Planning advice for local authorities

Suffolk Wildlife Trust offers advice to all Suffolk councils at the strategic level with input in to Local Plans, Local Development Frameworks and other major plans.

We also comment and offer advice to development control officers on individual planning applications where we feel there will be a significant impact, negative or positive, on wildlife and habitats. The guidance and links below are aimed at helping Local Authority planning officers establish what information they require to determine a planning application and who to consult for further advice on ecological issues.

What ecological information is needed before determining an application?

The amount of ecological information needed before determining a planning application depends on a number of factors, such as the size and location of the site, its previous uses and the type of development proposed. The links below provide guidance on what types of species may be present on a site and what sorts of surveys may be required to inform the development proposal and the planning decision:

As stated in ODPM Circular 06/2005 (Biodiversity and Geological Conservation - Statutory obligations and their impact within the planning system) "The presence of a protected species is a material consideration when a planning authority is considering a development proposal that, if carried out, would be likely to result in harm to the species or its habitat" (paragraph 98).

The Circular goes on to state 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 need to ensure ecological surveys are carried out should therefore only be left to coverage under planning conditions in exceptional circumstances, with the result that the surveys are carried out after planning permission has been granted"(paragraph 99).

If surveys are not carried out before planning permission is granted there is a risk that not all material considerations will have been addressed. However, there are some occasions where it may be appropriate to condition additional surveys, but only if the full impacts of the proposal are understood at the planning application stage. For instance further survey work may be required to inform the detailed mitigation, or where there may be a time lag between granting of permission and the development commencing. In these cases, a condition could be used to secure additional/updating ecological surveys to ensure that the mitigation is still appropriate for the current situation. This is particularly important for outline applications or multi phased developments.

Is the ecological information provided with the application adequate?

The following information should help planning officers in deciding whether the ecological information received with a planning application is adequate and whether the correct mitigation or compensation measures are being proposed. If it is considered that adequate survey effort and assessment has been undertaken and that the correct mitigation or compensation measures can be implemented there may be no need for the Local Planning Authority to seek further ecological advice on the application and it can be determined. Where mitigation or compensation measures are required to make a development acceptable we would always recommend that these are, as a minimum, secured by condition in any planning consent.

Factors to consider in deciding whether the ecological information received with a planning application is adequate:

Was the survey carried out at the appropriate time of year?

ALGE Timing Calendars

Were the correct survey techniques and sufficient survey effort employed?

The Government .GOV.UK website includes advice on surveys for the following species:

Great Crested Newt 
Water Vole 
Barn Owl 
Breeding Birds  

Other organisations also offer best practice guidance on surveying for particular species:

Who to consult for further ecological advice

To maximise efficiency Suffolk Wildlife Trust work in partnership with organisations such as Natural England so that we do not duplicate effort.

In summary Suffolk Wildlife Trust should be consulted on:

  • Applications on or adjacent to a County Wildlife Site, other non-statutorily designated nature conservation site or Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve;
  • Applications for major development requiring Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA);
  • Application is accompanied by an ecological survey where a protected species, UK and/or Suffolk Priority species or UK and/or Suffolk Priority habitat is confirmed to be present/likely to be present. If existing information indicates that protected species, UK and/or Suffolk Priority species or UK and/or Suffolk Priority habitat maybe present on a site (for example records from the Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service) we recommend that, in the first instance, further ecological information and assessment is requested from the applicant;
  • Small wind turbine applications which meet the criteria set out in the Suffolk Biodiversity Partnership "recommended approach for bats and small wind turbines in Suffolk";
  • All strategic planning documents such as Local Plans and Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs).

Where an application may impact on a site of European nature conservation importance (a Natura 2000 site such as a Special Protection Area (SPA)) or a site of UK nature conservation importance (such as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)) Natural England should be consulted.

Where an application may impact on a European protected species (such as bats or great crested newts) the guidance contained within the Natural England standing advice for protected species should be followed.

Where planning applications are accompanied by a 'negative' ecological survey (i.e. no significant ecological features were recorded) the guidance above should be used before considering consulting either Suffolk Wildlife Trust or Natural England.

Ecological enhancements

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (paragraph 118) states that when determining planning applications, local planning authorities should aim to conserve and enhance biodiversity and should encourage opportunities to incorporate biodiversity in and around developments.