Anyone who has ever worked on an Environmental Statement for an outline application knows that they tend to be a bit, well, vague. Usually, the local authority will let this ride because they know they can get all the detail they need at the reserved matters or detailed application stage. The flip side of this is that it’s not OK to just recycle the outline ES at the detailed application stage. One really does need to actually do it properly – unfortunately, sometimes this seems to pass the client by and they may need some persuading to invest in a proper ecological impact assessment. That’s what happened with this project.A colleague of mine called me before Christmas to ask me whether I could do an emergency ES chapter for him. He said he was snowed under with work so I said yes. It turned out to be a detailed application and we would do the ES based on the information in the outline ES. OK, I thought, I can see why you’re not keen to do it – re-using other people’s survey work can be a bit annoying especially if it is not up to your usual standards. Anyway, I got cracking.
The more I looked at the original ES and planning application the more uncomfortable I felt. There were contradictions in the mitigation section – which the client was committed to – and the proposed water vole mitigation layout seemed to bear no resemblance to the scheme which was currently proposed. Water voles are a protected species, so to give consent to a detailed planning application, the local authority has to be confident that the mitigation proposed will be effective in maintaining the favourable conservation status of water voles in the local area. Not really possible when all you have to go on is a contradictory layout and no information whatsoever on population size or capture/translocation plans.
Not only that, the planner putting the ES together wanted the finished chapter pronto. No time to sit down and discuss the situation and put together a proper mitigation scheme which would actually fit with the proposed layout.
In this situation there is a choice. The client can invest a bit more time and do it properly, or they can submit something less than adequate, thinking they can sort it out later, and risk being knocked back. You would be surprised how often they plump for the latter option. In fact, it seems to be more often than not! Speaking as an ex local authority ecologist, this is a horrible idea, as it will annoy me from the word go. Developers, if you do this, I will think you are taking the P, not taking the legislation seriously, and generally being an a***hole. If you think the local authority ecologist is a lowly tree hugging wet blanket and does not have the power to derail your application, you think wrong. Protected species legislation is every bit as important as traffic standards or building regulations. If I am the local authority ecologist, I am assessing your project. I am the person you have to convince that your mitigation scheme will work. All you’ve convinced me of so far is that you are a chancer who can’t be trusted and the result is that I will come down on you like a ton of bricks. Can you tell this has happened to me more than a few times ?!
I really love working with developers who take ecology legislation seriously. They do exist! Every one of their applications sails through, however controversial it may have seemed at the beginning, because if you take the time to do a decent survey, put some thought into the mitigation and engage the local authority ecologist before you submit, you will have a much friendlier experience.
Coming back to this particular application, the client had clearly decided that the planning application submission date was more important than the quality of the application. More fool them.