East Suffolk Council - Suffolk Coastal Local Plan (Adopted September 2020)

10 Natural Environment

10.1 The former Suffolk Coastal area is an area with a high quality natural environment which is enjoyed by residents, visitors, businesses and, most importantly, wildlife. The natural environment is primarily rural with coastline, river valleys and undulating countryside interspersed with market towns and villages. There is a range of locally, nationally and internationally designated sites of natural importance in the former Suffolk Coastal area spanning the length and breadth of the area. Sites of note include the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB, RSPB Minsmere, Orford Ness National Nature Reserve and Sutton Heath.

10.2 The Local Plan seeks to protect, retain and enhance the high quality natural environment and designated landscapes and sites found across the Local Plan area which contribute to the overall success of the area and provides economic and social benefits for all. Of further importance, however, are the wider environmental and ecological benefits provided by the natural environment including, for example, carbon sequestration, natural flood protection and habitat creation. It is wider benefits such as this that the Local Plan will seek to foster in new developments and to protect, retain and enhance in existing developments. Locally adopted plans such as the Deben Estuary Plan and Alde & Ore Estuary Plan will need to be considered in respect of locally important natural environment issues.

Biodiversity & Geodiversity

10.3 Biodiversity54 and geodiversity55 are of great significance across the former Suffolk Coastal area due to the extent and range of sites and habitats identified. Many of these areas are spread across the Local Plan area but the coastal areas are of particular importance due to international, national and local designations. Across the Local Plan area there are a variety of land based and marine based designations as seen in Table 10.1.

10.4 Both biodiversity and geodiversity represent elements of natural capital. A natural capital approach is an integral aspect of the Government's recently published 25 year Environment Plan. The Council aims to incorporate this approach into this Local Plan.

Table 10.1 Nature Conservation Sites - change in area






9,221 ha(4 sites)

9,221 ha(4 sites)

8,861 ha(4 sites)

Special Protection Areas

12,477 ha(5 sites)

12,477 ha(5 sites)

12,483 ha(5 sites)

Special Areas of Conservation

3,868 ha(5 sites)

3,868 ha(5 sites)

3,816 ha(5 sites)

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

11,207 ha(46 sites)

11,132 ha(45 sites)

11,201 ha(45 sites)

County Wildlife Sites

5,709 ha(221 sites)

5,668 ha(216 sites)

5,644 ha(218 sites)

Local Nature Reserves

85 ha(6 sites)

85 ha(6 sites)

85 ha(6 sites)

10.5 By their nature, areas of biodiversity and geodiversity importance are particularly sensitive to development and, therefore, careful consideration should be given when assessing new proposals. Consideration should be given to the European Birds or Habitats Directives as to whether 'screening' of impacts and/or an Appropriate Assessment is required. In accordance with national policy guidance, the strongest level of protection is given to these areas and the presumption in favour of sustainable development therefore does not apply to development proposals requiring Appropriate Assessment under European Birds or Habitats Directives.

10.6 Sites of European importance, which include Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are statutorily protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (based on EU directives), and wetlands of global importance (Ramsar sites) are protected by Government policy to apply the same level of protection as to European sites. Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), of national importance, are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). The Local Plan area also contains sites of local importance including County Wildlife Sites (CWSs) designated by the Suffolk County Wildlife Sites panel, Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) designated by Local Authorities, and County Geodiversity Sites (CGSs) (formerly Regionally Important Geological Sites) designated by GeoSuffolk. Considerable weight is given to protecting these designated sites. However, the level of protection should be commensurate with the level at which the site is designated (i.e. international, national and local). The NPPF defines irreplaceable habitats as those which would be very difficult or would take a long time to restore, and in the former Suffolk Coastal area would include habitats such as ancient woodland, veteran trees and sand dunes. Development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats should be refused unless there are wholly exceptional reasons as defined by the NPPF.

10.7 Whilst these designated areas are provided with protection, the potential exists nonetheless for all new developments to look at ways of increasing or improving areas of biodiversity and/or geodiversity importance, providing a net gain of biodiversity and/or geodiversity and enhancing the green infrastructure network. Areas of value, or potential value, for biodiversity include freshwater and marine environments as well as terrestrial habitats. Any increase or improvement to areas of biodiversity and/or geodiversity importance and to the green infrastructure network should be accurately evidenced at an early stage in the planning process. Creation of ecological corridors, connections to existing habitats and habitat 'stepping stones' represent examples of how this can be achieved. This will simultaneously help contribute to the establishment of a wider Nature Recovery Network; an action outlined in the Government's 25 year Environment Plan.

