Wildlife gets a raw deal from planners

PLANNERS in Suffolk are not properly enforcing wildlife laws, claims a new report which calls for tighter control to prevent "unscrupulous" developers destroying species or habitats which are supposed to be protected.

PLANNERS in Suffolk are not properly enforcing wildlife laws, claims a new report which calls for tighter control to prevent "unscrupulous" developers destroying species or habitats which are supposed to be protected.

The report, from the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, criticises local authorities for not insisting on seeing the results of wildlife surveys before they grant planning permission.

The trust says there is evidence that some developers are starting work on sites without fulfilling planning conditions to undertake surveys and mitigate impact on wildlife.

"In the worst case scenario, developments could be damaging to protected species and may be breaking the law," said Dr Simone Bullion, the author of the new report, called Planning for Diversity - a Suffolk Perspective.


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"It is our opinion that Suffolk's various planning authorities are not fully taking the presence of protected species into account but passing on the responsibility to developers.

"Our study shows that conditions requesting ecological surveys are not always enforced or carried out to the proper standards and, consequently, unscrupulous developers may start work without assessing the impact on wildlife," she added.

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The new report recommends that wildlife surveys be carried out much earlier in the planning process and that a more proactive approach should be taken by local authorities on opportunities for habitat creation and enhancement.

Studies by the trust have shown that conditions attached to planning permissions requiring surveys are not always enforced or carried out to the proper standard and that "unscrupulous" developers may start work without assessing or mitigating the impact on wildlife.

Cases had been discovered where barn conversions had gone ahead without measures to protect bats using the buildings, possibly in breach of the law.

Creatures associated with ponds, such as great crested newts, are also not being adequately protected - despite being on the Government's priority list.

The trust wants local authorities to insist that wildlife surveys are carried out and the results made available before planning permissions are granted.

"There may be some circumstances where the importance of the species or habitats concerned may actually be significant enough to warrant refusal of the planning permission altogether. This option is denied by the current procedure," Dr Bullion said.

The wildlife trust says it responds to 50 planning applications a month in Suffolk and frequently offers to carry out site visits to help assess likely impacts and advise on wildlife protection.

"It is very rare for the trust to object to a planning application. When this happens it is often because the applicant has submitted insufficient survey information or inadequate proposals for mitigation," Dr Bullion added.

David Ellis, head of environment and planning for Mid Suffolk District Council, said: "Planning officers always give due care and consideration to wildlife issues when these are material to planning applications and I hope the Suffolk Wildlife Trust will continue to comment on our planning applications and wildlife issues in the review of our Local Plan."

Viv Hotten, spokesman for Suffolk Coastal District council, said the authority took wildlife issues very seriously and there was a check list against which each new planning application was assessed.

"Like all councils we have an eight week target set by the Government in which to determine a planning application, which is one reason why we make wildlife surveys a conditional part of a planning permission," he added.

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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