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NC5  The Protection of Sites of Local Importance for Nature Conservation  Policy

Outside areas protected under Policy NC1 and Policy NC3 the Local Planning Authority will protect habitats of special local importance for nature conservation where they represent scarce, rare or threatened habitat, good examples of habitats typical to Wirral, diverse or rich habitats which actively support a wide range of important species, or areas known to provide for the shelter, breeding or foraging of legally protected species.

In evaluating proposals which may affect such habitats the Local Planning Authority will in particular consider:

(i) the nature, layout, and density of development proposed;

(ii) the impact on the long-term ecological viability of the habitat affected;

(iii) the appropriateness of measures taken to minimise damage to the habitat and disturbance to wildlife; and

(iv) the appropriateness of provision for the future maintenance of the site.

Development affecting such habitats will only be permitted where the Local Planning Authority is satisfied that the continued ecological viability of the habitat or wildlife interest of the site can be adequately safeguarded by means of appropriate conditions and/ or legal agreements.

Appropriate conditions will include, where necessary, the requirement to provide an adequate "buffer zone" of a scale and nature appropriate to the interest to be protected and the retention of linkages to other wildlife sites within the surrounding area.

Reasoned justification :

13.20 Policy NCO1 provides for the protection of areas which can be demonstrated to have local importance for nature conservation. Policy NC5, therefore, sets out the general criteria that will be used to judge whether a site contains features of local importance and the planning criteria that will be used in governing proposals likely to affect such sites. The objective of Policy NC5 is to ensure that the biological and wildlife value of land is fully taken into account and that any special features of importance are adequately protected as a condition of planning consent.

13.21 The criteria used to define local importance have been prepared by Cheshire Wildlife Trust in consultation with the Local Planning Authority and have been endorsed by English Nature. They are consistent with those used by neighbouring authorities in Cheshire and are intended to ensure that the definition of local importance is established upon a consistent and scientific basis. They therefore embrace habitats which are locally rare, typical, or especially diverse in terms of the range of plants and animal species regularly supported. They also include habitats known to play an essential role in the life cycle and continued preservation of protected species.

13.22 Policy NC5 will normally require such sites to be preserved undamaged within the layout and design of development proposals. Development does not always have to be incompatible with retaining the special wildlife interest of a site. Policy NC5, therefore, provides for issues such as the nature and layout of the proposals, and measures proposed to minimise direct damage and other related disturbance to be taken into account along with the special character, long-term viability and future maintenance of the site. Proposals will only be refused where their impact cannot be reconciled with conserving the ecological or wildlife value of the area.

13.23 Areas of special importance for nature conservation may be set aside as part of the overall contribution to landscaping and greenspace required under Policy GR5 and Policy GR6, which can be found in Section 8 of the Plan, or as required under Policy WA2, which can be found in Section 19. This approach, however, may not always be appropriate. This is especially the case where increased levels of public access would be incompatible with conservation objectives. In these circumstances, provision for accessible public open space should be provided, in addition, elsewhere.

13.24 A greater area of land than Policy GR5 or Policy GR6 would normally allow may also need to be set aside in order to protect the full expanse of the habitat concerned, to provide for a reasonable buffer zone to be retained and to retain any necessary natural linkages or corridors between the site and other areas of importance for wildlife within the surrounding area. Special attention will, in particular, be required in relation to preserving the natural character of ponds, watercourses and their margins, subject to Policy WA2; trees and woodlands, subject to Policy GR7; and the requirements of protected species, which may be dependent upon neighbouring land as feeding and foraging areas.

13.25 The Local Planning Authority, in conjunction with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and other interested parties, will continue to seek the co-operation of the landowner or tenant of each site of biological importance and provide advice, as necessary, on the protection of the nature conservation value of the site.