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Strategic site or developing Local Plan next to European habitat? Be aware that 1,000 AADT scoping criteria is going to undergo a change

Strategic site or developing Local Plan next to European habitat? Be aware that 1,000 AADT scoping criteria is going to undergo a change.

This rule of thumb for vehicles passing adjacent to important habitats is widespread. It has its origins in the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) and is commonly referenced by Natural England (NE) many Local Authorities adopt this rule of thumb to determine whether the vehicular impacts of a development or Local Plan(s) should be investigated in relation to sensitive road sections passing adjacent to important habitats.

The recent judgement by Mr Justice Jay will change the NE and Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) guidance, having far reaching implications for Local Plans and large strategic development sites.

The basics of the case appear to be that Lewes District Council and the South Downs National Park should have considered the cumulative impacts of both their Local Plans and the traffic generated by the Wealden Plan. The Wealden Plan had estimated an AADT (Annual Average Daily Traffic) impact on the A26 adjacent to the Ashdown Forest European Site of 950 vehicles. The Lewes and South Downs Joint Core Strategy assessed the impact on the A26 adjacent to the Ashdown Forest European Site and concluded and AADT impact of 190. They appear to have approach NE and sought advice and were told that there was no further need for assessment.

Having already been subject to a judicial review regarding the 950 AADT impact Wealden District Council did send a comment to the JCS regarding the need for further assessment of impacts on the Ashdown Forest. Despite this the inspector reviewing the JCS found the plan sound and this led to the hearing in the High Court.

At this stage, it would appear that both NE and the JCS team decided that that because their generated AADT was 190 vehicles it was negligible and therefore didn’t need to be added to the Wealdon figure of 950. It is this that led to the absurdity of an argument as to whether ‘cumulative’ meant that the two figures should be added.

Mr Justice Jay did not accept Natural England’s view that the figure of 1,000 AADT was sufficiently low to enable plans to be scoped out of consideration either individually or in combination. He concluded Lewes District Council and South Downs National Park Authority should have taken into account the traffic generated by Wealden District Council’s core strategy. The traffic generated by both plans together exceeded 1,000 AADT so impacts could not be scoped out.

He was also rather unimpressed by the evidence provided by NE to support their views regarding the advice provided to the JCS stating that: ‘it is also clear that Natural England’s expert advice cannot be supported on logical and empirical grounds.’

The whole thing reads like a few people made a rather large mistake, however, this has led to Mr Justice Kay recommending the that both the NE guidance and the DRMB are changed and further undermines the guidance provided by Statutory Bodies. The answer if you are in this position; if it feels a bit hooky, it probably is!

You can find the full judgement here:

http://www.midsussex.gov.uk/media/79096/id19_wealdenvssclg.pdf

Sarah Loynes

Director

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