Since the governments’ Housing White Paper ‘Fixing our Broken Housing Market,’ published in February 2017, the roll-out of ‘organisational’ or ‘district-level’ licensing of Great Crested Newt (GCN) mitigation has been moving at pace as part of a wider effort to speed-up nationwide housing delivery.
Some of the first licenses have now been issued by Natural England to the following LPAs under a common ‘South Midlands’ approach, which fall within much publicised Oxford-Cambridge Growth Corridor:
> Bedfordshire: Central Bedfordshire & Bedford Borough
> Buckinghamshire: Milton Keynes & Aylesbury Vale
> Oxfordshire: South Oxfordshire, Vale of the White Horse, Oxford City & Oxfordshire County
What are the advantages?
In these initial districts, developers are invited to register their forthcoming projects with the voluntary scheme to secure the following benefits:
> Avoidance of upfront GCN survey requirements and costs (and, in some instances, any related delays to planning)
> No GCN licence application costs or associated timing delays
> No implementation costs or delays for GCN mitigation, such as fencing, trapping and ongoing monitoring
> Reduction in potential planning conditions imposed
> A fixed charging tariff administered by the NatureSpace Partnership on behalf of LPAs, with two-part costs incurred (a) at pre-application and (b) once consent is granted, related to scheme scale and location within defined impact zones+ (see map)
The voluntary scheme provides particular benefits for ‘householder’ applications (fixed £500 charge only in all zones), infill residential of <2 houses (£1,000 charge only in all zones) and/or where GCN are the principal ecological constraint to development.
Is this the right solution for every site?
It is important to note that for larger developments tariffs are not inconsiderable, especially in amber and red impact zones, hence voluntary registration with the scheme might not be the best option if it is possible to use traditional methods to show that GCN are not present on or near the site.
Don’t forget …
It is worth repeating that Natural England have also implemented nationwide changes to European Protected Species (EPS) licensing through their ‘New Licensing Policies‘ (NLPs) which already provide a greater range of flexibility for developers and have helped to reduce costs.
What is the take-home message?
The take-home message is that EPS licensing options, which principally address legal implications of single species (in this case GCN), need to be considered at an early stage. The costs / benefits of different approaches, as well as in the wider issues (e.g. seeking measurable net gains for biodiversity) and requirements for other protected species/habitats, all need to be considered and factored in.
Whilst some concerns have been raised over district licensing (e.g. in the recent CIEEM position paper), in the South Midlands this now presents a tangible alternative to the traditional survey and mitigation approach. Time will tell if this new approach does indeed deliver more meaningful outcomes for GCN alongside development.
How can we help?
With all this change and no ‘one-size-fits-all’ option for GCN licensing, we would encourage clients to discuss their sites with us at an early stage. We will help clients plan with confidence and explore the best approach for any given site.
+Zones have been identified and agreed with Natural England according to ‘impact risks’ for GCN:
Black zones – nationally designated sites for GCN / excluded from scheme;
Red zones – highly suitable for GCN and most important areas / ‘highest’ impacts risk
Amber zones – suitable habitat for GCN / ‘high’ impact risk
Green zones – moderate suitability for GCN / ‘moderate’ impact risk
White zones – low habitat suitability for GCN / ‘low’ impact risk