Katherine Drayson, GLA Senior Policy Ofﬁcer for Urban Greening and Resilience
In London, we will need to build many new homes, schools and other public facilities to meet housing demand and support continued population growth. How can we factor London’s biodiversity into the densification of the city?
London’s planning system, which aims to provide the housing and other infrastructure we need with minimal impact on the environment, including biodiversity, is key.
To meet the London Plan’s policy on biodiversity and access to nature (Policy 7.19), developers must provide the relevant local planning authority (LPA) with sufficient information on the environmental impacts of their development to allow an informed decision to be made on whether to grant planning permission1.
One important way to do this is to obtain information about the ecology of the proposed development site from GiGL. The data provided by GiGL will give an indication of how biodiverse a development site is and/or its value in the context of the wider area. This helps to identify the most suitable measures to avoid, reduce, or compensate for development impacts on biodiversity.
However, GiGL found that just 1% of the 88,000 planning applications in London in 2013 were supported by detailed biodiversity data. This may seem very low, but is it? Should more planning applications be informed by biodiversity data from GiGL?
To find out, the Greater London Authority (GLA) partnered with GiGL and eCountability2, and four London boroughs; Camden, Ealing, Islington and Southwark.
There were three main stages to the research:
- Gathering planning application data from the four boroughs.
- Developing a set of criteria against which to assess planning applications, to determine whether a biodiversity records search should been commissioned.
- Analysing the proportion of applications in the four selected boroughs that met the criteria and so should have commissioned a biodiversity records search.
Almost 10,000 planning applications across the four boroughs were mapped and analysed. The headline result is that 18% of planning applications met one or more of the criteria, and so should arguably have been supported by a biodiversity data search.
Compare this with the 1% that actually commissioned data searches in 2013, and we now have a good idea of the scale of the problem we’re facing. It’s possible that LPAs are granting planning permission to developments that will have unacceptable negative impacts on biodiversity. This is contrary to both London Plan policy 7.19 and the 2006 NERC Act.
We’ll soon be publishing the results of this research on our website, to help raise awareness of this issue. We’ll work with GiGL and the boroughs to identify whether the criteria and data used in this study can be used to make the planning decision-making process more streamlined and effective.
But you have an important role to play too. For example, you can review planning applications in your area, and point out to your local planning authority those that should be informed by good biodiversity data. Together, we can make sure that London really is planning for biodiversity.
1. The ‘biodiversity duty’ within the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006) requires LPAs to have regard to conserving biodiversity as part of the planning system.
2. eCountability is a specialist consultancy that provide advice, data and solutions for those managing biodiversity-related risks and opportunities.