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Guidance on the Requirement for Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) for Neighbourhood Plans

The Habitats Regulations Assessment’s (HRA) main purpose is to ensure that your Neighbourhood Plan will not result in significant damage to designated wildlife sites (the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010). These designated sites are those which are considered to be internationally important for nature conservation and wildlife.

Internationally important nature sites include:

  • Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) which have important habitat features,
  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs) which relate to bird populations
  • Ramsar sites which are internationally important wetlands.

These are often referred to as Natura 2000 sites and a map of all these sites within the South Downs National Park (Map 4.1) can be found on p39 of the State of the National Park Report.

Does every Neighbourhood Plan need an HRA?

Not every neighbourhood plan will need a Habitat Regulations Assessment. This will depend on the area to be covered and whether its policies and proposals will impact on any Natura 2000 site. In many cases, where the Neighbourhood Plan is determining sites for housing allocations that have been approved in an existing Local Plan already subject to an HRA, a separate HRA is unlikely to be necessary.

What is involved in Appropriate Assessment under HRA?

If the screening suggests that the plan is likely to have a significant effect upon a Natura 2000 designation you will need to carry out an Appropriate Assessment. This involves evaluating possible impacts and what changes are needed to prevent damage to any Natura 2000 site. An Appropriate Assessment report will probably need to be produced with each evolution of your Neighbourhood Plan. It is important that the final agreement is obtained from Natural England.

An Appropriate Assessment involves a high degree of technical knowledge and we recommend that you appoint a specialist consultant unless a member of your neighbourhood planning team has this expertise.

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