It is now necessary for any proposed development in Dorset that affects a bat roost to obtain a Certificate of Approval from the Dorset County Council's Natural Environment Team prior to submitting a planning application. This requires the following above and beyond bat surveys, impact assessment (pre-planning) and Natural England licence applications (post-planning):
- Completion and submission of a Bat Mitigation Plan per bat roost on a site by an Ecological Consultant
- £50 charge per Bat Mitigation Plan. Approval will not be given until payment is received
The Natural Environment Team aims to process the Bat Mitigation Plans and issue the Certificate of Approval within one week of receiving the document and payment.
Bat Mitigation Plans are required for confirmed bat roosts only and are based upon survey information. The survey effort required is no greater than that typically required for planning applications or subsequent European Protected Species Licence applications. In fact the accompanying guidance for consultants suggests that on occasions Bat Mitigation Plans can be submitted without emergence surveys i.e. on a bat habitat suitability assessment and survey only. However, in the absence of emergence surveys the guidance states that Bat Mitigation Plans should be completed on a worst case scenario basis i.e. a maternity roost.
The Bat Mitigation Plan follows a template, which is three pages long and includes:
- Section A: Planning Application Details
- Section B: Details of Existing Bat Roost
- Section C: Bat Mitigation Details
- Section D: Declaration
Interestingly, there is no impact assessment pre or post mitigation in respect to the favourable conservation status of bats. Furthermore the Bat Mitigation Plan does not include measures to avoid disturbance, injuring or killing bats. However, the example Certificate of Approval on the website states that in issuing the certificate states:
“In conditioning this Plan, the planning authority is entitled to rely:
Either That the Bat Mitigation Plan avoids the likelihood of deliberate disturbance.
Or That the Bat Mitigation Plan provides sufficient measures likely to remedy any disturbance hereby Natural England, in considering an application for a disturbance licence, would likely be satisfied that the test in Regulation 53(9)(b)1 is capable of being met.”
Dorset County Council has implemented this system to ensure that they are exercising their duty under the Conservation of Natural Habitats and Species 2010. Whilst I welcome efforts to ensure the conservation of bats, due to the lack of impact assessment and method statements it is unclear to me how this additional requirement clearly demonstrates that the three Habitats Directive "derogation tests" relating to European protected species are met.
Whilst the information required to complete a Bat Mitigation Plan is no greater than that required for a survey report and licence application, it is a further requirement to complete yet more forms ahead of a planning application and pay for their review and approval.
Other Local Planning Authorities have also reacted to recent case law relating to European Protected Species; however from our experience we have often been able to agree a more pragmatic approach and avoid duplication and additional costs. Hopefully this will remain the case and others will not follow in the footsteps of Dorset County Council.