Why Local Planning Authorities require ecological information

Circular 06/2005 and the Natural England Standing Advice on protected species, require that planning decisions are based on full, up-to-date ecological information. In accordance with the circular and standing advice, all survey, assessment and mitigation information which is necessary and relevant to your application must be available to the Local Planning Authority prior to determination of your application. This requirement enables the Local Planning Authority to determine the application on the basis of full knowledge about the ecological impacts of your proposal.

Local plans will often contain biodiversity policies which your development will need to accord with. These will provide protection for the natural environment and Local Planning Authorities use these to guide their decision on planning applications.

When ecological survey and assessment work is required

Your Local Planning Authority may have already requested ecological information to support your application. This is likely to be because one or more of the following triggers is relevant to your application:

  • it’s likely that a protected species is present on or near to the application site and impacts upon a protected species are likely to result from the development.
  • the proposed development site may affect a designated site (each designated site is different, and the level of impact on a designated site and distance at which that impact can occur will depend on the nature of the designated site and the development type, the potential impact pathways between them, the surrounding land use, topography and drainage etc.).

The scope of the survey work will be determined by the features of the development site, their intrinsic ecological interest and/or their suitability to support ecological features (i.e. protected species) and the potential for these features to be impacted by the proposed development.
Where species surveys are required, the standing advice explains when and how to carry out a survey for a particular species or species group such as bats. Planning authorities will expect all ecological surveys to be conducted in accordance with this advice.
Depending on the scale and nature of your proposal, a biodiversity data search will also need to be undertaken to check for designated sites and protected species records within proximity of your application site. Data search information can be obtained from the local biodiversity records centre and a range of other sources.

The Local Planning Authority must have full knowledge about the ecological impacts of the proposal when determining your planning application. The assessment of impacts will need to determine the importance of any ecological features affected (determined by survey work) and the type of impact (e.g. extent, magnitude, duration, reversibility, timing and frequency) for all stages of the development in the absence of any mitigation.

Local Planning Authorities will need to agree and secure any mitigation or compensatory measures through consent. In order to enable them to do this, sufficient mitigation information must be available at the point of determination. Local Planning Authorities will expect a sequential process to avoid, mitigate and finally compensate any ecological impacts. This is commonly referred to as the “mitigation hierarchy”.
Ecological impacts identified by the ecological assessment work should be avoided where possible, for example by tweaking the location of the development, adjusting the layout or constraining certain works to a particular time of the year. Avoiding an impact is the best outcome and this is best achieved by considering ecology at the earliest stages of a project.
Where an impact cannot be avoided, the impact should be mitigated or lessened as much as possible. In the case of protected species, a derogation from the law in the form of a mitigation licence must be obtained for impacts which cannot be avoided.
Compensation comprises the measures taken to make up for any impact which cannot be avoided or mitigated. This could be provided by habitat creation or enhancement of existing habitat which may extend outside of the application site.

Provision of biodiversity enhancements that are additional to those provided as part of mitigation or compensation measures will be sought in accordance with NPPF and the Local Planning Authorities duty under Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006).  In accordance with this, developments should build in features beneficial to wildlife as part of the overall design, encouraging measures that would result in net biodiversity gains.
Enhancements should be proportionate to the scale of the development proposed and relevant to the local area as often specified in local policy. Features which would produce a net gain for biodiversity could range from the installation of bird nest boxes or bat bricks in a small scale development through to the creation of valuable habitat in larger scale applications.

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