You may well need to assess the ecological value of your site if you are planning a development project in Manchester.
Part of the process of obtaining planning permission involves addressing a site’s individual ecological characteristics, so the first step is to arrange an ecology survey. This will make you aware of the potential impacts of your scheme and any issues that may be resolvable, allowing you to secure consent from the local planning authority.
The City of Manchester and the county of Greater Manchester in the north west is the second biggest urban area outside London. Manchester is one of the UK’s fastest-growing cities and has a population of 552,858. The greater Manchester area, which includes the city centre and several outlying cities, totals over 2.55 million people. It has seen huge expansion and development in recent decades and today it’s a regional centre for finance, commerce, retail and leisure. Amongst the urban sprawl lie 338 acres of woodland across 13 wooded areas.
Manchester’s planning strategy
Development is encouraged to ensure the city’s continued prosperity. The Manchester Core Strategy 2012-2027 recognises the need for significant amounts of high-quality housing to fulfill demand and it wants it to be well-designed and sustainable. The re-use of previously developed land is being promoted by Manchester City Council.
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority aims to encourage regeneration schemes in some of the area’s town centres and create outdoor recreation spaces. It wants to see improvements to the existing housing stock and more housing built to good design standards in sustainable locations, creating lifetime neighbourhoods in attractive environmental settings. Other aims include reducing CO2 emissions and improving air and water quality.
What is an ecology survey?
An ecological consultant will carry out an assessment of a proposed development site to identify any protected species present. The survey will highlight any ecological constraints on the site and establish what effect the development would have on the environment. It might recommend that further protected species surveys be carried out.
Why do I need an ecology assessment?
A local planning authority will usually require an ecology survey as part of the planning process. It will enable you to prove that your scheme can meet its minimum requirements for a successful planning application. Part of the survey will provide information that can be used to calculate how to achieve Biodiversity Net Gain, a planning policy stating that a site must demonstrate a 10% minimum increase in biodiversity post-development compared to pre-development.
Types of ecology survey:
Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)
The first step is the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)/Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey. It’s advisable to submit a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal survey to local authorities at an early stage to prevent planning officers from rejecting your application on grounds of insufficient evidence which could lead to delays with your application. The Preliminary Ecological Assessment will identify any environmental constraints on the site, establish whether further surveys are needed, and recommend environmental management mitigation to avoid harming wildlife.
The ecologist will conduct a desk study followed by a site inspection, recording any protected animal or plant species present, and identifying any potential constraints they may cause. The consultant will also propose mitigation measures to enable the scheme to proceed.
A mitigation hierarchy must be used to decide the best approach for all existing habitats and ecological conditions present: this ranges from the most desirable outcome to the least desirable, with priority given to avoiding damaging habitats. The second-best option is to minimise harm to ecological features by adjusting the scheme, while the third option is restoration or rehabilitation, involving the restoration of part of the site’s original condition to create more biodiversity in compensation for any value lost because of the development. The final option is offsetting; creating new habitats away from the proposed development site to compensate for biodiversity losses.
Ecological Impact Assessment
Using the Preliminary Ecological Assessment survey results, an Ecological Impact Assessment considers the potential effect of development on the environment. It may involve ecological consultants carrying out specific protected species surveys such as bat surveys, preliminary roost assessments, bat emergence surveys, or great crested newt surveys.
European Protected Species Licence (EPSL)
If there’s evidence of a protected species on the site, an EPSL may be required to grant the licensee permission to conduct activities that would otherwise be illegal, for instance disturbing or destroying its habitat. You need planning permission before applying for an EPSL and three tests must be met: absent satisfactory alternatives; overriding public interest (such as health and safety issues) and population maintenance at favourable conservation status.
Licences must be applied for from a Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation such as Natural England, Natural Resource Wales, or Scottish Natural Heritage. It’s important to note that specific protected species surveys can only be carried out at certain times of year, for instance, the window for bat surveys is from early May to the end of September.
Protected animal species are safeguarded by legislation such as the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2019, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Protected species surveys include badger surveys, barn owl surveys, reptile surveys, surveys for water voles, bat surveys, dormouse surveys, great crested newt surveys, and otter surveys.
Ecological Walkover Survey
This survey provides supporting information to ensure that laws surrounding protected species are being adhered to, and it can be carried out even after planning permission is secured. This ecological appraisal allows an ecology team to record the plants, animals, and habitats on the site.
Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) assessment
To satisfy BNG requirements, the biodiversity of an area must be improved by 10% following development and developers must demonstrate how this will happen in their pre-development plans. An ecological appraisal will enable a BNG consultant to ensure that important habitats are retained to avoid biodiversity loss, along with any new habitat creation plans.
Invasive species survey
Invasive species surveys assess problematic species on a site such as Japanese knotweed, giant Hogweed, Himalayan balsam, and injurious weeds.
A building’s level of sustainability and environmental performance is measured in this survey.
Habitat Regulations Assessment
This ecology survey is needed to assess whether a planning proposal could affect the environmental management of a European site that’s protected by Habitat Regulations, and its potential impacts.
Ecological survey timeframes
Ecological surveys and protected species surveys cannot be carried out year-round, so it’s important to book them in good time for co ordination with your development plans and the planning process.
Find an ecological consultancy in Manchester
Ecological consultants must be licensed and may well be members of the Chartered Institute of Ecology. It’s important to get in touch with a consultancy with extensive experience in meeting your local authority’s requirements and attending public inquiries. A suitable consultancy will be able to offer a full range of ecology services and give expert advice and information.