Ecological Data for Planning Applications
Slow-worm © Sue Mallinson
Ecological Data to Support Planning Applications
It is common practice for planning applications to be supported by ecological reports. In most cases ecological reports will need to include a desk-based study, which usually includes records obtained from the local environmental record centre.
Ecological consultants and developers should be aware that if planning applications for Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes do not include a data search from the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Environmental Records Centre (BMERC) then this may lead to delays whilst such data is obtained.
Why is a data search important?
The following sets out the reasoning behind the requirement for ecological data to be submitted with planning applications. This includes the need for compliance with industry guidance, legislation and planning policy.
Following CIEEM published guidance
Ecological consultants who are members of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) will be aware that the ‘Guidelines for Accessing and Using Biodiversity Data’ (CIEEM, March 2016) state that “Biodiversity data should be used by those who need to take into account the effect and impact of their actions on biodiversity. Common examples of this are building developments (of many different types), land management and biodiversity assessments and audits.”. Section 7.2 of this guidance lists the limited situations where a data search may not be necessary. This guidance can be found on this link:
On sourcing data, the 'Guidelines for Preliminary Ecological Appraisal' (CIEEM, 2017) state that “In the UK, background data searches will generally not be considered adequate by the Local Planning Authority or other regulatory authority if they rely entirely on open access data, as some of these datasets are not necessarily comprehensive or are not at a fine enough resolution to inform local decisions."
Compliance with statutory protection of biodiversity
Wildlife can be a material consideration in planning decisions. In the UK there are two primary pieces of legislation for the protection of wildlife sites, habitats and species. These are the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended); and The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended).
ODPM Circular 06/2005
Although now quite dated, this government circular remains valid.
Paragraph 99 states that "It is essential that the presence or otherwise of protected species, and the extent that they may be affected by the proposed development, is established before the planning permission is granted, otherwise all relevant material considerations may not have been addressed in making the decision." The use of BMERC data will aid the assessment of potential impacts of the development on protected species. Such data is often essential in evaluating the likely presence or absence of certain protected species.
NERC Act 2006
Local planning authorities have a duty to conserve biodiversity under Section 40 (part 1) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (the NERC Act), as follows:
“[The] public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity.”
Section 41 of the NERC Act 2006 requires the listing of habitats and species that are of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity, including those that have been identified as priorities within the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP). The Act requires that the Section 41 list be used to guide decision-makers, such as public authorities, in implementing their duty under Section 40. It is for this reason that planning applications should include details of any Section 41 listed species potentially impacted by a scheme with their proposals.
Compliance with national and local planning policy
The need to identify the biodiversity value of a site and any potential harmful impacts prior to development is essential for meeting the requirements of the NPPF. Paragraphs 170d, 175a and 175 d are relevant to the need for sufficient data to be submitted with planning applications.
- Paragraph 170d: “Planning policies and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by … minimising impacts on and providing net gains for biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressure”.
- Paragraph 175a “When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should apply the following principles…..if significant harm to biodiversity resulting from a development cannot be avoided (through locating on an alternative site with less harmful impacts), adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused;………”
- Paragraph 175d: “When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should apply the following principles..…development whose primary objective is to conserve or enhance biodiversity should be supported; while opportunities to incorporate biodiversity improvements in and around developments should be encouraged, especially where this can secure measurable net gains for biodiversity.”
The Buckinghamshire Local Plan
Since Buckinghamshire Council became a unitary authority in April 2020 work has begun on the Buckinghamshire Local Plan. Until then the adopted local plans for the various former district councils remain applicable. Local plans include policy on the protection and enhancement of local biodiversity.
The Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Biodiversity Action Plan ‘Forward to 2020’ includes habitats and species that are a priority for conservation in the county. BMERC hold data on rarities within the county that are of significance at the local level that need to be considered in development proposals.
Bat Data Only Searches
BMERC offers a bat only data search due to demand from customers. The circumstances for which bat data only searches are appropriate will be limited if data is being sought to support a planning application. Bat data only searches are only likely to be suitable for a small number of small-scale planning applications, which may include householder applications (e.g. loft conversions and extensions affecting existing roof spaces). Customers should be aware that bat data only searches are unlikely to be considered appropriate for the majority of planning applications.