New online tool helps planners assess development issues around Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Local planning authorities (LPAs) in England will be able to assess whether a proposed development is likely to affect the country’s 4,128 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) thanks to a new simple-to-use online tool produced by Natural England.


The Impact Risk Zones (IRZs) dataset is a GIS tool which maps zones around each SSSI according to the particular sensitivities of the features for which it is notified and specifies the types of development that have the potential to have adverse impacts.


Natural England uses the IRZs to make an initial assessment of the likely risk of impacts on SSSIs and to quickly determine which consultations are unlikely to pose risks and which require more detailed consideration. Publishing the IRZs will allow LPAs, developers and other partners to make use of this key evidence tool.


LPAs have a duty to consult Natural England before granting planning permission on any development that is in or likely to affect a SSSI. The IRZs tool will help planners and developers to consider whether a proposed development is likely to affect a SSSI and determine whether they will need to consult Natural England to seek advice on the nature of any potential SSSI impacts and how they might be avoided or mitigated.


SSSIs cover 8 percent of England and safeguard the country’s most important wildlife and/or geological sites. SSSIs include some of the nation’s most spectacular and beautiful habitats, ranging from wetlands and chalk rivers to flower-rich meadows and remote upland peat bogs.


Rob Cooke, Natural England’s Sustainable Development Director, said the new tool should save local authorities’ time and resources.


“This innovative tool should cut out the need for a number of consultations with Natural England and provide clear advice on what should or should not be built on land close to SSSIs,” he said.


The IRZs tool has now been published as a downloadable GIS dataset on the Natural England website.


The IRZs only relate to consultations likely to have an impact on SSSIs and currently do not cover potential risks from coastal schemes such as coastal defences, cliff stabilisation, cross-beach structures, harbour and marina development. Also, the IRZs do not alter or remove the requirements to consult Natural England on other natural environment impacts or other types of development proposal under the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2010 (as amended) and other statutory requirements. 


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