Planning policy and guidance: England
The following policy and guidance are most relevant to planning and biodiversity in England:
- National Planning Policy Framework (the NPPF)
- National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG)
- Government Circular
- Natural England’s Standing Advice
- Local Plans
National Planning Policy Framework
In an effort to simplify national planning policy in England, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published in March 2012. It provides guidance to local planning authorities on their local plans. Chapter 11 deals with the natural environment, including biodiversity, and replaces Planning Policy Statement 9 (PPS9). The NPPF makes clear that the planning system should help minimise the impacts that development can have on biodiversity and provide net gains in biodiversity where possible. Paragraph 118 sets out how planning authorities should deal with biodiversity when considering planning applications. One element of this is the application of the ‘mitigation hierarchy’. This puts avoiding significant harm to biodiversity or mitigating such harm ahead of compensation, which is a last resort.
National Planning Practice Guidance
The National Planning Practice Guidance, NPPG, accompanies the NPPF, providing guidance on its interpretation. The guidance on biodiversity contained in the NPPG replaces, inter alia, ‘Planning for Biodiversity’. The NPPG includes guidance on how biodiversity should be taken into account when preparing a planning application. This makes clear that local planning authorities should only require ecological surveys where clearly justified and that ecological assessments should be proportionate to the nature and scale of development proposed and the likely impact on biodiversity. The Guidance provides further information on the interpretation of the mitigation hierarchy (avoid – mitigate – compensate) and suggests ways in which new development can include enhancements for biodiversity.
Government Circular 06/05
To accompany PPS9 (now withdrawn), the UK Government produced a circular entitled ‘Biodiversity and Geological Conservation – Statutory obligations and their impact within the planning system’. This provides guidance on the application of the law relating to planning and nature conservation in England. Although some of the information contained in the circular is now out of date, it provides details on the implications of internationally designated sites, habitats and species outside of designated sites and protected species, much of which is also summarised in our guidance. Defra is currently working on replacement guidance but for now Government Circular 06/05 remains in place.
Natural England’s Standing Advice
Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission have collectively produced Standing Advice for local authorities in England. This covers a range of protected species and ancient woodland and veteran trees. Standing Advice is generic guidance designed to avoid the need to consult with Natural England in certain, frequently occurring situations. The Standing Advice is a material consideration in the determination of planning applications in the same way as a letter received from Natural England following consultation.
The Standing Advice for protected species should allow local authorities to determine in what circumstances surveys for protected species are required and gives some guidance on survey techniques and standards. Some basic information on mitigation for protected species is also provided. Importantly, the Standing Advice states that the local planning authority should only ask an applicant to carry out a survey if there is a reasonable likelihood of protected species being present on the site, or affected by the development. It also makes clear that the planning authority is required to assess the effectiveness of the mitigation proposals, with Natural England’s advice if needed.
Ancient woodland and veteran trees
The standing advice for ancient woodland and veteran trees makes clear that these are irreplaceable habitats. Such habitats receive special protection under the National Planning Policy Framework.
Local Plans, produced by local planning authorities, include policies relating to biodiversity and nature conservation. These generally reflect and build on the planning policy guidance provided by central government. Although the wording varies, typical policies make reference to:
- Protecting designated sites and other areas of importance for biodiversity conservation;
- Safeguarding protected species and priority species, including those listed in local biodiversity action plans;
- Promoting avoidance and mitigation to reduce harm to sites, habitats and species of importance to biodiversity conservation and providing compensation for those unavoidably lost as a result of development; and
- Retaining, creating and enhancing features of importance for biodiversity conservation where appropriate.
Local Plans provide the detailed policies on matters including nature conservation against which any development proposal will be tested.