As many will be aware, since 14 March 2022, Dacorum Council, and the affected adjoining authorities (Buckinghamshire Council, St Albans City & District Council and Central Bedfordshire Council), have been unable to issue planning permission for new residential development due to concerns raised by Natural England over ‘significant recreational pressure’ on the Chiltern Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC), caused by nearby residents. A 500 metre ‘exclusion zone’ and a 12.6km ‘zone of influence’ has been place for the last seven months.
Since then, the affected authorities have been working with Natural England and the National Trust to resolve the situation. On 15 November 2022, Dacorum Council, who are the lead authority, approved their Mitigation Strategy at a Cabinet meeting.
The purpose of the Mitigation Strategy is to avoid adverse public access and disturbance impacts on the SAC arising from future development in the ‘zone of influence’. There is no resolution yet for the 500 metre ‘exclusion zone’.
The approved Mitigation Strategy comprises two parts. The first will address the issues at Ashridge Estate (where the SAC is located) by managing and monitoring its use through a range of projects to be implemented over the next 80 years. Such projects include parking demarcation and increased signage. This process is commonly referred to as Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMM).
The second part of the strategy deals with the provision of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace, otherwise known as SANG. This is the term given to greenspaces that are created, or enhanced, with the specific purpose of absorbing recreation pressure that would otherwise occur at National Sites, the Chiltern Beechwoods SAC at Ashridge Estate in this case.
Dacorum have identified three Council owned sites which can provide SANG capacity, including Bunkers Park and Chipperfield Common, which together they estimate can support some 3,780 new homes.
The implications of the above strategy are that a tariff of over £5000 must be paid by developers for each new dwelling built in the borough to cover the cost of both the SAMM and SANG mitigation provisions.
However, this is not the end of the story. As it stands, the strategy applies to schemes of 1-9 dwellings borough wide, and major developments (scheme of 10 units or more) in part of it. For major developments in the rest of the borough there is still no solution.
Similarly, there is still no solution for developments in the other affected authorities. Like Dacorum, these Councils will need to find their own SANG. While we understand this process is underway, there have been no comments yet from the other affected Councils following Dacorum’s announcement.
Bell Cornwell has a number of existing clients who are directly affected by this issue and we are monitoring the situation closely. We will continue to provide updates in the coming weeks and months.
Eastern South East