10.8 When considering the creation of ecological corridors that could affect neighbouring authorities, any relevant plans or policies relating to ecological corridors in that authority should be consulted. Semi-natural areas, circular dog walking routes, dedicated dogs off leads areas and dog waste bins should be incorporated into ecological corridors or networks within new developments in order to encourage routine recreational activities within the vicinity of the development.

10.9 Strategic, flexible and locally tailored approaches that recognise the relationship between the quality of the environment and development should be pursued. Previously developed sites will be considered favourably when evaluating development proposals in order to increase the likelihood of achieving biodiversity and/or geodiversity net gain, unless the site has been proven to be of high biodiversity value. The Brownfield Register should be consulted in this respect.

10.10 The opportunity exists for development proposals involving SuDS schemes to facilitate enhancement of the green infrastructure network and to provide a net gain for biodiversity and/or geodiversity by incorporating such principles into the proposal. It is therefore expected that all development proposals involving SuDS schemes will complement the green infrastructure network in the interests of achieving wider sustainability benefits and a net gain for biodiversity and/or geodiversity.

10.11 Development proposals located in coastal, riverine and estuarine areas should have regard for the cumulative impact of development on biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides, particularly in relation to coastal and marine protected areas. This will help to contribute to an ecosystem based approach, a common approach taken in the marine planning sphere. The Marine Management Organisation, Natural England and any adopted Estuary Plans must be consulted in this respect.

10.12 Development proposals should be accompanied by sufficient information to assess the effects of development on priority habitats and species, protected sites, protected species, biodiversity or geology, together with any proposed prevention, mitigation or compensation measures. The Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service can provide general species distribution data for development sites and further information is also available from the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Natural England and GeoSuffolk can provide detailed information regarding sites of geological importance.

10.13 Plans or projects which may have a likely significant effect on a European site will require Appropriate Assessment under Reg. 63 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. Accordingly, local authorities can only consent plans or projects where it can be ascertained that they will have no adverse effect on the integrity of a European site. In exceptional circumstances, where there are no alternative solutions, a plan or project may meet the tests of Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest (IROPI), which then requires demonstration that appropriate compensation will be provided to ensure that the integrity of the Natura 2000 network is not compromised. Given the rigour of these tests, the presumption is that plans or projects that could adversely affect Natura 2000 sites will not be approved. In practice, schemes which qualify for IROPI are extremely rare and are very unlikely to fall under the Council's remit for decision making.

10.14 The NPPF states that if significant harm to biodiversity resulting from development cannot be avoided, adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused. This sequential approach is referred to as the 'mitigation hierarchy' and the policy has been created to cover these scenarios.

54 Biodiversity means the variety of life forms, the ecological roles they play, and the genetic diversity they contain.

55 Geodiversity may be defined as the natural range of geological features (rocks, minerals, fossils, and structures), geomorphologic features (landforms and processes) and soil features that make up the landscape. It includes their assemblages, relationships, properties, interpretations and systems.

Conserving and Enhancing our Natural Areas

10.15 It is important to protect habitats outside designated sites and to protect particular species, such as those which are rare or protected. Suffolk Biodiversity Action Plan priority species and habitats and other species protected by law will be protected from harmful development. Where there is reason to suspect the presence of nature conservation interests, applications for development should be accompanied by a survey and assessment of their value, in accordance with local biodiversity validation requirements. If present, the proposal must be sensitive to, and make provision for, their needs. For example, through the provision of nest sites for swifts in developments and renovations or including features to create permeability for hedgehogs.

10.16 The high quality natural environment is important to many local communities as it positively contributes to quality of life, quality of place and mental health. The Council recognises that issues relating to biodiversity and geodiversity need to be considered collaboratively with businesses and other stakeholders to ensure that natural assets are protected. To address the impact of development on the European Sites across the plan area, the Council has been working in partnership with Ipswich Borough Council, Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils, Suffolk County Council and Natural England to develop a Recreational disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy (RAMS). The strategy provides the practical basis and evidence to identify projects to mitigate the impact of new development on the protected sites. In the majority of cases, a RAMS contribution will be the Council's preferred mechanism for securing mitigation. Such an approach has been successfully implemented in developments such as the 'Brightwell Lakes' development of approximately 2,000 dwellings in the south of the Local Plan area. Likewise, compensatory areas have been provided at Sizewell Nuclear Power plants to mitigate the effects of development on SSSIs. In the interests of ensuring the continued effectiveness of mitigation measures such as SANGs and compensatory areas, they will be protected in perpetuity.

