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Planning and biodiversity

Every public body 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 40: Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006

Planning and biodiversity

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published by the Government in March 2012 sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied. It embodies the Government’s commitment to sustainable development and how this will be achieved.

The NPPF identifies three aspects to sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – and recognises that the planning system has to play a number of roles in delivering this.

One of the core principles in the NPPF is that the planning system should contribute to conserving and enhancing the natural environment and reducing pollution. Section 11 (paragraph 109 – 125) addresses conserving and enhancing the natural environment (often referred to as ‘biodiversity’) and describes the principles which should be applied to ensure that the planning system contributes towards this aim.

The NPPF is accompanied and complemented by ODPM Circular 06/05 on Biodiversity and Geological Conservation which provides administrative guidance on the application of the law relating to planning and nature conservation as it applies in England.

Biodiversity is also given some protection through Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act of 2006.

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006

Under the Natural Environment & Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 public authorities have a legal responsibility to conserve biodiversity.

The duty is set out in Section 40 of the Act which states that:

‘Every 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’.

The wording of Section 40 means that the council as a public authority has a duty to take into account conserving biodiversity in discharging any of its functions: and that responsibility for meeting this obligation lies both with the relevant departments and across the council as a whole, from the management of land to development control and maintenance.

Protected species

In England, rare, notable or endangered species of flora and fauna are protected under a range of legislation and planning guidance.

A variety of species of wildlife – referred to as European Protected Species (EPS) – is protected under the Habitat Regulations 2010, which implements EU European Directive 92/43/EEC (known as the Habitats Directive 1992). These include:

  • otters
  • bats (all species)
  • badgers
  • great crested newts
  • dormice

Legally, any development affecting these species has to be subjected to three ‘tests’ under the Habitat Regulations 2010. In order to satisfy these tests, planning applications need to include a survey for the relevant species; and if present a mitigation strategy which satisfactorily demonstrates that the proposal will not be illegal or adversely affect the species.

Other species of fauna, such as slowworms or grass snakes or water voles, and particular species of birds or flora, also enjoy varying degrees of protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and Countryside & Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000.

Badgers and their setts are protected under separate legislation.

Protected sites

South Gloucestershire contains a network of nature conservation sites which are protected in law (or under planning policy) for their local, national or international importance for wildlife.

The Severn Estuary is internationally important for a range of species and assemblages of waterfowl and a variety of marine and inter-tidal habitats and species. In recognition of this, it is designated as a Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation under European Directives; and forms part of a network of sites across Europe known as ‘Natura 2000’ or ‘European’ Sites. Any development affecting the Severn Estuary European Site will be subject to assessment under the Habitat Regulations 2010 as part of determining the application.

South Gloucestershire also contains over 20 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended): and over 300 ‘Local Sites’. This is a catch-all phrase for sites which have been identified as being locally or regionally important for their species and habitats – Sites of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCIs) – or geological features – Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGS). Whilst not protected in law, these sites are designated through a partnership of statutory and non-statutory nature conservation bodies and protected under policy L8 of the South Gloucestershire Local Plan.

Some of these sites are also designated as Local Nature Reserves to enable people the opportunity to get closer to nature and learn about wildlife.

Biodiversity and the planning process

Our vision for biodiversity is:

  • to conserve, enhance and create a living landscape that encourages and supports existing biodiversity
  • to reverse the decline of species and remove threats to them
  • to provide opportunities for wildlife to establish and prosper
  • to increase people’s understanding of, appreciation of, and sense of responsibility for nature

This vision is developed further as part of the South Gloucestershire Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP)

Where applicable, the council expects planning applications to be supported by the relevant ecological surveys, in order to satisfactorily demonstrate that development will not adversely affect local biodiversity. Details on the type of surveys required, their methodology and scope is provided in the council planning guidance ‘Biodiversity and the Planning Process’.

Some schemes provide opportunities to benefit local biodiversity and the council expects these sorts of development to contribute towards the various action plans within the BAP by creating new areas of habitat (see relevant page under Biodiversity).

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