Ever tried to submit a planning application to extend your property? Or purchased a piece of land that you want to build on? Well, if so, you’ll know that navigating the planning process can be long-winded and tricky. Applications can take a long time to gain approval and can be rejected where there is insufficient information, including relating to ecology. Any delays in getting an application through the planning process can be significant and costly. This is especially true with ecological matters as there are some restrictions on when some surveys can be undertaken.
We’ve put together a list of common mistakes that developers can use to get ahead of the game.
(1) Applying for planning permission without seeking advice first
Some people think that what they’d like to do is simple enough and just apply straight away. In many of these cases, the council is likely to come back after they have formally assessed an application and request further information such as an ecological survey, or a protected species survey.
By submitting a pre-application request, you’ll get a quicker response from the council. They will tell you what planning policies will be relevant and identify what information would likely be required to accompany your formal planning application, enabling you to plan ahead accordingly. By choosing this route, you will usually save time and money, and you will usually receive a quicker decision once the formal application has been submitted.
(2) Not budgeting for recommended survey work
There are so many things to consider when planning and budgeting your new development – it can be easy to miss something and have additional costs creep up and overwhelm you. Using the pre-application advice, and that of a reputable architect, it can help to set out the various stages of the development – from the pre-planning application request, producing plans, undertaking survey work, submitting a formal planning application and then getting on with the development itself! Getting to grips with all the various stages and then getting quotations can help ensure your project is financially feasible.
(3) Not planning ahead with appropriate timescales
Many types of ecological surveys can only be undertaken during specific months of the year – it’s not possible to survey for active bats or reptiles if they’re not active!
For us ecologists, it can be heart-breaking to tell someone just after the end of the main bat survey period that they need to wait until next year for their survey. Especially when we know that the client hasn’t prepared for this eventuality and that it will significantly impact their budget and timetable, but we are bound by certain survey guidelines.
Other times, after the ecological surveys have been undertaken and planning permission has been granted, it may only be possible to undertake works at certain times of the year under a protected species licence. And applying for a licence can be a long process too – for example, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Natural England (NE) can take up to 30 working days to process an application, but you can only apply once you have received your planning permission. In addition, if the licensable works take longer than anticipated, you would need to apply for licence amendments. You can read our guide for applying for a protected species licence here.
We recommend that very early on, you check out our ecological survey calendar and find out what can be done and when. Our professional ecologists can advise you about the surveys, their findings, recommendations, and potential timescales.
(4) Undertaking works prior to the ecological survey
Some developers cut back vegetation (e.g. site clearance work) prior to an ecological survey. Others sweep floors/lofts and tidying up in the building prior to a bat survey. They believe that this is helpful, or may speed up the process for them as they won’t need any further survey work after the preliminary survey. However, this is absolutely not the case:
- the ecologist will usually notice if this has happened, and usually, bat droppings (if present) are found regardless of the clean-up effort;
- if you cleared the site when invasive species are present, you’ll probably just have spread them further and created an even bigger problem. If that’s the case, you will need to undertake more extensive remediation works which can be very expensive.
In any case, if the planning department finds out that this has happened, they are likely to look less favourably on your development.
(5) Changing the development plan during/at the end of the process
When our ecologists come out to site, they make an assessment based on the current development proposal. If you decide to expand the area to be used for development or to put your new extension on a different part of the house which wasn’t assessed in the original survey, it is likely that the original ecological survey is not appropriate and a new survey or an updated survey would need to be conducted. This can be very costly and potentially damaging in terms of timescales.
(6) Not reading the ecological report
With so much going on and needing attention during the planning application and the development, it can be tempting just to read the summary page of an ecological report. However, if you just reply to this small section, it is very likely that you will miss important information and may inadvertently do something wrong. We recommend that you read the report and method statements very carefully. With protected species, causing a reckless, unlicensed disturbance, or damage to them or their roosts/resting places is a criminal act.
Local authorities and statutory bodies, such as NRW or NE, could require you to take action to put mistakes right – which can cost! A common example we come across is when someone has decided to install lighting near to where bat access points have been installed and have been asked to remove the lights by the planning enforcement officer. Or, for example, if you have bats and decided to use breathable roofing membranes instead of using bitumen roofing felt as stated in the ecological report, you could be asked to take out the breathable membrane and replace it with bitumen felt. You can read more about the detrimental impact of breathable membranes here. We have even seen bat boxes installed upside down by mistake because the developer didn’t read the installation notes!
(7) Ecological surveys last forever
Getting a planning application can take time, and in some cases, you may want to put the brakes on a development before you continue with it. However, if it’s been a couple of years since you had ecological surveys done, they may need updating before you continue. The Chartered Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management recommend that an update survey may be required if development works do not begin within 18 months to 2 years of the date on the report.