Planning

NWT is consulted on around 200 planning applications each year 1/3
We are working to ensure that wildlife issues are taken into account 2/3
In recent years nearly 75% of those cases on which we have made an objection have been rejected 3/3
The planning process has an important part to play in safeguarding the future of our wildlife and the environments they inhabit. Norfolk Wildlife Trust champions wildlife through the planning system by working to ensure that wildlife issues are taken into account both in strategic plans and in individual planning applications.

We have put a great deal of effort in the last few years into strategic planning, in an effort to reduce the frequency of conflict between development and wildlife. We comment on the biodiversity content of all Local Plans, including planning policies and proposed development locations. The success of our proactive work is evidenced by the fact that there are now very few planning applications that lead to objections regarding impacts on County Wildlife Sites.

NWT is consulted on around 200 planning applications each year, for our views on the impacts on wildlife of planning and water abstraction applications. We try to focus on those cases where we feel we can make a real and positive difference for Norfolk’s special habitats and species. We make comments on between 35 and 40 of these applications and formally object in about 5 cases per year. In recent years nearly 75% of those cases on which we have made an objection have been rejected or changed to take account of conservation issues.

We also seek to maximise our efficiency by working in partnership with organisations such as Natural England so that we do not duplicate effort.

To find out more please read the NWT Biodiversity and Planning factsheet under 'Wildlife advice' and then 'Community'.

Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans

All local councils are required to regularly update their strategic plans, which are known as Local Plans (formerly Local Development Frameworks). Local Plans contain a wide range of policies, including ones which relate to the natural environment and also include maps showing areas where certain types of development can and cannot take place. They cover periods of around 10-15 years. In addition, county councils are charged with developing Waste and Minerals Plans.
Local Plans are prepared in a series of stages, with opportunities for comment at each stage. Consultation takes several different forms and may include public displays, public meetings, and questionnaires on plans. The plans are available on local authority websites, in libraries and at council offices. Following a final consultation, a Government Inspector will assess the plan and will make recommendations of any changes that are necessary to bring it into line with current government guidance, before the plan is adopted.

Comments from community groups and individual members of the public, together with those of bodies such as Norfolk Wildlife Trust, will be taken into account by local authorities when drawing up areas to be zoned for development and areas that should be protected from development. Local authorities also have to take account of proposals that developers have sent in for housing and for commercial and industrial developments and will have to publicise these along with their own preference for where development should be located.

It is easy to feel disheartened when responding to local plans as public comment rarely seems to change the major decisions, for where and how much development will be allowed. This is because Local Plans have to follow government guidance. Under current government guidance, local authorities may even have to allow development to take place in areas that aren’t in their Local Plan, if they are unable to demonstrate that they have enough land available for housing.

However, within this context there is still much to play for and NWT and other conservation bodies have achieved much success over the last ten years in ensuring that Local Plans contain policies to protect the most valuable wildlife sites such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and County Wildlife Sites. As a result, every Local Plan in Norfolk has strong policies protecting these sites and these have been successful in preventing wildlife sites being developed.  We will never stop some developers seeking to build on wildlife sites but can use this policy backing to strongly argue our case.

Neighbourhood Plans are new type of plan that arose from the Localism Act 2011. They can be developed by parish and town councils. These plans are being developed in a number of areas in Norfolk, particularly large parish or town councils on the urban fringes. They allow for local communities to make decisions on the location of local services and open space, including natural green space. However, they are required to be in line with the relevant Local Plan and cannot be used to change the level of development that was agreed in the Local Plan. For more information ownload the factsheet Advice on incorporating biodiversity in Neighbourhood Plans.

Responding to Planning Applications

Applications for development are posted on council websites and in local papers and should be are on display at the proposed site. Check the application to see whether any ecological survey information is provided with the application and whether it conforms to government guidance on biodiversity and planning. This is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, which contains a section on the natural environment.
In order to object or make changes to a development proposal, you need to be able to show that there will be a significant impact on wildlife. In practice a development is only likely to be refused if there are significant impacts on designated wildlife sites (including County Wildlife Sites). However, you can make representations that may help mitigate for the impact of the development, even if an outright objection is unlikely to succeed. This can include ensuring that the best areas of habitat are not built on and that these areas are managed positively for wildlife.

