We don't routinely comment on planning applications but we do sometimes get involved in key applications which may present a threat to wildlife.
What we do
One of the most common requests we get from members of the public is for support in objecting to a planning application.
We have worked with the local authorities in Gloucestershire for a number of years, with the purpose of improving systems to ensure that wildlife is given adequate recognition within the planning system.
The authorities who deal with wildlife the best are those who have their own ecological expertise “in-house”. (You might like to check if yours does!)
When we comment on planning applications we restrict our comments to impacts on wildlife. This is our area of expertise and should the application be turned down and we find ourselves at appeal we know that we will be able to defend the comments we have made.
What are applications based upon?
We base our comments around the Government’s guidance to local authorities called Planning Policy Statement 9 - Biodiversity and Geological Conservation (PPS9).
Unfortunately, because of previous land use, many planning applications do not present any significant threat to wildlife. Ironically this often applies to “Greenfield” sites where previous use as intensive agriculture has long eliminated any special wildlife interest.
People may often see common species on the land in question but more often than not this is not sufficient to warrant a refusal by the local planning authority and hence an objection from us.
Sometimes, however, local people may be aware of important species on an application site for which there are no records at the Gloucestershire Centre for Environmental Records (GCER).
As developers and some local authorities go to GCER for wildlife records, it is extremely important that any records you may have for a proposed or likely development site are lodged with GCER as early as possible.
Will wildlife issues stop a planning application?
If you are considering using wildlife as a justification to object to a planning application it is worth bearing the following in mind:
- Wildlife issues very rarely stop a planning application – but they can change it.
- Developers are required to carry out relevant surveys to support their applications but local authorities don’t always know when to ask for them. Make sure any wildlife issues you are aware of have been adequately surveyed.
- The onus should always be put on the developer to prove that their proposal won't harm wildlife - i.e. they should employ an ecologist to do the survey and interpret the results. Unfortunately we will not do this for them.
- Most planners don't have any background ecological knowledge but local authorities do have a duty to conserve biodiversity so they need to get it right.
- The legislation is confusing and vague.
- Most professional ecologists do a good job for their clients when submitting planning applications - although there are exceptions!
The situation is still far from perfect and planning applications continue to erode our native wildlife and their habitats without adequate compensation. The Wildlife Trusts continue to lobby nationally for strengthened planning laws and stronger obligations on local authorities. Our eventual aim is that all local planning authorities in Gloucestershire should have their own ecologist.