Planning changes are ‘putting wildlife at risk’

Bats will be put at risk by the changes, it has been claimed
Bats will be put at risk by the changes, it has been claimed

Changes made to the planning system by the district council are putting wildlife and the environment at risk, according to the authority’s own biodiversity team.

The team no longer gets to check householder applications relating to loft conversions, impact on roof spaces and barn conversions, since the changes were introduced in January.

It estimates this could result in the loss of 60 to 80 bat roosts a year.

In a report to councillors on the environment and living scrutiny committee, biodiversity officers Paul Holton and Matt Dodds say they are ‘very concerned’ about the changes, as they will ‘reduce our capacity to locate protected species and habitats in developments’.

Last year, the team provided over 1,000 responses to planning applications and minor householder modifications, ensuring that protected species and habitats were taken into account.

But under the new rules, the biodiversity team will only have to be consulted at pre-validation stage on major developments without an ecological survey or on sites where there is a record of protected species or habitats.

This, it claims, will drastically reduce the number of applications it scrutinises.

Director at AVDC, Tracey Aldworth, said: “The recently introduced arrangements in planning has brought about a change in the focus and priorities for biodiversity, which will be concentrated on developments which have the greatest impact on the environment, economic growth and communities.

“Measures have been put in place by the planning team to ensure applicants are fully aware of the requirement for protected species and to obtain a licence from Natural England if such bat roosts are found.

“It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure compliance with the appropriate legislation and AVDC biodiversity officers will still make contact with applicants to offer the service for screening for protected species.

“The biodiversity team will still be consulted during the application process for those developments where ecological reports are submitted to ensure the council has regard to the impact on biodiversity.”