What is District Licensing?
District licensing is an alternative to the site by site great crested newt (GCN) licensing process. Changes in the licensing regime [ see our newsletters from April/May 2017] has accepted this approach as an alternative to the site-based system most developers are familiar with. The Agencies and landowners welcome an approach that simplifies licensing. Ecologists welcome an approach that takes a more strategic view to species conservation and adheres more closely to the aspirations of the Habitats Directive and Natura 2000: favourable conservation of the species in its range.
District licensing involves a district wide survey of the distribution of GCN and assessment of impacts or likely impacts on GCN from all planned development in the district over the whole local plan period. GCN records and other environmental data are used to map areas which indicate where there are the highest risks to the local conservation status of GCN and where GCN pose highest risks to development. There are limited schemes available to date: the pilot scheme in Wokingham District in Berkshire, under the aegis of the local planning authority, and a scheme run by a social enterprise in the Midlands.
So what is happening in Kent? Implementation is underway, but It is unlikely that any development due to take place in 2018 will be able to operate under the Kent district licensing scheme, so to allow time for habitat creation to be completed and become functional. The Kent District Strategies are due to be completed in spring 2018, which will outline how impact is assessed, the compensation required and the delivery mechanisms for securing habitat creation.
In advance of district level licensing becoming fully functional in Kent (potentially April 2019), Natural England are currently streamlining the existing GCN licensing process with the plan to be able to offer this to developers in late Spring. This interim process will mean that a developer pays a tariff based on the number of ponds directly impacted by their development and the contribution is used to create new compensatory pond habitat offsite, in a ‘Strategic Opportunity Area’ (areas already identified as the most appropriate so that recolonization will occur from existing GCN habitat). Developers will not be required to undertake new survey work for GCN or trap and translocate on site (although general best practice will always need to be followed) and onsite mitigation will not be needed. It will no longer be necessary for the advisory work to be done by an ecologist with a specialist license, though any advisory ecologist will need to demonstrate competence.
We look forward to participating in this scheme when it gets off the ground and will keep our clients fully informed of the process.
Unit 15 The Barn, Evegate Business Park, Station Road,
Smeeth, Kent, TN25 6SX
0845 226 3618