This is a quick, simple article written to help you get up to speed with bats, bat surveys, and their role in the planning process. It’s aimed at absolute beginners, but is no doubt equally useful for seasoned developers alike. Read the ‘5 Rules’ and you’ll know pretty much everything there is to know about what bats mean for you and your planning application.
Bats and their roosts are protected by the full weight of UK and European law. Why can’t it just be conditioned? In ODPM Circular 06/2005 and the NPPF, central government has clarified that local planning authorities must fully consider a proposed development’s impact upon protected species as they are a ‘material consideration’ in the determination of planning applications. In the context of bat surveys, this infers that where there is a reasonable likelihood of protected species being materially impacted upon by your development, surveys must be carried out before a planning application is determined.
Your local planning authority doesn’t have any say in the matter (and neither do we.) Planning authorities will not leave matters such as bat surveys or mitigation to conditions.
Ask to see proof of your consultant’s ecological qualifications, training and most importantly, a science and conservation licence (class 1 or better) for bats, issued by a SNCO. Professional Indemnity insurance of £1m wouldn’t be a bad thing, either.
Scoping bat surveys (stage 1) can be done any time of the year. Only in the case that we can exclude the presence of bats, evidence of their activity and access to features suitable for roosting, does this complete the survey effort. Emergence surveys (stage 2) can be undertaken when climatic conditions are conducive to bat activity; normally this means May through September. If you’ve had your emergence surveys done, then what next? From this point things get a lot simpler. Either, you are disturbing a roost but not destroying it, and therefore mitigation can be approved by the local planning authority and dealt with as a condition of consent. Or, you are destroying a roost e.g. demolishing a building identified as a roost by our surveys, and you will require a European protected species license (EPSL) from Natural England (again, the license makes lawful actions that would otherwise constitute an offence.)
An important consideration is that your planning application is judged on the suitability mitigation you propose, not whether or not you require an EPSL, according to Natural England’s Standing Advice – see below. So, while the EPSL application process is separate and can take up to six weeks to be determined, it has no effect whatsoever on your planning application. If you require an EPSL, the application is made using their own template method statement and application form, and provided corners have not been cut, is rarely refused. (Arbtech have never had a refusal.)
The actual EPSL application is free, though there is clearly a charge to author a method statement and oftentimes, local planning authorities that hold data records needed for applications make a small charge for data searches. Once you have your planning consent and/or an EPSL, you are good to go. Implementing the mitigation as part of your development.
Your planning application, robustly supported by a scoping survey report (and or emergence survey report) will enable you to secure a planning consent. Under certain circumstances, you may require an EPSL for your proposed development, but that will not affect your planning application. So to summarise then:
- Get a scoping bat survey done.
- If you need to, get the bat emergence surveys done.
- Propose appropriate mitigation for bats in your application. (Read more.)
- Get your planning permission!
- Apply for an EPSL if applicable.
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