Tuesday, 24 June 2008

A Rant About Planning

Early in 2007 the Scottish Government (or was it still the Scottish Executive then?) wrote to all local authorities in Scotland, clearly setting out their responsibilities in relation to European Protected Species (which include all UK bat species) and the planning process. What they said includes some very simple guidance: "...it is clearly essential that planning permission is not granted without the planning authority having satisfied itself that the proposed development either will not impact adversely on any European protected species on the site or that, in its opinion, all three tests necessary for the eventual grant of a Regulation 44 licence are likely to be satisfied." Surely that isn't hard to understand?

Why then, are some local authorities still granting planning permission for developments without giving the slightest consideration to protected species? Edinburgh are the worst offenders I know of, but I'm sure there are others. I have recently seen a development involving the direct destruction of a known roost. I was called in by the owner to give advice on how to proceed and was appalled to discover that planning permission had already been granted.

On the other hand, some local authorities are diligent: the planners at Scottish Borders Council not only make it clear to applicants what species need to be surveyed for, they provide succinct guidance, written by the county ecologist and clearly focused on the individual development.

This process is the safety net through which pointless destruction of bat roosts can be prevented: ensuring developers and others face their responsibilities towards protected species and helping them understand what they need to do and when. It's basic and essential conservation law.

My other frustration is the local authorities who approach their Habitats Directive responsibilities with a "one size fits all" approach. One west of Scotland local authority responds to planning applications by setting out what programme of surveys must be carried out, without knowledge of the characteristics of the site or it's bat potential. Yet the BCT Bat Survey Guidelines are clear: "It is worth noting that the type of survey to be undertaken and amount of effort expended can often only be fully determined after visiting the site at least once." I recently completed a pointless set of sunset surveys at a modern city centre building with very low bat potential, no nearby or connected habitat and no records of bat activity in the area. The local authority's ecologist insisted on his standard litany of "two to three emergence surveys", with no mention of an initial inspection survey. After I carried one out it was abundantly clear that no further survey was necessary, but was obliged to do so anyway. As a result, the developers have been delayed, have paid over the odds and are disillusioned with the whole process. In other words, conservation has been discredited by thoughtless actions.

For all I know, their next development could be a steading conversion surrounded by prime habitat: a building with high bat potential. After their bad experience at this site, they could be tempted to turn a blind eye to protected species. If the local authority is one of those which does the same, the result could easily be the destruction of an ecologically sensitive roost.

Rant over (climbs down from soapbox).

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