Since 1970 many UK wildlife species have been in decline, with over 1,200 species now extinct or threatened with extinction (State of nature report, 2016). One of the factors that has caused this decline is land use changes from urban development.
Smaller developers may be unaware that it is a statutory requirement for UK local planning authorities to consider the ecological impact of developments via planning applications, as well as promote a positive contribution to biodiversity.
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.
The Association of Local Government Ecologists estimates that two-thirds of local authorities do not have an in-house ecologist or ecology team. Restricted local authority budgets and lack of in-house ecological expertise means that biodiversity is given insufficient attention during the planning process. For example, 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, Hampshire-based record centres had flagged a fifth of the applications (2,325) as of potential ecological concern.
The Partnership for Biodiversity in Planning is seeking to increase awareness about the need for background biodiversity checks, by local planning 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.
The Wildlife Assessment Check is a free online tool, designed to help householders and smaller developers check whether their proposed site and works are likely to require expert ecological advice before making a planning application. It aims to smooth out the planning application process for applicants by encouraging them to address potential ecological impacts early on, reducing unnecessary delays and costs. It also aims to support local planning authorities who lack in-house ecological capacity by encouraging applicants to take responsibility in addressing ecological considerations.
The partnership is now rolling out the tool and inviting user feedback over the next few months to ensure that it works well and is straight forward to use.
Rosalie Callway is Project Officer at Partnership for Biodiversity in Planning
UKGBC is running a course on biodiversity net gain in developments in February, find out more here.