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3. Urban development, infrastructure & transport

Who does what?

o The Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office are responsible for national planning policy and guidance to local authorities.

o Planning authorities are responsible for producing development plans and for deciding planning applications.

o. The Department of Transport, in England, and the Welsh Office, in Wales, are responsible for major highway schemes.

o. Local authorities are responsible for local highway schemes and are providers/ enablers of other infrastructure such as schools, drainage, housing and employment facilities, in accordance with their statutory duties.

o. Statutory harbour authorities have development control responsibilities in ports.

o. There is a development corporation in Cardiff which has special powers to aid the regeneration of its area.

o. The Environment Agency and local authorities have powers to provide sea defences.

o. Local authorities have powers to undertake coast protection works.

o. The Department of Transport has a general duty to regulate construction and other such operations in tidal waters which might obstruct, endanger or interfere with navigation.

o. The Department of Transport administers applications for orders under the Transport and Works Act 1992 relating to works in the sea. Such orders are determined by the appropriate Secretary of State.

o. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food licences the deposit of articles or materials anywhere in the sea (including tidal waters), and is also responsible for orders authorising harbour works.

o. Some harbour authorities similarly have local powers and procedures to licence works.

Stated Government aims:


The Severn Estuary has been shaped historically by human activity and its associated development. The current local economy of the estuary can only be sustained and improved by on-going development which must be balanced against the need to avoid damage to the natural and human environment.

The Government is committed to achieving sustainable development and using the planning system to contribute to this by controlling development. Sustainable development has been defined as:
"development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

(The World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987)

In the UK Strategy the Government state that:

"Sustainable development does not mean having less economic development: on the contrary, a healthy economy is better able to generate the resources to meet people's needs, and investment and environmental improvement often go hand in hand. Nor does it mean that every aspect of the present environment should be preserved at all costs. What it requires is that decisions throughout society are taken with proper regard to their environmental impact."

(Sustainable Development: The UK Strategy 1994)

Development plans

Development on land around the estuary is controlled by the 15 local authorities. They produce development plans for their areas. Development plans allocate sites as appropriate for particular types of development and have an equally important role in establishing the policies which are used to constrain development pressures (e.g. to protect nature conservation sites and landscape quality).

Within the area covered by this report there is one development corporation (for Cardiff Bay), which was established in 1987 and will be in existence until at least 1999. Cardiff Bay Development Corporation has prepared a strategy and a number of area planning briefs to guide development in the Bay area.

Development plans are in three parts at present: Structure Plans (prepared by county councils) provide general strategic policies; Local Plans (prepared by district councils) provide detailed, site specific policies; and Minerals Local Plans or Minerals and Waste Local Plans (prepared by county councils) provide detailed policies for matters related to mineral working (and waste management). The position is now changing as a result of local government reorganisation. The new Welsh unitary councils are preparing unitary development plans by 2000, to replace all three current components of the development plan; these will be in two parts, with part 1 providing general strategies and policies, and part 2 providing detailed, site specific policies. South Gloucestershire, Bristol, and North Somerset are preparing a joint structure plan to replace the current Avon Structure Plan, but will each produce separate local plans and minerals (& waste) local plans. In addition, statutory development plans may be supported by additional, non-statutory plans and policy or supplementary guidance prepared by authorities in response to various issues. Although supplementary guidance plays only an advisory role it can have a significant role in influencing development and is a useful reference source for estuary management.

Further information on development plans and other planning initiatives is given in chapter 15.

Box 3.1 - Determination of a planning application

Planning authorities determine whether to approve planning applications based upon their development plan. Depending on the stage reached in their preparation, from initial consultation draft to adopted plan, these plans form the policy framework for decisions on development proposals. If planning applications conform with a Plan they have a better chance of being approved. If not, they are advertised as a "departure" from the Plan. Such applications may still be approved if the land-use planning arguments in favour of the proposal outweigh those against.

In addition to the development plan framework, the planning authority also considers other material factors in the determination of planning applications. Their aim is to make the best decision about each application by taking into account a proposal's impact upon the environment, the interests of the community and people living nearby and balancing these effects with the needs of the applicant.

Some planning applications raise complicated issues which may need to be specially assessed for their environmental impact.

