London is a growing and ever-developing city. Aldo Tanca, GiGL’s Planning Officer, has a new tool to ease life for London’s planners.
A surprisingly wide variety of species and habitats can be found in London, probably Europe’s greenest capital. This life thrives on an inherently fragile and fragmented network of green and brownfield sites ever at risk of development.
While local authorities have a duty to ensure that legally protected species and priority habitats are protected from the adverse effects of development, some in London do not have the in-house ecological expertise to meet this need. Pre-screening of planning applications is an often time-consuming process, even when performed by a biodiversity specialist and supported by sound information.
In partnership with Natural England, GiGL is currently developing an automated tool to screen planning applications for biodiversity interests.The tool is based on the Association of Local Government Ecologists’ existing rule-base for screening planning applications template for biodiversity and geodiversity conservation. It provides tailored evidence and signposting to further relevant advice. The project aims to screen 100% of applications against the best available information on species, habitats and local wildlife sites. It will also provide planners with case by case information and guidance on their statutory duties and obligations, along with plain-English descriptions, legal references and contact information for relevant individuals and organisations.
The system will be available to the GiGL Partnership, reducing the need for separate consultation with statutory consultees and limiting delays to planning decisions.The tool will undergo a testing phase with at least two London boroughs until January 2010, after which it will be made available to all local authorities within the GiGL Partnership.
The features of the tool are being defined in consultation with local planning authorities and a steering committee including representatives from Natural England, Association of Local Government Ecologists, the London Boroughs’ Biodiversity Forum, London Geodiversity Partnership and local boroughs.
The planning tool is being promoted by presenting and circulating information to relevant organisations, such as Royal Town Planning Institute, Association of London Borough Planning Officers and the Boroughs’ Biodiversity Forum. An information pack and a questionnaire are about to be circulated to local authorities in London.
The tool provides organisations and individual data contributors with an excellent opportunity to see their efforts translated into effective day-to-day biodiversity protection.
However, results will only be as good as the data coverage available.Thanks to our partners, coverage of certain species groups is excellent and sufficient to alert planners to potential impacts. Records for other species groups, notably reptiles and amphibians, are more scarce and therefore the protection the tool will afford to those species is unfortunately limited.
Our current data audit (see Matt Davies’ article ‘Making Data Count’ in this issue), is helping to highlight these gaps within our data holdings. For more information about the project, please contact Aldo Tanca, GiGL Planning Officer (firstname.lastname@example.org).