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Biodiversity Checklist

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Oxfordshire’s key strategic planning documents – the County Structure Plan and District and City Local Plans – now contain more on the protection an enhancement of biodiversity than ever before. Good policies are now in place and there are a growing number of positive development proposals that seek to protect and enhance wildlife.

Despite this, there are still losses, most of which are avoidable, and opportunities are being missed to deliver benefits for biodiversity e.g. through habitat creation. Maintaining, restoring and creating habitats is what the Oxfordshire BAP is all about. So what can we do to ensure the planning system does more to deliver BAP targets?

We perhaps expect a lot from planners and developers with regards to dealing with biodiversity issues. The growing amount of legislation (European and national) and policy guidance coupled with the dramatically differing needs of habitats and species can create considerable confusion for those without training in ecology. In addition, planners are now expected to meet higher performance targets of numbers of planning applications determined before deadlines and time is not always available to adequately cover ecological issues as well as all of the other factors that need to be taken into consideration.

The obvious solution is to bring simple procedures into place that are so effective and efficient that the burden to planners of dealing with biodiversity is reduced, enabling them to deliver better results for biodiversity It is hoped that this challenge will be met through simple Biodiversity Checklists that will be appended to planning applications. Iain Corbyn (BBOWT), Dominic Lamb (South Oxfordshire District Council) and Lynn Anderson (Oxfordshire’s Biodiversity Campaign Manager) have developed a checklist with the support of the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA). This addresses ‘small’ developments such as loft conversions, extensions and barn conversions. Another checklist is planned to focus on ‘large’ developments such as housing and business developments.

These checklists will provide clear and helpful guidance to the developer on the surveys expected to accompany the planning application and other supporting information, the format of Ecological Impact Assessments (where necessary) and what enhancements to species and habitats are sought for the area of development. Planners are presently being consulted on the checklist to ensure its effective and efficient use from the point of sending it out to the developer to arriving at the planning decision.

Following successful trial in South Oxfordshire, the hope is to replicate the checklist in the rest of the county.