What do you cherish in your local area? Is it local woodland, a spring flowering meadow, or perhaps a nearby stream bursting with wildlife? Would you know where to start if you heard it was under threat from development? Do you know you have an opportunity to persuade planners and decision makers to provide for wildlife where you live?
Northumberland Wildlife Trust cares about all wildlife sites but as a charity we have limited resources. This means we cannot respond directly to every threat we hear about. Therefore, in addition to commenting on applications ourselves, we are actively encouraging people to take action to protect their local environment.
How to comment on a planning application
As a member of your community, you have local knowledge that makes your views important. By understanding the planning system and how to respond to planning applications, you may be able to use this local knowledge to influence development at an early stage, perhaps preventing a harmful development or enhancing a proposal’s value to wildlife.
When a development is proposed that involves the changed use of a piece of land a planning application must be made to the Local Planning Authority (LPA).
All information contained within this document is, to the best of our knowledge, true and accurate at the time of printing. Northumberland Wildlife Trust will not accept any responsibility or liability for any losses or damage resulting from following the advice given. Registered Charity No. 221819. Registered in England Company Number 717813.
How do you know if a planning application has been submitted?
You may become aware of a planning application in a number of ways:
- You may have received a letter from your LPA notifying you of a nearby development proposal
- You may see an application notification posted on the site or in the local paper
- You may have been asked to join an action group
- Maybe your neighbour has let you know he/she is making a planning application
- You may have seen it listed on your LPA website
What is the process for a planning application?
- The planning application is submitted to the Local Planning Authority (LPA)
- The LPA publicises the application by advertising in the local newspaper and posting planning notices close to the site
- The public and statutory consultees have 21 days to comment on the application. Statutory consultees with an interest in environmental matters include Natural England, The Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission.
- The application and comments are submitted to the Planning Committee which is comprised of elected members (Councillors) for determination. This process should take approximately 8 weeks from the date of submission.
Planning applications tend to be either Full or Outline applications. An outline application will have less detail about the proposal than a full application. If outline permission is granted, the developer will need to apply for full permission in due course. It is worth noting that large scale applications may take longer to determine, this is also the cases with applications that go to appeal.
What does Northumberland Wildlife Trust do?
Northumberland Wildlife Trust aims to take a strategic approach to planning in order to direct our limited resources effectively. We are unable to comment on individual planning applications, although occasionally we get involved with large scale planning applications. We engage in the Regional Spatial Strategy and the Local Development Frameworks that set policies. We also offer advice to the public on how they can engage in the process.
What can you do?
Anyone can comment on a planning application but if you wish to make an impact it is good to be prepared and have as much supporting information as possible.
If you are concerned that a proposed development will impact on wildlife and you want to get involved, you should:
- Make a note of the planning application number (it may look something like this: x/x/2007/2468/FUL). If you do not know the number make sure you have the address of the property/site.
- Be aware of the deadline for responses, it they arrive late they may not be given due consideration.
- Take a look at the planning application on the LPA website - if this is not possible contact the case officer to view the application and supporting documentation at the council offices.
- Read through the application to gain more information about the proposed development.
- Contact the Environmental Record Information Centre (ERIC) on www.ericnortheast.org.uk and request a report detailing any wildlife information they have for the area. If no records are found for an area it does not automatically mean it is of low ecological value, but simply means that ERIC does not hold records for this area. A desk top study from ERIC does not negate the need for an ecological survey by the applicant.
- To find out more about local wildlife in your area, visit www.eyeproject.org.uk
- Contact your local Councillor/MP to see if they are prepared to support your objection.
- Talk to other local residents to ensure they are informed about the development.
- Think about any additional information about the site that may assist the decision making process.
- Ask the following questions:
Is the application for full or outline permission?
Is the development on a site which has been allocated for development within the Local Plan or LDF?
Has an ecological survey been carried out? LPAs can request developers to carry out surveys if there are sufficient grounds to do so. If no wildlife information accompanies the application you may wish to contact the planning officer to discuss this.
Have there been any previous planning applications or proposals for the site? If an application has been refused in the past the reasons may still be valid.
What do I need to think about when I write my response?
Once you have looked at the application, gathered supporting information and decided you want to comment then the following may help you to formulate your response:
- Ensure your letter is addressed to the case officer and clearly states the planning application reference number and address.
- Clearly state whether you are objecting or supporting an application and the reasoning for this decision.
- Keeping the letter brief will help to ensure it is read and digested fully. However remember to attach supporting evidence.
- You could use sub headings to highlight individual points.
- Ensure your letter is based on planning issues rather than personal opinion.
- Photographs may help to illustrate your concerns.
- Writing a letter or email will always be more effective than a telephone call.
- If you are writing as part of an action group encourage all members to write individual letters. This will ensure that each one is counted as an individual response. You could offer support to members of the group by providing bullet points of all the issues they need to cover in their letters.
