion Wood, Danby Wood and Bowthorpe Marshes. In co-operation with other interested parties, the City Council will seek to protect and maintain such high quality sites identified by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Habitat Survey. In addition, further areas (34 in Norwich) have been designated as County Wildlife Sites. Any proposal that potentially affects the environmental integrity of these sites will need to be accompanied by an appropriate assessment of impact on the nature conservation interest. Public access to these locally protected sites of nature conservation will be supported subject to the needs of conservation. The City Council has prepared supplementary planning guidance (SPG) providing detailed descriptions and boundaries of the designated sites and will promote the designation of further sites, if deemed appropriate. Policy NE7 follows current Structure Plan policies that have already been adopted.
Species Protection and Biodiversity
2.22 Planning Policy Guidance Note 9 (PPG9 - Nature Conservation) recognises the necessity of managing features of the landscape which are of major importance for wildlife. Such features as rivers and their margins, ponds, hedgerows and woods are essential for providing food and shelter as well as for migration, dispersal and genetic exchange. Certain species are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Conservation (Natural Habitats) Regulations, 1994. These afford varying levels of protection to a range of plants, animals and their habitats including semi-natural habitats, but also the built environment in the case of bats and owls. The protected species most likely to be found on development sites in the City of Norwich are Black redstart, Kingfisher, Little ringed plover, Bats (all species), Otter, Water vole, Common lizard, Slow worm, Grass Snake, Great crested newts, White clawed crayfish and Sandy stilt puffball. The nature conservation policies in this Local Plan seek to protect all habitats, including designated and non-designated sites that are important for such flora and fauna. The first two paragraphs of Policy NE8 follow current Structure Plan policies that have already been adopted In circumstances where damage or loss of a habitat is unavoidable, opportunities should be taken to redress the harm caused through mitigation or compensation measures, as well as securing new benefits for biodiversity. The management and enhancement of such features will be detailed in future Supplementary Planning Guidance. Development on any land is going to impact on the biodiversity of that land whether it is a brownfield or greenfield site. In order not to have a wholly negative impact on biodiversity, design techniques need to be employed that will conserve existing biodiversity of development sites and seek to increase biodiversity after the development is complete.
Impact of Development on the Natural Environment
Landscaping of New Development
2.23 In many instances, good quality landscape works can mitigate the visual effects of new development in the surrounding area, provide enhanced wildlife habitats and greatly improve the overall appearance of the development itself. However, this value is often reduced if landscaping is considered as an afterthought rather than as an integral part of a proposal within which the development sits. It is therefore important that landscaping, including hard landscaping, is considered at the earliest possible stage of a scheme.
2.24 Whilst for most developments a comprehensive landscape scheme will be required, the definition of development extends to shopfront proposals and minor works to dwelling houses for example, where such a requirement is not generally relevant.
2.25 It is proposed that the Council will prepare Supplementary Planning Guidance in the form of an Urban Design Guide to assist in interpreting the factors to be considered in the design of new development (see policies HBE12 to HBE15). Landscape treatment will be a significant element in such a guide and it will include guidance on where development should be screened by landscape belts and where a more urban approach is appropriate. In particular landscape proposals will need to take account of the visual continuity of development viewed along main approach routes to the City (including the river, the primary traffic routes and the railway approaches).
2.26 For the last part of policy NE9, the major approach routes are defined as the Wensum and Yare rivers, railway lines, the Inner and Outer Ring Roads and the major highway routes along the Dereham, Earlham, Newmarket, Ipswich, Bracondale, Thorpe/Yarmouth, Sprowston, Aylsham and Drayton Roads.