Important Information regarding current and proposed residential proposals in Southern Central Bedfordshire

Development in the Chiltern Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation Zone of Influence

November 2022 update

Beechwoods update – agreement of SAMM tariff

In March 2022, following Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) visitor studies by Dacorum Borough Council, Natural England decided extra protection for this important site was required. The studies identified visitors were damaging the site and with more new homes planned, and potentially more visitors, Natural England insisted on appropriate mitigation for new residential development. This affected us and other local authorities as planning decisions for new homes in the area (referred to as the Zone of Influence) had to be paused.

We have been working closely with the other local authorities, the National Trust and Natural England, to agree appropriate mitigation. Today, we signed a Statement of Common Ground with the other affected authorities, to agree a Strategic Access Management and Monitoring Strategy for Beechwoods SAC (known as SAMMS), which is a major step forward.

This details the mitigation required for Beechwoods SAC and identifies costs associated with this mitigation. The strategy has been agreed with the National Trust, as the landowner of the site and Natural England has concluded it meets the requirements of the Habitats Regulations and is deliverable.

The overall cost of SAMMS is £18,275,510, which will be funded by developers across the whole of the affected area. The issues identified at Beechwoods SAC are impacted by the affected authorities differently, as such, agreement has also been reached about what proportion of this cost, development in each authority should be responsible for.

The approach to apportionment considers the level of impact relative to existing populations and communities (using the evidence from the Footprint Ecology Study ) and that the apportioned cost is reasonably balanced in light of planned growth.

The local authorities have agreed to the following apportioned costs
Council/admin area SAMMS apportionment Indicative cost per dwelling (subject to change in line with how each authority chooses to implement its respective cost)
Dacorum Borough Council £9,420,275.04 £913.88 per dwelling
Central Bedfordshire Council £1,626,533.37 £182.49 per dwelling
St. Albans City and District Council £212,124.16 £828.61 per dwelling
Buckinghamshire (north and central) £6,998,036.57 £566.23 per dwelling
Buckinghamshire (south) £18,537.39 £87.03 per dwelling

Guidance will be issued about how this SAMMS contribution will be processed for affected developments.

As well as SAMMS, development within the Zone of Influence must also provide or contribute towards Strategic Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG). For schemes that cannot provide SANG on site, we have been working hard to identify potential SANG opportunities within Central Bedfordshire that could allow development to progress and have submitted a number of SANG Management Plans to Natural England for their review (note: these do not currently cover the entire Zone of Influence). It is likely the per-dwelling cost for SANG will be significantly higher than the SAMM contribution. Once these management plans have been agreed by Natural England, we can share more detail and start to take contributions towards their delivery. At this point, we can start determining some residential planning applications and enable new development in the area to proceed.

We are confident the mitigation will help to protect the Beechwood SAC and support our ambitions for Central Bedfordshire set out in our local plan.

Dacorum Borough Council has published paperwork for its upcoming committee meeting, which includes its draft SAMMS Mitigation Strategy and further information on SANG, which may be useful in understanding what the likely next steps for Central Bedfordshire will be.

Visit Dacorum Borough Council's website for the Footprint Ecology Report.

October 2022 update

We've been working with the other affected authorities (Dacorum Borough Council, St Albans District Council and Buckinghamshire Council) alongside Natural England and the National Trust, to develop a mitigation strategy that will allow development to progress within this zone.

An initial draft of the Mitigation Strategy, along with a more detailed progress update, has recently been published by Dacorum Borough Council as part of its Scrutiny Committee paperwork.

Alongside this, each authority is working on options for other required mitigation in the form of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG). These are green spaces that will be delivered within each authority area to provide more local facilities and to discourage residents from travelling to the Beechwoods SAC. Each SANG is required to have a Management Plan setting out how the SANG will be developed over a 30-year period to provide walking spaces and tranquil environments, along with suitable and appropriate infrastructure, such as car parking, refreshment facilities and public conveniences. SANGs will be provided within Central Bedfordshire as part of a development proposal or through financial contributions to sites we own.

