Great Crested Newt and the Woking Approach
District level licensing or the ‘Woking Approach’ (as piloted in Woking in 2016) is a new approach and an alternative to the current site by site great crested newt mitigation and licensing process. The new approach will involve a district wide assessment of newt distribution; using great crested newt records and habitat based assessments. Areas will be identified where development would have the highest risks to the local status and where developments are most likely to be constrained by the presence of this European Protect Species.
Using this information, a district wide conservation strategy will be designed which will identify where it is a priority to retain habitat in green infrastructure corridors and improve amphibian habitats in compensation ahead of development impacts. The compensatory habitats will be provided and managed by the Local Authority at a sufficient level to account for all planned development. Developers would then be expected to make a contribution towards the management of this compensatory habitat.
The District Licence (also known as an Organisational Licence) will allow Local Authorities to authorise operations which may affect great crested newt, this may remove the requirement for surveys and will avoid the current requirement for developers to trap and translocate great crested newt from within their development footprint and making habitat provision within their schemes. Essentially granting a licence at the same time as planning permission. The current situation does without question result in costly delays and therefore the new approach is certainly a benefit for developers.
Why are great crested newts important?
The great crested newt is protected in the UK by the Wildlife and Country side Act 1981 (as amended) and the Species and Habitats Regulations (2010, as amended). Under the latter it is often referred to as a European Protected Species (EPS) from the overarching European Habitats Directive. Under the above legislation it is illegal to capture, kill, injure or disturb them without a licence from the nature conservation body such as Natural England. In the longer term, post-Brexit, there will likely be considerable changes to the legislative protection afforded to this widespread species, but in the meantime developers must continue to work within the existing legal framework.
Evidence indicates that the current site by site licence approach is not achieving the desired outcome and great crested newt populations continue to decline. Development is not considered the major factor affecting great crested newt and improving habitats in the wider landscape is likely to provide a greater benefit.
Are There Any Drawbacks?
Current policy and legislation requires that ‘favourable conservation status’ is maintained and Councils have a duty to ensure this through the planning process. One of the problems which may arise, at least in the short-term, is that there may not be sufficient data available to determine the ‘Favourable Conservation Status’ within the district or region. This could prevent local authorities to both implement the organisational licence and discharge their planning duties.
What is likely, at least in the short-term is that here will be variability in the uptake and implementation of the District Licence across the country and possibly even at a county level. For example, Districts with higher populations of great crested newt may put up more resistance to change and view that the District Licence will take much needed development away from their towns and cities, with Developers preferring sites where licensing procedures are perceived as being mush easier.
There will always be situations where the current system is actually better for the Developer and participation in the District Licence will be voluntary. Currently the new approach considers great crested newt only; therefore, if there are other protected species issues on site or there are other habitat protection measures required, the District Licence may not necessarily benefit the Developer (e.g. there may be seasonal constraints that cannot be avoided and on-site mitigation could still be more financially viable).
So When Does It Start?
The District Licence was piloted in Woking, Surrey in early 2016 and it is understood that Natural England are currently working in partnership with Local Authorities in Kent and Warwickshire. Natural England announced on the 7 February that the District Licence will now be rolled out nationwide following the publication of the Housing White Paper. The new licensing approach will be rolled out to 150 Districts over the next three years targeting areas that have accounted for the majority of great crested newt Mitigation licences.
The District Licence is its infancy and there are many questions still to be answered prior to implementation nationwide but things are sure to become clearer as the new process is rolled-out. It should also be remembered that these changes are currently proposed for England only; there are no changes to great crested newt licences proposed for Wales or Scotland.
The Avian Ecology team will continue to monitor changes. We will ensure any relevant information is transmitted to our clients and that their projects are progressed as efficiently as possible.
Speak to our EPS team to understand more about the implications these changes could have on your current and future developments.
See the Natural England announcement here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/national-roll-out-of-new-approach-to-great-crested-newt-licensing