In most cases the decision on whether to allow a development is taken by the local planning authority. Occasionally, the Secretary of State intervenes, or the decision is taken by an independent Planning Inspector (if the applicant lodges an appeal against a refusal or non-determination).

Development pressures

Most development takes place on sites allocated in development plans which look forward 10 years. Proposed future land allocations within the Severn Estuary area were checked in Autumn 1996. They comprise the following types of development:

o. Employment
This includes manufacturing, warehousing and offices. Whilst some sites have been located close to motorway junctions in order to attract inward investment, most employment land is associated with the main urban areas, for example 144ha. near Newport (L.G.) and 60ha. at Bridgwater (3 sites).

o. Housing
The major land allocations are associated with the main urban areas. Examples include Locking Castle/ St. Georges (3000 houses) and Portishead (2000 houses).

o. Large infrastructure projects
These include roads and rail facilities as well as port developments, for example the Cardiff and Avonmouth rail freight terminals, the Gloucester South West bypass and the proposed M4 Relief Road south of Newport on the Gwent Levels.

o. Retail and commercial
These sites mainly occur in the vicinity of urban areas. Examples include Weston-super-Mare (9 sites) and Chepstow (4 sites)

o. Mixed and other development
This includes waste, minerals, recreation, tourism, utilities, education and housing. For example Wessex Water and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water are constructing new waste water treatment works and several tourist attractions are proposed for Cardiff Bay.

Map 3 summarises the potential development patterns within the Severn Estuary area as at Autumn 1996.

The rural areas between the main urban concentrations have relatively few allocations for large scale development of land for housing, employment and retail uses although there are exceptions such as around Hinkley Point and Oldbury-on-Severn.


There have been many proposals to build barrages or weirs in the Severn and its tributaries: for example the Severn Barrage itself and proposals for barrages on the Usk (recently rejected), Avon, Parrett and the Severn at Gloucester. However, only Cardiff Bay Barrage has commenced and is due to be completed in 1998, creating a 200 hectare freshwater lake with the aim of enhancing the development potential of the area.

The main reason for the proposed Severn Barrage is energy generation. The primary aim of most other barrage proposals is to create a waterside location which is regarded by some as attractive for development. These so-called amenity barrages maintain the water levels to cover mud flats that would normally be exposed at low water. The Gloucester Barrage presently under discussion could have environmental and navigation benefits (see chapter 10). One of the main problems encountered when determining barrage schemes is the difficulty of obtaining sufficient validated scientific data to make meaningful assessments of the effects.
Map 3 Potential Development Patterns

Many issues in this report are related to one another. Issues raised in this chapter have particular links with those in chapters 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15.


D1 Concern about the amount of development in coastal areas

Some people believe that too much development is permitted around the estuary. Pressures come from all types of development - tourism, leisure, port-related, industrial, commercial/ industrial parks, town and village expansion. In fact, most settlements grow in size over time to accommodate requirements for more housing and other uses. Development and renewal are natural processes that contribute to the local economy, provide employment and amenities. Legislation under successive Governments recognises this, and generally supports development unless it affects land and interests of acknowledged importance. Government policy advice guides the weight which should be given to the various factors which need to be considered in assessing development proposals. However there is public concern that there is too much intrusive development in areas around the estuary. There is also concern, on the part of some interests, that nature conservation designations restrict development opportunities.

Who is involved: Planning authorities, Department of the Environment, Welsh Office, English Nature, Countryside Council for Wales, and developers.

What is happening: Development plans usually include policies to protect the coast from inappropriate development. An Environmental Statement is required to be submitted with the planning application for most major development proposals, so that an Environmental Assessment can be undertaken by the local planning authority. Work with the Countryside agencies has ensured that many proposals are successfully integrated into coastal areas with the minimum possible disruption of the natural environment.

Some suggestions: Local authorities could consider increasing public involvement in consultation on draft plans, to help ensure that policies reflect local priorities and concerns.

D2 Impact of development on landscape character

Many people value the natural, wild feel of the estuary, and there is public concern that development in and around the estuary is adversely affecting the character of the estuary. The open, flat character of the estuary means that some large developments are visible over long distances. At a smaller scale the materials used for buildings and landscaping need to be appropriate to the landscape character of their settings. Good design, and a layout which is in sympathy with the grain of the landscape, can help to integrate a development into its setting. Government advice emphasises this and many development plans reflect this concern for high design standards.