Management plans for a number of potential SANGs within Central Bedfordshire are progressing and will be presented to Natural England for approval once developed.

Management Plans for a number of potential SANGs within Central Bedfordshire are progressing and will be presented to Natural England for approval once developed.

July 2022 update

We're working with Dacorum Borough Council as well as Natural England and other local authorities that fall within the identified Zone of Influence, to identify a Mitigation Strategy for the Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC). This is currently an ongoing process and all parties involved are actively working towards a solution and mitigation strategy that is agreeable to everyone. Whilst we are unable to provide a date as to when the strategy will be in place, please be assured that this will be done so as soon as practically possible.

We're also making good progress in relation to the identification of Strategic Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANGs) which will provide further new or enhanced greenspaces and destinations within the Zone of Influence (in Central Bedfordshire) to provide additional facilities for residents and communities. Further updates on the Mitigation Strategy and progress on the Project Plans for the SANGs within Central Bedfordshire will be provided in due course.

Development in the Chiltern Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation Zone of Influence

We've recently received notification from Natural England (PDF) about damage to the Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) resulting from high visitor numbers.

The SAC is an internationally recognised designation with habitats and species of significant ecological importance. Due to its status, the SAC has legal protection.

An ecology report undertaken on behalf of Dacorum Borough Council, has identified that additional residential development within and around the SAC will lead to more visitors and an increase in adverse activities such as trampling, mountain biking and dog fouling.

The report reveals action is needed to help protect the SAC and mitigate any adverse impact of development.

Whilst the Beechwoods SAC is outside of Central Bedfordshire, a Zone of Influence (PDF) has been identified encompassing the areas that potentially impact the SAC (where visitors come from). The map shows the affected area, which includes a significant part of Central Bedfordshire.

How these restrictions could affect your planning application

This does not mean development can’t take place, but that it must mitigate any adverse impacts on the SAC, and any mitigation strategy must be agreed by Natural England. 

We're working with Natural England, other affected authorities and the National Trust (the site owners) to develop a strategic mitigation solution. Officers are also looking at opportunities for an interim mitigation solution in the shorter term.

The affected authorities and Natural England are holding monthly partnership and fortnightly working group meetings to discuss mitigation solutions. Footprint Ecology has been commissioned to produce a supplementary planning document (SPD) on mitigation measures (strategic access management and monitoring, or SAMM), with the expectation of having a first draft ready in early June.

We're investigating options for suitable alternative natural green space both at new developments (working with developers) and other more strategic options.

The strategic mitigation strategy will be agreed upon and put in place as soon as possible. However, until the interim solutions and ultimately the mitigation strategy are in place, additional checks on planning applications will be needed to ensure these sites remain protected. As such, there may be delays to some planning application decisions and the issuing of decision notices, whilst this work is being progressed. 

We will seek to minimise the disruption as much as possible. We'll continue to receive and process all planning applications in the normal way but will need to delay issuing decisions on the affected applications until the mitigation strategy is in place. Once this is in place, we will be in a position to meet its legal obligations and issue decisions on the affected planning applications.

What happens next?

We will carry out an initial screening assessment of your application. This helps us decide if the development is likely to have a significant effect on the Chiltern Beeches Special Area of Conservation. The assessment will consider the nature, scale and location of the development and we will carry out any relevant reviews.

The new restrictions will affect applications:

  • for full planning permission
  • for outline planning permission
  • for reserved matters
  • for prior approval / permitted development rights
  • that are subject to appeal
  • under section 73 of The Town & Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended)
  • where there is a resolution to grant planning permission but where a formal decision has not been issued (e.g. subject to the satisfactory completion of a legal agreement)

The new restrictions will also affect some discharge of condition applications that enable the development to proceed (e.g. a pre-commencement condition regarding access).

Further information and FAQs

If you have an application that is affected, your planning case officer will be in touch.

For further detail and guidance, we have also published a list of questions and answers (PDF).