What is District Licensing & what impact does it have on me as a Developer?
District licensing is a new initiative for the conservation of Great Crested Newts (GCN’s).
The intention of the scheme is to make costs clear to developers as early as possible, to streamline the licencing process, and to deliver benefits to the newt population in the licencing area at a strategic landscape scale, rather than on a site-by-site basis.
Typically, planning permission and species licensing is handled individually, with site development only being able to commence once an extensive survey, mitigation and compensation measures have been carried out. This has the potential to incur high costs as a result of survey effort and mitigation costs.
Under this new scheme however, Local Planning Authorities (LPA’s) or respective providers are granted a ‘district licence’ from Natural England which they are able to permit developers to work under; providing that the developer has entered into the respective scheme and it has been assessed.
So how does it work?
To explain how district licensing works, we will look at a recent site that we at Wharton have worked on in Central Bedfordshire as an example. It should be noted that other district licencing schemes have been rolled out in other areas of the country, including Kent and Cheshire.
The district licensing approach in Central Bedfordshire is provided by NatureSpace. The site we dealt with supported hardstanding, amenity grassland and some small areas of introduced shrub. No ponds were present at the site; however, several ponds were present within 250m of the site, with the closest pond being less than 50m from the site.
Biological records indicated the presence of great crested newts in two of the closest ponds from two years ago, with a medium sized metapopulation being present. A risk of GCN’s migrating through the site to ponds was identified. Given the likely cost of update surveys in the area, our senior ecologist Matt Wall contacted NatureSpace to understand whether the scheme fell within the remit of district licensing as well as the process and potential cost implications.
NatureSpace confirmed that the site fell within a ‘green risk zone’, based on maps produced as a result of population mapping and modelling within the district. This meant that as no ponds were present at the Site and the development was a minor development, a single charge of £1000+VAT was payable by the developer to participate in the scheme.
Wharton had to complete an application form giving some of the pertinent site details, and appending the preliminary ecological appraisal, and send this off to NatureSpace with the payment. Once payment had been received and the information processed, NatureSpace issued a certificate that the developer was able to submit with their planning application to show that they were participating in the district licensing scheme.
Once planning permission is granted, Central Bedfordshire Council then issue an authorisation to allow the developer to carry out works to facilitate the development under the district licence. The developer has no requirement to monitor, or maintain GCN habitat as a part of the scheme, however good practice principles such as a toolbox talk and reasonable avoidance measures such as storing materials off the ground, phased vegetation cuts and backfilling or installation of ramps in excavations to avoid injury still apply.
Our experience with the district licensing scheme in the South Midlands was very positive, with NatureSpace being proactive in assisting us with the process throughout. We are yet to participate in the Kent or Cheshire schemes, however with an office in Macclesfield we are aware that the option is available to our Cheshire clients and will be progressing projects through the scheme where it is deemed appropriate.