Development and ecology
Local planning authorities have a statutory duty to consider the potential impacts of a development on protected and priority species, habitats and statutory designated sites.
Where a development has the potential to impact on priority and protected habitats or species e.g. bats or great crested newts, surveys and assessments may be required with the application.
Mitigation or compensation actions may be required for development sites to reduce or prevent harm to species and habitats .
Please note that some species are associated with designated sites. In this case the species will also be protected outside of the site boundary. For example, land outside of the site boundary where protected birds are found to be feeding or roosting would be considered ‘functional land’. This would receive the same protection as land within the designated site and so the same expectation for avoidance and mitigation measures to be put in place would exist.
It is essential for that surveys are planned into any development applications early to prevent unnecessary delays to projects.
The correct timing of surveys is important to ensure that the findings are accurate, as this helps to work out what impact the development will have on the species and habitats.
Ecology surveys may only be suitable during certain months of the year, this is because some species may only be active at certain times of the year or plants may be only be visible during certain season. For example, during winter it can be very difficult to detect certain species such as bats and great crested newts because as temperatures drop and the weather worsens they tend to go into hiding and hibernate. Vegetation surveys should ideally be done during plant growing season (spring and summer) to make sure that plants and habitats can be identified correctly.
Where survey results are gained outside of the correct survey period there may be the need for further survey work during the optimal survey season. This is because the surveys may be unreliable and do not provide a true reflection of the possible impacts to the species and habitats.
Species surveys are also weather dependent, so a survey may need to be delayed or carried out more than once if the weather is not suitable, e.g. heavy rain is not good for surveying for otters, as it washes away their spraint (droppings).
Please be aware that an absence of evidence of a species does not necessarily mean that the species is not there, or that its habitat is not protected (e.g. a bat roost is protected whether any bats are present or not).
Other factors may also be considered during surveys. These should be discussed with your ecological consultant in advance of any surveys.
To assist with the time management of development applications you should check the published specific guidance and mitigation guidance for individual species and habitat.
Report and survey timeframes
Please note that it is important that planning decisions are based on up-to-date ecological reports and survey data.
Please note that ecological reports and surveys have a lifespan and should be considered invalid when they have gone out of date.
Please see the CIEEM (2019) Advice Note on the Lifespan of ecological reports and surveys. The report gives information that:
- Reports and surveys up to 12 months old are generally valid;
- Reports between 12 – 18 months old are likely valid (however, there are exceptions);
- Reports between 18 month to 3 years require an update, with the possibility of full surveys required depending on species and habitats present on-site;
- Reports 3 years and over are unlikely to be valid and a full resurvey of the site will be required.
Please see the CIEEM Advice Note for further details: CIEEM Advice Note (2019) [external link]
Habitat regulations assessment
The European Union (EU) Habitats Directive protects certain species of plants and animals which are particularly vulnerable.
Please see the government guidance on HRA assessments: Habitats Regulations Assessment [external link].
Darlington local plan 2016 - 2036 (adopted February 2022)
The Darlington Local Plan 2016-2036 was adopted by the Council on 22 February 2022. It was adopted after independent examination by the Planning Inspector between 2021 and 2022. The local plan contains environmental policies which relate directly to the ecology and biodiversity within the local area. Please see the following link for the pages relating to the Local Plan: Darlington Local Plan 2016 - 2036 (Adopted February 2022) [internal link].