Warwick District Council is to pay a local wildlife group £1,000 and provide new hibernation boxes for bats after it failed to properly consider the impact a development might have on local wildlife when it approved a planning application, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.
The council approved the planning application without requiring the developer to provide necessary details of bats using the site, despite the history of bats living in the vicinity. It also failed to require the developer to compensate for the bio-diverse land lost.
When the land next to the site was approved for housing in the mid-2000s, the Secretary of State insisted a bat barn was created as part of the development to protect the local bat population.
In 2017 an application to build homes on fields next to the original site was approved, and before work began, the developer removed a hedge and a number of trees which were important to the bats.
Planning officers at Warwick District Council had recommended planning permission be approved, despite the concerns of ecologists they consulted. The planners failed to mention in their report to the council’s planning committee that the council’s ecologists had objected. This was because the ecologists did not have the details they needed about bats using the site to give meaningful advice.
Also, the council had decided to create a ‘section 106’ legal agreement with the developer requiring compensation for the loss of bio-diverse land, either by providing alternative land or by paying financial compensation. A section 106 agreement creates a legally binding obligation that can be enforced in the courts. The ecologists had calculated the loss of bio-diverse land was worth the equivalent of more than £350,000.
Nigel Ellis, Chief Executive at the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“When considering planning applications for particularly sensitive sites such as these, it is all the more important that planners gain the necessary information and advice in a timely manner, to give the committees approving applications the best chance of making an appropriate decision.
“Evidence of at least three different species of bats have been found at the site, and a nearby major infrastructure project had to be relocated because a rare species was found. In this case, because the necessary surveys were not conducted at the right time, we can never be sure just what impact the development has had on the local bat population.
“I hope the measures the council has now agreed to take will go some way to offset the potential damage that has been done to biodiversity in the area, and the agreed improvements to the planning process will ensure decisions are made properly in future.”
Following the Ombudsman’s investigation, the council has already started looking into whether it can use land it owns to offset the loss of bio-diverse land. It has also identified a woodland which is managed by a local wildlife group, that could be improved for bats by installing specially built hibernation boxes.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the woman who complained to the ombudsman for its failure to properly protect the natural environment near her home. It will also pay £1,000 to Warwickshire Bat Group to enhance or promote the environment for bats and, in consultation with the ecology service, provide eight to 10 suitable hibernation bat boxes on land within its control.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review its section 106 procedures, and remind officers of their obligations when drafting reports and making recommendations.
The Ombudsman has issued free guidance to planners which can be downloaded from its website which covers the importance of considering all material planning considerations and properly recording planning decisions.
Article date: 25 June 2020