Who is involved: Planning authorities and developers, Countryside Commission, Countryside Council for Wales.

What is happening: Design and landscape impact are considered in assessing development proposals. If protecting landscape character forms part of the policy framework for the area in a development plan, more importance can be attached to it.

Some suggestions: More consideration could be given in development plans to the effect of development on the landscape character of the estuary. This could include consideration of location, design and materials.

D3 Impact of development on areas of natural, archaeological or scientific interest

There are many areas in and around the estuary which have natural, archaeological or scientific interest. Some have been designated as special sites under various international, national or local schemes. However, there are many areas of interest outside these designated sites, particularly for archaeology where sites may be undiscovered. The impact of development on these areas of interest, particularly those already designated, is taken into account but there is some public concern that they are not given sufficient weight.

Who is involved: Planning authorities, developers, English Nature, Countryside Council for Wales, Environment Agency, English Heritage, Cadw and the voluntary conservation organisations.

What is happening: Planning authorities and developers give careful consideration to the effects on nature conservation and archaeology when making decisions about development. Consideration is also given to what information is needed for this, a matter which is beginning to be addressed by the use of environmental assessments to evaluate the impact of projects.

Planning authorities consult with relevant organisations about development proposals likely to affect designated sites to ensure, even if developments are allowed, they are so conditioned as to prevent damaging impacts on wildlife habitats, important physical features, or archaeological features. It is possible that exceptionally other material factors may be sufficient to override these interests.

Wherever possible such development should be guided to any other available suitable sites to minimise likelihood of unforeseen damaging effects on nature conservation and archaeological sites.

Some suggestions: Further explanation of development decisions could be made to the public. In particular the valuations placed on nature conservation and archaeological features and the predicted effects of developments on these interests.

D4 Concern about the ability of sewage infrastructure to accommodate new development.

In some parts of the estuary the sewerage infrastructure (i.e. sewers and sewage works) is not able to cope with new development without causing pollution. However, there is pressure to develop in these areas without upgrading the sewerage system.

Who is involved: Planning authorities, Severn Trent Water, D_r Cymru Welsh Water, Wessex Water, and Environment Agency.

What is happening: The Environment Agency and water service utilities advise planning authorities on the ability of the sewerage system to cope with new development. Some local planning authorities have established policies to restrict development in sensitive areas.

Some suggestions: Additional capacity could be provided by new investment but this might be at increased cost to the consumer. Development could be restricted in some areas until adequate sewerage infrastructure can be provided.

D5 The demand for aggregates for development

See issues in chapter 9.


D6 The impact of new roads and transport infrastructure

New roads can have a major impact on the landscape around the estuary - for instance the Second Severn Crossing and associated new motorways. More schemes are planned, some having only local implications, but others may have much wider implications, such as the proposed improvements of the M4 to the south of Newport. There is a prospect of increased investment in facilities for freight transport by rail and sea (which in global terms is more environmentally acceptable than road transport). Proposals for rail freight terminals and port facilities create localised impacts, the adverse effects of which need to be minimised whilst preserving the wider benefits. Whilst impacts during construction can be minimised by careful management - the Second Severn Crossing and approach roads are an excellent example - the new structures and lighting have a more permanent impact and thus need high quality design. (Issues relating to port developments are covered in chapter 7).

Who is involved: Department of Transport, Welsh Office, local authorities and developers.

What is happening: The impact of new roads and transport infrastructure is taken into account in deciding whether such schemes should go ahead. Current national policy statements favour sustainable transport.

Some suggestions: Local planning authorities could consider giving higher priority to minimising the impact of transport proposals on the landscape in development plans.

D7 The impact of one way bridge tolls on traffic in west Gloucestershire

Tolls for the Severn bridges are one way - charged going into Wales only. It is widely believed that this leads to increased traffic on the roads of west Gloucestershire - for example the A48 through Newnham on Severn. This is a cause for concern for residents because of the associated noise and increased risk of accidents.

Who is involved: Department of Transport, Gloucestershire County Council, bridge operators.

