Dealing with biodiversity in phased development

18th March 2013


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  • Biodiversity ,
  • Consultancy ,
  • Construction ,
  • Local government

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IEMA

Bernice Roberts and Jo Donnelly, from The Landmark Practice, describe how they managed the ecological challenges associated with redevelopment of a site in Bristol's green belt

Ecological impact assessment (EcIA) has clear protocols for providing a robust evidence base in environmental impact assessments (EIAs). When dealing with dynamic populations covered by the Habitats Regulations the bar, in terms of providing appropriate baseline data, is set high, and no more so than when assessing outline schemes that are likely to be subject to long-term phased delivery.

This article summarises how The Landmark Practice managed the challenges associated with redevelopment of a site in the Bristol green belt to bring forward a workable and economically viable scheme. This is not the only approach to dealing with complex protected species issues in EIA, but it provides valuable experience that may be useful to others.

Background

Barrow Hospital lies some 2km south of Bristol and comprised a network of outdated institutional buildings set in about 80ha of broadleaved woodland protected by Tree Preservation Orders. The site also included a designated Site of Nature Conservation Interest, with large areas of species-rich grassland, an important lesser horseshoe bat colony and at least 11 other bat species using more than 62 bat roosts in the site.

The hospital had become surplus to requirements, due to age and changed care needs, and in preparation for site disposal, outline planning permission was sought for a mixed-use redevelopment. Although the principle of development had been established by many years of use as a hospital, redevelopment options were constrained by green belt policy and the sensitive natural environment.

Evidence base

The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) consolidated previous amendments to the 1994 Habitats Regulations, and made explicit that local authorities should not to determine planning applications until satisfied that there are no satisfactory alternatives and no detrimental effect on the wild population of the species concerned.

Although early work at the site pre-dated the 2010 Regulations, the application scheme nonetheless had to be supported by an evidence base sufficient to properly inform both the EIA and Habitats Regulations while delivering a Rochdale-compliant permission that would be capable of delivering market flexibility over a number of years. As a starting point, extensive surveys of bats, dormouse, flora, badger, birds, reptiles and amphibians were required.

The need to allow sufficient time to understand the biodiversity of the site was a consistent, and sometimes challenging, message to the client team. Time was needed to undertake baseline surveys in appropriate seasons, and subsequently to monitor bat use of the wider site.

The complexities of the buildings and habitats at Barrow Hospital demanded skilled ecological support over several seasons, both to guide the scope of work needed to gather robust data to inform the EIA and to interpret the technical detail to help the masterplanning team to devise a deliverable scheme.

The data gathered and the EcIA were central to the final site masterplan, which proposed the demolition of redundant buildings and removal of substantial lengths of underground service duct to make space for new development within the footprint of existing buildings.

The network of service ducts was important maternity habitat for the lesser horseshoe bat colony, but was also, like many other institutional sites of the period, heavily contaminated with asbestos. Addressing the asbestos and the confined spaces throughout the site was critical to devising realistic development options, but also necessitated specialist support with surveys which increased cost and timescales.

The importance of early consultation with the client team, Natural England and the local planning authority cannot be overstated. It enabled consensus on important detail of site strengths and highlighted constraints and opportunities in the very sensitive location.

Outcomes

Although sold with the benefit of outline planning permission, the subsequent economic downturn resulted in the site being mothballed. During this time several bat houses were built and bat boxes deployed (see image above) and monitoring continued to ensure compliance with the protected species licence. Phased asbestos removal and building and service duct demolition was also undertaken.

Development at Barrow Hospital is now being taken forward. Consent for residential development was given in 2011 and permissions for a care home and business units are currently being sought.

The details of development are set within the parameters tested by the EIA to ensure safeguarding of the sensitive woodland setting and long-term mitigation/protection of associated wildlife.

The planning and legal issues around ecologically sensitive sites can be far reaching and complex and the project ecologist must have a good understanding of the planning system, or access to a planning advisor.

The EcIA at Barrow Hospital had to test unknown factors, such as the location and density of future development, so that compensation including bat houses and night roosts could be accurately located. The detailed understanding of the species concerned and the development sector was essential to delivering successful mitigation.


This article was written as a contribution to the EIA Quality Mark’s commitment to improving EIA practice.

Bernice Roberts is a principal environmental planner ([email protected]) and Jo Donnelly is a principal ecologist at The Landmark Practice
[Redundant care block used by long-eared and pipistrelle bat species for roosting
Construction of bat house designed for lesser horseshoe bats and other species]

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