This months blog takes the form of a self confessed rant and allows me to blow off steam about one of the most frustrating aspects of planning –protected species.
We all accept that planning proposals can give rise to a wide range of impacts and that some impacts can be more significant than others. Proposals that impact upon a protected species (bat, badger newt etc) clearly fall into this category and rightly require very careful consideration. This has been the case for some time now and as developers agents we are used to procuring Phase 1 habitat surveys and breathing a huge sigh of relief when no bats or newts show up.
However bats aren’t as rare as perhaps we might expect and crop up frequently when dealing with buildings that have been up for a few years. Its fairly routine to find them associated with conversion schemes and to have to present detailed reports on their significance and how the development will work around them. I’ve recently been dealing with the conversion of some older buildings in which bats were found and the ecologists presented a detailed report on their numbers and significance. They provided a whole suit of mitigation measures including temporary bat boxes, and a bat loft to be built into the development proper as a permanent habitat. The roof on the building which gave the bats shelter was slowly being weathered away and the bats would soon lose their habitat through natural forces. The adjacent highway wasn’t so clever in high winds either with loose slates gusting down. Permission was initially refused on grounds that were nothing to do with bats and an appeal ensued. The inspector visited the site and looked at all of the bat issues. He gave consent, requiring the mitigation in the report to be implemented through a linking condition.
Now we get to the fun and games –despite having the permission granted at appeal, a European Protected Species Licence (EPSL) is required to implement the permission. The procedures for applying for this are set out in documentation provided by Natural England (NA). For anyone who has struggled with a new One App form, mastered it and thought themselves competent at form filling –think again. THE EPSL forms make planning forms seem like a ‘walk in the park’ and must be the most bureaucratic set of documentation ever to emerge from a quango. Seemingly the grant of planning permission is almost irrelevant in the process and the forms require a great deal of information on the need for the development and the benefit to society in undertaking the scheme. Referring back to the quasi judicial process of the appeal is evidently not sufficiently robust. One is left with the distinct impression that NA have determined their own parallel and far more stringent alternative to the planning system and its devised its own rules and interpretations on whether it is prepared to allow development. I know as an organisation they have often struggled to comment on applications within meaningful timescales –it seems they no longer have to worry about doing so, having devised their own alternative control system.
OK, I admit to being a little prejudiced about the new application system but I can’t help wondering whether the approach we now face is so overly complex, time consuming and anti-democratic that in the long run protected species will suffer through a system of controls that cannot be made to work in practice? The planning system has done an effective job of providing checks and balances for new development and has a long pedigree to prove it. To replace it, in practical terms if not in law, with the present cumbersome beast is, in my view a retrograde step. I think that those in charge of the new EPSL system should be encouraged to look again at their creation and consider whether it is really fit for purpose.