Policy SCLP10.1: Biodiversity and Geodiversity

Development will be supported where it can be demonstrated that it maintains, restores or enhances the existing green infrastructure network and positively contributes towards biodiversity and/or geodiversity through the creation of new habitats and green infrastructure and improvement to linkages between habitats, such as wildlife corridors and habitat 'stepping stones'. All development should follow a hierarchy of seeking firstly to avoid impacts, mitigate for impacts so as to make them insignificant for biodiversity, or as a last resort compensate for losses that cannot be avoided or mitigated for. Adherence to the hierarchy should be demonstrated.

Proposals that will have a direct or indirect adverse impact (alone or in-combination with other plans or projects) on locally designated sites of biodiversity or geodiversity importance, including County Wildlife Sites, priority habitats and species, will not be supported unless it can be demonstrated with comprehensive evidence that the benefits of the proposal, in its particular location, outweighs the biodiversity loss.

New development should provide environmental net gains in terms of both green infrastructure and biodiversity. Proposals should demonstrate how the development would contribute towards new green infrastructure opportunities or enhance the existing green infrastructure network as part of the development. New development must also secure ecological enhancements as part of its design and implementation, and should provide a biodiversity net gain that is proportionate to the scale and nature of the proposal.

Where compensatory habitat is created, it should be of equal or greater size and ecological value than the area lost as a result of the development, be well located to positively contribute towards the green infrastructure network, and biodiversity and/or geodiversity and be supported with a management plan.

Where there is reason to suspect the presence of protected UK or Suffolk Priority species or habitat, applications should be supported by an ecological survey and assessment of appropriate scope undertaken by a suitably qualified person. If present, the proposal must follow the mitigation hierarchy in order to be considered favourably. Any proposal that adversely affects a European site, or causes significant harm to a Site of Special Scientific Interest, will not normally be granted permission.

Any development with the potential to impact on a Special Protection Area, Special Area for Conservation or Ramsar site within or outside of the plan area will need to be supported by information to inform a Habitat Regulations Assessment, in accordance with the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, as amended (or subsequent revisions).

The Recreational disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy has been prepared to provide a mechanism through which impacts from increased recreation can be avoided and mitigated via financial contributions towards the provision of strategic mitigation. Where mitigation is proposed to be provided through alternative mechanisms, applicants will need to provide evidence to demonstrate that all impacts are mitigated for, including in-combination effects. Depending on the size and location of the development, additional measures such as Suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces (SANGS) may be required as part of development proposals.

A Supplementary Planning Document will be prepared to assist with the implementation of the Recreational disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy. The Council will work with neighbouring authorities and Natural England to implement this strategy.

Visitor Management of European Sites

10.17 In partnership with Natural England and neighbouring authorities, the Council is committed to the need to mitigate the recreational impact on sites designated as being of international importance for their nature conservation interest (European Sites) from increased housing provision.

10.18 Across the Local Plan area the following sites are designated as being of international importance for their nature conservation interest:

  • Alde-Ore Estuary SPA/Ramsar;
  • Alde-Ore and Butley Estuaries SAC;
  • Deben Estuary SPA / Ramsar;
  • Minsmere - Walberswick SPA/Ramsar;
  • Minsmere to Walberswick Heaths and Marshes SAC;
  • Orford Ness - Shingle Street SAC;
  • Sandlings SPA;
  • Staverton Park and Thicks SAC;
  • Stour and Orwell Estuaries SPA / Ramsar.

10.19 The Council is aware that the distribution of growth proposed by the Local Plan along with developments that come forward over the plan period can have an impact on European Sites. The impact is primarily in relation to an increase in disturbance to wildlife linked to people walking dogs along with increased recreational use of estuaries from water based activities.

10.20 The previous Local Plan supported by an Appropriate Assessment required specific mitigation measures in respect of strategic housing growth in the southern part of the plan area. The Appropriate Assessment identified a 1km buffer from the boundary of a designated area as an appropriate distance to apply when determining impact. This is because studies have shown that people are reluctant to walk 1km to get to the start of their main walk. Beyond this distance they tend to drive.

10.21 The Council has prepared a 'Recreational disturbance Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy' (RAMS) with Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils and Ipswich Borough Council. The strategy will review and monitor effectiveness and amend the approach as deemed necessary.

