Planning to protect biodiversity and geology

Valuable habitats such as ancient woodland, heaths, wetlands, and meadows will be given extra protection under a new planning policy published this week.

Planning policy statement 9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation sets out the major role the planning system has to play in conserving our natural heritage, on designated sites and in the wider environment.

Launching the new policy, Planning Minister Baroness Andrews said: “The planning system has a vital role to play in ensuring the preservation of our natural heritage for future generations to enjoy. PPS9 will be a key tool for delivering the Government’s strategies for biodiversity and sustainable development. It includes, for the first time, policies to protect valuable habitats that are not already covered by local or national designations.”

Under the new policy:

  • Local authorities will have to maintain up to date information on the environmental characteristics of their area, including identifying areas of ancient woodland and other important habitats that are not already designated;

  • Plan policies should aim to maintain, enhance, restore or add to biodiversity and geological conservation interests as well as incorporating beneficial biodiversity or geological features in and around new developments.

    Perhaps most significantly, the new policy states that: “Where significant harm cannot be prevented, adequately mitigated against or compensated for, then planning permission should be refused.”

    In many ways PPS9 enforces a lot of the thinking and initiatives already in existence throughout Britain. On Canvey Island, for example, the east of England Development Agency is promoting a major economic regeneration scheme which recognises the biodiversity often found in ‘brownfield’ sites and makes space for this. Woven into the scheme are major enhancements which safeguard rare wildlife and create local recreation and education opportunities.

    Additionally, in masterplanning the new growth areas in the South East, planners are increasingly basing new housing development on a multi-functional ‘green infrastructure’, using networks of natural areas, such as woodland and rivers, to provide a range of benefits from wildlife habitat and recreational greenspace to ecological services such as flood control and drainage.

    The new policy was welcomed by independent conservation agency English Nature. Senior Planning Advisor Johnathan Price said: “Through PPS9 the government has put a mark in the sand over what it expects from the planning system. English Nature, and in due course Natural England, looks forward to working with planning authorities to help meet this challenge and make wildlife and geological interest, in both cities and the countryside, a part of everyone’s life.”

    By David Hopkins

  • Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie