Proposed changes to Great Crested Newt licencing
The issue of yesterday’s Department for Communities and Local Government White Paper on Housing by the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, included proposals to streamline the licensing process for great crested newts (GCN) in relation to development.
In response to criticisms of the current licensing system for GCN, Natural England’s aim is to ‘shift the focus away from protecting animals on development sites and towards improving populations in the wider local area’. The new approach is based on a pilot study undertaken by Natural England in collaboration with Woking Borough Council, which aimed to identify GCN hotspots within the borough where development impacts may be high and areas where populations were locally less common.
The Woking pilot scheme required developers to register and provide financial contributions. Compensation scheme payments are used in advance of development works to create or enhance habitats in those strategic areas previously identified during the population surveys. Participation in the scheme avoids the developer requirement for seasonally constrained survey work (mid-March until mid-June only) and what frequently amounted to costly on-site mitigation for what were often low numbers of individuals. This derogation applies to pilot scheme areas identified as supporting ‘low’ populations of GCN only. Areas supporting ‘good’ or ‘high’ populations of GCN are still subject to some development constraints.
The overall strategy of the pilot was to proactively enhance areas where GCN metapopulations existed and increase the connectivity between and within these, to allow for greater natural dispersal of the species.
In the proposed new approach published yesterday, licensing would potentially be devolved from Natural England down to local planning authority level, based on the numbers of GCN likely to be encountered at a given site. This will permit the authorisation of operations that would be likely to affect GCN on development sites during the grant of planning permission.
Implementation will require a period of survey in areas where GCN are most common – a 3 year timescale is earmarked for this work. It should however be noted that where GCN habitats (both aquatic and terrestrial) provide suitability for other protected species presence (such as reptiles), or are classified as priority habitats in their own right, protected species/habitat surveys would still be required.
The full Natural England Press Release can be viewed online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/national-roll-out-of-new-approach-to-great-crested-newt-licensing