10.22 Estuary management plans that have been endorsed / adopted by the Council as well as the AONB management plan are material planning considerations along with the RAMS in the determination of planning applications which are considered to have an impact on designated sites. These include the Deben Estuary Plan and the Alde and Ore Estuary Plan.

Policy SCLP10.2: Visitor Management of European Sites

The Council has a duty to ensure that development proposals will not result in an increase in activity likely to have a significant effect upon sites designated as being of international importance for their nature conservation interest.

Applications for new car parking provision (public or privately owned which are available for wider public use) located within 1km boundary of a designated site or new access points direct into the estuary such as slipways or jetties will need to demonstrate that they will not result in an increase in activity likely to have a significant effect upon a European site whether on their own, or in combination with other uses. Such proposals need to be subject to a project level Habitats Regulation Assessment.

Environmental Quality

10.23 The quality of environment in which people reside is inextricably linked to quality of life and invariably affects their standard of living. Pollution is widely regarded as a negative influence on environmental quality due to carbon emissions, particulate matter emissions and soil contamination, for example. Regulation of air and soil quality, in this respect, is important in order to mitigate such pollution.

10.24 The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) encourages Local Authorities to address the issue of air pollution in their Local Plan to help improve air quality. The NPPF requires planning policies and decisions to 'sustain and contribute towards compliance with relevant limit values or national objectives for pollutants, taking into account the presence of Air Quality Management Areas and Clean Air Zones, and the cumulative impacts from individual sites in local areas.' This Local Plan will seek to improve air quality not just in the two Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) across the plan area, but also elsewhere. Development proposals will be expected to minimise and mitigate air pollution and to contribute towards the achievement of air quality objectives. An Air Quality Assessment may be required in support of any development proposals; this should be produced in accordance with the latest Environmental Protection UK guidance56.

10.25 In line with the National Planning Policy Framework the Plan seeks to protect high quality agricultural land where possible. Whilst in some cases meeting wider objectives will necessitate the loss of agricultural land, particularly considering the relatively limited amount of brownfield land available for development in the plan area, the policy seeks to ensure that loss of agricultural land is a consideration.

10.26 The Habitats Regulations Assessment of the Local Plan has identified the potential for emissions from vehicles and impacts on water quality and water quantity to have an effect on European protected sites, and has made recommendations in relation to monitoring as referred to in the Monitoring Framework in Appendix C. Where necessary, potential effects on European protected sites would need to be considered through the Habitats Regulations Assessment process.

Policy SCLP10.3: Environmental Quality

Development proposals will be expected to protect the quality of the environment and to minimise and, where possible, reduce all forms of pollution and contamination.

Development proposals will be considered in relation to impacts on;

  1. Air quality, and the impact on receptors in Air Quality Management Areas;
  2. Soils and the loss of agricultural land;
  3. Land contamination and its effects on sensitive land uses;
  4. Water quality and the achievement of Water Framework Directive objectives;
  5. Light pollution; and
  6. Noise pollution.

Proposals should seek to secure improvements in relation to the above where possible.

The cumulative effect of development, in this regard, will be considered.

56 https://www.environmental-protection.org.uk/policy-areas/air-quality/air-pollution-and-planning/


10.27 The quality of landscapes, visible features of land or scenery is a defining feature of the former Suffolk Coastal District and the identity of local communities. The diverse landscapes of the former Suffolk Coastal District have been influenced and defined by natural and human activity, including a long tradition of farming. The former Suffolk Coastal District area includes large areas of farmland, much of which is the most productive in the country i.e. grades 1, 2, and 3 under the Agricultural Land Classification57.

10.28 Since human and natural activity evolves over time, landscape character also changes over time. Positive and beneficial management of that change, including restoration and protection where necessary, is essential to maintaining the quality, distinctiveness and vitality of the local environment.

10.29 The landscape of the plan area is varied but characterised by areas which have important landscape designations such as the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Heritage Coast and Historic Parks and Gardens. Previous Local Plan documents included a county wide approach in the form of Special Landscape Areas (SLA) which originated from the Suffolk Structure Plan. The SLA designations primarily identified the river valleys and tributaries as areas with special landscape attributes that are particularly vulnerable to change.

10.30 Government guidance and best practice advise that a landscape character assessment approach should be taken to inform policy making and planning decisions, rather than locally defined area specific landscape designations. To accord with Government guidance, the Council commissioned a Suffolk Coastal Landscape Character Assessment (2018) and Settlement Sensitivity Assessment (2018) of the former Suffolk Coastal District Council and the fringes of Ipswich58. The evidence provides a tool to help understand the character and local distinctiveness of the landscape and identifies the special qualities and features that give it a sense of place, as well as providing guidance on how to manage change. Landscape character is the distinct, recognisable and consistent pattern of elements that make one landscape different from another. The assessment recognises all landscapes, not just those that are designated, and considers sensitivity to change including in relation to recognised features.