Despite common belief there are only a few cases where the presence of protected species causes a development to be refused and in the majority of cases it is possible to mitigate for presence of protected species and allow a development to legally proceed. This may be through measures such as protection of trees containing bat roosts, or ponds containing great-crested newts and provision of bat and barn owl boxes to make up for lost roosting and nesting sites. In a few cases translocation of species, such as great-crested newt or common lizard, to a suitable site nearby is allowed. However, local authorities and developers must adhere to wildlife law and are advised to follow Natural England standing advice on protected species and planning.
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The National Planning Policy Framework recommends that in addition to mitigating for adverse impacts, biodiversity enhancement should also be sought within developments. Enhancements are often recommended in the ecological reports that accompany developments and it is worth pointing this out in your response, as the developer does not always carry these recommendations through into their plans for a site.

Callers to NWT are often concerned about areas of land that have no designation protecting them, or are home to birds and mammals, other than those that are protected by law. This may include areas of grassland and scrub that are valued by local people, or creatures such as deer, hedgehogs and common birds that are using a proposed development site. Under current planning guidance, the loss of non-designated habitat or the presence of common species will not prevent development.  It is usually deemed that other areas of similar habitat are commonly found and that common species will be able to move to similar habitat nearby. In the future, government proposals on biodiversity off-setting may allow for compensation for loss of local habitats and the displacement of species that uses these areas, through creation of similar habitat elsewhere.

Many organisations produce detailed guidance on planning. The Campaign to Protect Rural England provides detailed advice on their dedicated planning website.

When does NWT become involved in planning?

NWT is a non-statutory consultee for planning applications and for the strategic planning process, including Local Plans (formerly Local Development Frameworks), County Mineral and Waste Plans and Environment Agency Plans. Although Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) do not have an obligation to consult NWT, every LPA in Norfolk routinely consults us on applications that may affect important wildlife sites, as does the Environment Agency, when considering abstractions and discharges.

When does NWT become involved in planning?

Besides commenting on applications that potentially affect NWT reserves and County Wildlife Sites (CWS), we may also comment with regard to other developments. This may include applications for major developments and sites that are drawn to our attention by NWT members, or members of the public, where it appears that these sites have a high local wildlife interest.

Our priority in planning work must be our reserves and we are prepared to commit significant staff time and resources if these sites are threatened. However, we are the only body that routinely comments on planning applications affecting County Wildlife Sites and feel we have a particular responsibility regarding these sites. Although, the actual loss of CWS habitat in Norfolk due to development appears to be relatively low compared with other counties, given the scale of growth in Norfolk, more sites may come under threat in the future. The scale of impact of development on CWS was considered in detail in our reports on Impacts of Development on County Wildlife Sites 2007 and Assessment of Threats to CWS in Norfolk 2009 Internal link to reports.

We do not routinely comment in relation to protected species but may make advisory comments as part of comments on other applications. Advice concerning protected species and planning is clearly set out in Natural England standing advice and we expect LPAs to follow this advice when considering applications that may affect protected species.

Besides direct responses to development plans and planning applications, a key aim is to work with others to raise the profile of biodiversity in planning. Nationally we work with other wildlife trusts to lobby on national planning issues. Locally, we work with members of the Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership to inform and influence decision makers. We also seek to work with and support LPA officers that have an ecological remit.

Government guidance on biodiversity and all other aspects of planning is set out within the National Planning Policy Framework. Locally, the Biodiversity Supplementary Planning Guidance for Norfolk highlights the need to compensate for any loss of biodiversity within planning proposals and the importance of enhancement of biodiversity. Although, this document needs updating to align itself with the NPPF the basic information on wildlife legislation is still valid and it provides a good starting point for making local planning decisions.

Information held by NWT

The general location of County Wildlife Sites in Norfolk is available on a PDF map. More detailed County Wildlife Site information is available, as part of a comprehensive service that provides site and species records, from Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service. We expect developers and consultants to use NBIS as a first port of call for CWS information.
NBIS provides this information free of charge to community groups and the general public. Some local authorities show CWS boundaries on the maps that are included in their Local Plans. However, these will only be as up to date as the plan itself and policies within the plans will also relate to CWS that have been designated since the plan was published. NWT is sometimes able to provide more detailed information on CWS based on our knowledge of individual sites.

Please note that the majority of County Wildlife Sites are privately owned (many are farmland) and except for village greens and commons and other areas marked as open access land are not necessarily open to the public.