Biodiversity checks missing from planning applications
Local planning authorities, across the UK have a statutory duty to protect and promote biodiversity, according to the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act (2006) and other country specific legislation (see publications). However, some authorities are struggling to find the resources to conduct the necessary checks to see if wildlife may be impacted by a proposed development. Without the right data about the biodiversity impacts, an authority can’t make an informed decision on planning applications – this means that authorities may be granting planning permission to developments that will have negative impacts to wildlife.
In London, there were over 90,000 planning applications in 2016 but less than one percent (0.86%) of these applications consulted existing biodiversity data records to assess the potential impact of the applications (GIGL, 2017). This is despite the GLA estimating that around a fifth of planning applications (18%) are likely to require background biodiversity checks. In Hampshire, of 10,400 applications in 2017, only 4% (368) were checked by the local environmental records centre. Similar to London, the record centres had flagged a fifth of the applications (2,325) as of potential ecological concern.
Restricted local authority budgets and lack of in-house ecological expertise may be further exacerbating this issue, meaning that biodiversity is given insufficient attention during the planning process. The Association of Local Government Ecologists estimates that two-thirds of local authorities do not have an in-house ecologist or ecology team.
The Partnership for Biodiversity in Planning is seeking to increase awareness about the need for background biodiversity checks, by local authorities as well as by householders and developers. The partnership, involving 18 organisations, has developed an online tool – the Wildlife Assessment Check – to help indicate when expert ecological input is required as a part of a planning application.
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