- To strengthen your objection /support you should include evidence and relevant legislation. You can look for support in Planning Policy Statements - see the National Policy section below.
Legislation, policy and guidance
There is plenty of information on legislation, policy and guidance relating to the protection of wildlife and biodiversity that may be relevant to your submission.
Take a look at local policy documents produced by your LPA by visiting their website. They can be found in the the Local Plan or LDF section of the planning pages.
You may also find the following wildlife legislation relevant to your response:
- Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981
- The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000
- Hedgerow regulations 1997
- The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010
- Badger Protection Act 1992
Visit www.jncc.gov.uk for further information relating to the above legislation. Please note, however, that original legal documents should be consulted for definitive information.
What happens after I have submitted my response?
After you have submitted your comments you should follow the application:
- Find out when the application will go to Planning Committee.
- You are entitled to attend Planning Committee meetings to hear the applications being considered.
- Usually members of the public are given the opportunity to speak at committee meetings for 2 minutes. This time is strictly controlled so it is advisable to have a pre-written speech. The exact procedure will vary between councils, so talk to your LPA for more information about how you can get involved.
A decision on the application may be made at the Planning Committee meeting but this is not necessarily the end of the process. For example if the application is refused permission by Planning Committee the applicant has 28 days to decided whether they wish to appeal. If so the process is repeated at appeal stage. Do not assume your objections will automatically be represented at this stage. It is best to resubmit your comments.
Appeals against a decision
If a planning application is refused, applicants can take their application to appeal. In England, third parties (e.g. the general public) cannot appeal against a planning decision. However, if you have made an objection to a planning application, which is then refused and the developer appeals, you have the right to make further representations to this appeal, and if an inquiry is held, to appear at the inquiry to make your case. The Planning Inspectorate or Local Planning Authority should get in contact with you, with the details of what you have to do when the appeal is lodged. For more information about the appeals process, see www.planninginspectorate.gov.uk.
Our planning application comments
Our Conservation Team responds to strategic planning issues, such as Core Strategies, as well as key planning applications where wildlife is threatened. Copies of our responses are included below (please note sensitive wildlife information may be removed).
One of the constant pressures upon our wildlife resources comes via the development of land, such as housing, roads or extractive industries. Whilst some of these may offer some biodiversity gains, there are many which could lead to an overall loss of wildlife or site integrity.
Where feasible, the Trust prefers to meet with developers prior to submission so our concerns can be shared at the earliest opportunity, thereby protecting wildlife and ensuring that development of any sort does not lead to net loss of wildlife habitat or species. When an application arrives, we can use this to assess how much of this has been taken on board, prior to considering our formal response. At this stage we also seek to work with other conservation groups, including RSPB, Natural History Society of Northumbria and the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club.
The current political and economic climate has seen a massive shift in development pressures and an erosion of protection for sites and species. NWT is one of very few agencies that continue to respond to planning applications, although we do not have a dedicated staff post to do this. However, we always maintain objectivity, despite this area of our work being the one which attracts no resources in the way that other projects do.
We maintain a firm stance on issues which we consider to be detrimental to wildlife and we do this from a scientific point of view and, as a result, have achieved a significant number of gains for wildlife.
We also try to assist individuals and local communities with ways to respond to issues they are concerned about, so they are better prepared to have their concerns over wildlife taken seriously and this includes advice on our webpages.
For planning applications before 2017, please contact us as we have archived our responses.
January 2019 - Highthorn Opencast Mine update
Despite the ruling by Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid earlier in 2018 to reject the plans for Highthorn, Banks Group has since successfully taken this to an appeal through the High Court. James Brokenshire, the minister for communities and local government, will now start examining the plans and will determine whether the project should go ahead. Should this be the case, Northumberland Wildlife Trust will continue to strongly oppose this development.
April 2019 - Dewley Hill Surface Mine, Throckley
Northumberland Wildlife Trust has reviewed the proposed plans and submitted a full comment on the planning application to Newcastle Council and is awaiting our feedback to be published in the portal.
NWT is concerned about the continued extraction and use of coal, particularly in relation to the continued use in the provision of electricity in the UK. We feel that mining developments that help to prolong its use for this purpose should be opposed. We note that some of the coal, at least, is for use in the steel industry and there must be some acceptance that UK supplies may have a role to play for these specific purposes.
Northumberland Wildlife Trust has a number of specific concerns regarding this application. Loss of an environment containing mature trees and hedgerows is always a concern as restored habitat takes time to recreate the value of older features. Some issues relating to drainage and other protected species need to be addressed further.
The area is used by breeding and wintering birds and even temporary loss of habitat, when pressure is also coming from other local developments, is a factor in the overall decline in many farmland bird species. It is understood that the restoration will provide suitable habitat post restoration. but this is only effective if species have suitable habitat during operations. This appears to be a particularly acute problem in relation to yellowhammer, skylark and lapwing.
You can find full information on the proposed plans and other public comments available online here.