One of the main reasons people call in an ecologist is to meet the requirements of the planning system. This is a complex system with different laws in each country of the UK and implemented by local planning authorities each with its own policies.
The Welsh Government has published advice in Technical Advice Note 5 that sets out the legal requirements for planning in relation to nature conservation and provides guidelines for local policies. Although it is written as advice to local authorities it gives a good overview for anyone of what to expect.
An overview is given in section 2.4, which says.
- When considering policies and proposals in local development plans and when deciding planning applications that may affect nature conservation, local planning authorities should:
- pay particular attention to the principles of sustainable development, including respect for environmental limits, applying the precautionary principle, using scientific knowledge to aid decision making and taking account of the full range of costs and benefits in a long term perspective.
- contribute to the protection and improvement of the environment, so as to improve the quality of life and protect local and global ecosystems, seeking to avoid irreversible harmful effects on the natural environment.
promote the conservation and enhancement of statutorily designated areas and undeveloped coast
ensure that appropriate weight is attached to designated sites of international, national and local importance.
protect wildlife and natural features in the wider environment, with appropriate weight attached to priority habitats and species in Biodiversity Action Plans
- ensure that all material considerations are taken into account and decisions are informed by adequate information about the potential effects of development on nature conservation ensure that the range and population of protected species is sustained
- adopt a step-wise approach to avoid harm to nature conservation, minimise unavoidable harm by mitigation measures, offset residual harm by compensation measures and look for new opportunities to enhance nature conservation; where there may be significant harmful effects local planning authorities will need to be satisfied that any reasonable alternative sites that would result in less or no harm have been fully considered.
In England nature conservation is covered in section 11 of the National Planning Policy Framework . This is less detailed than the Welsh guidance but does require.
The planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by:
- protecting and enhancing valued landscapes, geological conservation interests and soils;
- recognising the wider benefits of ecosystem services;
- minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity where possible, contributing to the Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures;
- preventing both new and existing development from contributing to or being put at unacceptable risk from, or being adversely affected by unacceptable levels of soil, air, water or noise pollution or land instability; and
- remediating and mitigating despoiled, degraded, derelict, contaminated and unstable land, where appropriate.
Planning Advice Note 60 sets out the Scottish Government’s approach to nature conservation and development and encourages local authorities to work with Scottish Natural Heritage to identify and protect the most important habitats and species in their area.
In Northern Ireland the equivalent is Planning Policy Statement 2
All of these policies differ but in general terms impacts on nature are a material consideration that can affect a planning decision and can lead to planning conditions. Depending on the site you may be expected to provide evidence that any application will not.
• Harm legally protected species
• Damage nationally or internationally protected sites
• Damage important habitats
• Harm locally important sites or species, especially if this would have wider implications such as breaking up a large area of heathland or affecting the county wide distribution of a species.
The important thing is to identify as early as possible what the issues are so that any information can be gathered in a way that will be accepted. This will reduce the chance of an application being refused and while it can’t eliminate delays since some surveys can only be done at certain times of year it will help you plan for them and avoid the unexpected.
Levan Ecology can help you deal with these issues by carrying out both an initial survey and any follow up surveys needed and can help with discharging ecology related planning conditions.