10.31 The Suffolk Coastal Landscape Character Assessment (2018) and Settlement Sensitivity Assessment (2018) analyse the sensitivity of settlement fringes, their capacity to accommodate future development and priorities for the enhancement, protection, management and conservation of these landscape areas.

57 Defra - https://magic.defra.gov.uk/StaticMaps/Agricultural%20Land%20Classification%20-20Provisional%20(England).pdf

58 The Settlement Sensitivity Assessment (2018) covers the former Suffolk Coastal District and the area around Ipswich within Ipswich Borough and Babergh and Mid Suffolk Districts.

Suffolk Coast & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

10.32 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are national landscape designations afforded the highest protection for their landscape and scenic quality. Protection of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths relates not only to the land within this AONB, but also to its setting. In line with national policy great weight is attributed to conserving and enhancing the landscape and scenic beauty in the AONB and the conservation and enhancement of wildlife and cultural heritage are important considerations. A large part of the AONB is also identified as Suffolk Heritage Coast. The AONB Management Plan explains that the Heritage Coast purpose includes objectives for conserving the environmental health and biodiversity of inshore waters and beaches, and to extend opportunities for recreational education, sport and tourist activities that draw on, and are consistent with, the conservation of their heritage features.

10.33 The conservation and enhancement of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB and its setting is also an important influence within the plan area. Incorporating extensive landscapes, from the River Blyth Estuary in the north to landscapes around the River Orwell and River Deben Estuaries in the south, the AONB also extends beyond the plan area to the north and south.

10.34 The Suffolk Coast and Heaths Management Plan 2018 is a material consideration and sets out the management objectives for the AONB. The Management Plan has a key role in supporting and co-ordinating the role of management of the AONB as required by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. A key objective of the Management Plan is to conserve and enhance the AONB's natural beauty and improve its special qualities. Working with local communities, farmers, businesses, non-government organisations, local authorities, statutory agencies and individuals the AONB Management Plan reflects the co-ordinated activity of the partnership.

10.35 The National Planning Policy Framework under paragraph 172 states that planning permission should be refused for major development other than in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated that the development is in the public interest, and sets out a series of assessment criteria against which applications for major development would be considered. The NPPF explains that whether a proposal is 'major development' is a matter for the decision maker, taking into account its nature, scale and setting, and whether it could have a significant adverse impact on the purposes for which the area has been designated or defined.

Landscape Character and Assessment

10.36 Landscape character is the distinct, recognisable and consistent pattern of elements that makes one landscape different from another. Landscape assessment helps to describe the important features and characteristics of different areas of landscape. This helps to make recommendations for future protection, management and planning. An up to date Suffolk Coastal Landscape Character Assessment (2018) and Settlement Sensitivity Assessment (2018) are important tools in proposing, shaping and determining proposals for new development, analysing and identifying landscape features and characteristics in particular parts of the plan area . This kind of information and guidance is helpful in the conservation of features that give places their unique character, in identifying opportunities for enhancement and positive change, and in providing evidence to support local action. The Landscape Character Area Maps are contained in Appendix H.

10.37 Landscape assessment is not limited to designated landscapes. It recognises particular qualities and features of landscapes to provide an understanding of distinct sense of place and sensitivities to development and change. Types of landscapes with broadly similar combinations of geology, landform, vegetation, land use, field and settlement patterns repeat across the plan area. Landscapes belonging to a particular type, such as Valley Meadowlands, may be found in different places. Particularly valued landscape types within the former Suffolk Coastal District of the greatest sensitivity to change are rural river valleys, historic park and garden, coastal, estuary and heathland areas.

10.38 The Settlement Sensitivity Assessment (2018) analyses the sensitivity of settlement fringes, their capacity to accommodate future development and priorities for the enhancement, protection, management and conservation of landscape areas.

10.39 Proposals for development should be informed by, and be sympathetic to, the special qualities and features, strategy objectives and considerations identified in the Suffolk Coastal Landscape Character Assessment (2018) and Settlement Sensitivity Assessment (2018). This evidence may be updated during the plan period in which case successor documents will be used in decision making.