Some suggestions: Consideration could be given to reappraising the current toll system and to imposing restrictions on heavy goods vehicles on certain roads.


D8 Concern about new development in areas at risk from flooding or coastal erosion

Certain coastal locations around the estuary are at risk either from flooding or coastal erosion. Despite these risks some developers and planning authorities propose to develop this land. Rising sea levels due to global warming raise additional threats and may increase the areas at risk.

Who is involved: Planning authorities, Environment Agency, Welsh Office, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF).

What is happening: MAFF, the Welsh Office, the Environment Agency and local authorities currently liaise to ensure that erosion and flooding risks around the estuary are managed. Where necessary and possible, existing sea defences are improved and new defences are planned, in order to protect current land uses.

The Environment Agency advises planning authorities on areas liable to flood. Government advice is that new coastal development should not generally be permitted in areas which need defence works. If development is permitted, the onus is on the developer to provide for appropriate flood protection and demonstrate that it will not affect other areas.

Some suggestions: In line with Government planning guidance local authorities need to continue to carefully control development in areas of flood risk. Local authorities and the Environment Agency could identify lines along coastlines beyond which development should be avoided. There may be potential for managed retreat, to allow the coastline to recede to a new line of defence in certain areas.


D9 Environmental effects of barrage and weir schemes

Barrage schemes, and to a lesser extent proposals for new weirs, tend to be very controversial because of the changes they will produce in parts of the estuary. The most obvious change would be in the tidal processes - the twice daily ebb and flow of vast volumes of water - which has been a feature of the estuary since time immemorial. Allied to this are possible changes in water velocity, salinity, pollution dispersion and sediment movement. Consideration of barrage proposals involves the need to investigate impacts on landscapes/ seascapes, wildlife habitats, wading-bird feeding grounds (mudflats), fish movements (especially for migratory fish) and groundwater levels. Set against their negative impacts, barrages can assist in economic regeneration (see following issue), improve flood defences, and provide opportunities for improved access and recreation.

Who is involved: Environment Agency, Welsh Office, MAFF, local authorities, development corporations, harbour authorities and others.

What is happening: All such proposals are subject to environmental impact assessments and detailed technical studies are required to provide as much evidence as possible for consideration by the responsible authorities.

Some suggestions: There is a need for more co-ordinated research to provide scientific and technical data to help assessments of the possible effects of such schemes.

D10 Impact of barrage schemes on economic regeneration

Most barrage schemes are proposed for economic regeneration purposes - but the case has to be strong enough to offset any irreversible and other harmful effects on, for instance the landscape, fish populations and other interests. The proposed Usk Barrage was rejected by the Secretary of State for Wales because of such reasons. Some would say that although barrages can have considerable amenity value they are not necessary to attract investment. Others would say that in terms of inward investment a barrage scheme, such as at Cardiff Bay, can make the crucial difference in tipping the scales in favour of that particular location.

What is clearer perhaps, is that barrage schemes can help provide protection against flooding from the sea, give greatly improved public access to the waterfront, give additional opportunities for recreation including water sports, if the water quality is suitable, and may bring forward improvements in waste water treatment and sewerage systems.

Who is involved: Parliament, Environment Agency, Welsh Office, MAFF, local authorities, development corporations, harbour authorities and others.

What is happening: Each barrage proposal is assessed by means of a public enquiry or parliamentary procedure to try to ensure that its implications are fully debated.

D11 Pros and cons of a Severn Barrage

A 16 km barrage from Brean Down to Lavernock Point has in the past been proposed primarily to generate electricity. It has been estimated that it could meet up to 7% of the electricity demand of England and Wales and could help reduce global warming and acid rain by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emissions from conventional fossil fuel power stations. However, the barrage would affect a large proportion of the estuary. Two major reports have been produced on the possible effects of the barrage, the Bondi Report (1981) and the Report of the Severn Tidal Power Group (1989). Government approval for the development of the barrage and because of the huge investment it is likely that the project would require substantial public sector support.

Who is involved: Parliament, Environment Agency, Welsh Office, MAFF, local authorities, electricity generating companies, harbour authorities and others.

What is happening: This scheme is not being considered actively at present.


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Created: 10/28/99 Updated: 10/28/99