10.40 The Council acknowledges that landscape is important to healthy and active communities across the former Suffolk Coastal District. The Public Rights of Way network and areas of green infrastructure associated with developments support social interaction, well being and ease disturbance on protected wildlife sites, for example, by providing alternative outdoor recreation places. Proposed development should take into account Public Rights of Way and provide enhancements to the network where possible. The provision of new footpaths should ensure that these are accessible for all users.

10.41 The Deben Estuary Plan as well as the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Unit both acknowledge the defining feature of tranquillity in parts of the former Suffolk Coastal District. Tranquillity is categorised by areas of semi-natural habitat, a general absence of developments and apparent lack of human activity. Tranquillity is further enhanced by natural sounds and the areas of darkest skies. Evidence indicates that the areas of the former Suffolk Coastal District with greatest tranquillity are the estuaries, river valleys and heaths. Extensive areas of estuary, river valley and heaths are characterised by relatively little artificial light helping to keep the sky dark at night and supporting quality of light and space, wild bird migration and feeding behaviour and sounds like bird calls, the wind through reeds in estuaries and waves on shingle.

10.42 Neighbourhood Plan groups may choose to produce local landscape character assessments to supplement the Local Plan landscape evidence at the Town or Parish level.

Policy SCLP10.4: Landscape Character

Proposals for development should be informed by, and sympathetic to, the special qualities and features as described in the Suffolk Coastal Landscape Character Assessment (2018), the Settlement Sensitivity Assessment (2018), or successor and updated landscape evidence.

Development proposals will be expected to demonstrate their location, scale, form, design and materials will protect and enhance:

  1. The special qualities and features of the area;
  2. The visual relationship and environment around settlements and their landscape settings;
  3. Distinctive landscape elements including but not limited to watercourses, commons, woodland trees, hedgerows and field boundaries, and their function as ecological corridors;
  4. Visually sensitive skylines, seascapes, river valleys and significant views towards key landscapes and cultural features; and
  5. The growing network of green infrastructure supporting health, wellbeing and social interaction.

Development will not be permitted where it will have a significant adverse impact on rural river valleys, historic park and gardens, coastal, estuary, heathland and other very sensitive landscapes. Proposals for development will be required to secure the preservation and appropriate restoration or enhancement of natural, historic or man made features across the plan area as identified in the Landscape Character Assessment, Settlement Sensitivity Assessment and successor landscape evidence.

Development will not be permitted where it would have a significant adverse impact on the natural beauty and special qualities of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, that cannot be adequately mitigated. Development within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or within its setting, will be informed by landscape and visual impact assessment to assess and identify potential impacts and to identify suitable measures to avoid or mitigate these impacts. Planning permission for major development in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty will be refused other than in exceptional circumstances, and where it can be demonstrated that the development is in the public interest, subject to the considerations set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Proposals should include measures that enable a scheme to be well integrated into the landscape and enhance connectivity to the surrounding green infrastructure and Public Rights of Way network. Development proposals which have the potential to impact upon the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or other sensitive landscapes should be informed by landscape appraisal, landscape and visual impact assessment and landscape mitigation.

Proposals for development should protect and enhance the tranquillity and dark skies across the plan area. Exterior lighting in development should be appropriate and sensitive to protecting the intrinsic darkness of rural and tranquil estuary, heathland and river valley landscape character.

Neighbourhood Plans may include local policies related to protecting and enhancing landscape character and protecting and enhancing tranquillity and dark skies.

Settlement Coalescence

10.43 Landscapes are a unique combination of features that make a place distinctive. There are a number of locations throughout the plan area where important undeveloped areas of land exist between settlements. These gaps help protect the identity and character of separate settlements.

10.44 Gaps between settlements help give the sense of leaving one place and arriving at another. Feedback from community engagement and public consultation used to help shape this Local Plan document stresses the importance of communities retaining their individual identity. Many distinct villages in the former Suffolk Coastal District are near to other villages and towns. In places such as Rushmere St Andrew and Martlesham landscapes characterise village character as distinct from nearby suburban areas. The presence of buildings, signs and other development along roads prevents the sense of leaving a settlement and passing through the countryside. At night, various forms of artificial lighting can also lead to a sense of continuous urbanisation.

Policy SCLP10.5: Settlement Coalescence

Development of undeveloped land and intensification of developed land between settlements will only be permitted where it does not lead to the coalescence of settlements through a reduction in openness and space or the creation of urbanising effects between settlements.

Neighbourhood plans may include policies addressing local issues related to settlement coalescence.