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Joanna Bryan

Chartered Legal Executive - Uckfield

7th June 2019

Great Crested Newts – District level Licensing Scheme

Great Crested Newts were first afforded special status as a European Protected species in 1992 with the introduction of the European Council’s Habitats Directive. This protected status has been enshrined into domestic law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation of Habitats & Species Regulations 2017.

For most development schemes, licences for affecting species protected under European legislation may only be granted if there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest. These reasons can be preserving public health and safety, or benefits of a social economic or environmental nature. Even with these reasons there must be shown that there is no satisfactory alternative to the proposed development.

Until spring 2018, if you were planning to develop land within 500m of great crested newt’s habitat your only option would have been to apply for a Great Crested Newt Mitigation Licence. There is now an additional option called Great Crested Newt District Level License. Originally piloted with Woking Borough Council and also now available in Kent and Cheshire, the scheme is due to be rolled out nationwide over the next couple of years. District level licensing moves away from individual site by site decisions and towards a wider local authority strategy of identifying county-wide populations of great crested newts and creating a ‘heat map’ of where populations are highest/lowest. The ‘heat map’ creates a risk score which is used to calculate a financial payment required to grant a licence for that site. The local authority uses licensing funds to create, enhance and monitor ponds across the region.

There are two stages of the application process:

  1. Initially you will need to send an enquiry form to Natural England along with an application fee and details of your proposed development and any absence/presence surveys you have already undertaken. Natural England will then issue an Impact Assessment and Conservation Payment Certificate which you will need to send to the local authority with your application for planning permission to show that you have joined the scheme.
  2. After planning permission has been achieved you must apply for a Great crested Newt District level Licence. You can start work once your licence application has been approved and Natural England has put plans in place to create alternative ponds (known as compensatory habitats).

The advantages to developers of the new district level licensing are that no lengthy on-site newt capture and surveys are required which reduces delays to starting building work. There is also greater certainty of financial costs ahead of planning permission. There will also be no need to create on-site habitat as new ponds and habitats will be created across the county thus maximising development area and facilitating better design and layout on site. In most cases development can proceed without the need for significant further mitigation. In instances where high population of Great Crested Newts are present, additional mitigation will be required, albeit the duration of this will be reduced compared to Mitigation Licensing route.

For further information on District Level Licensing please follow the links below or speak to Jo Bryan on joannabryan@rixandkay.co.uk who can assist you with any environmental liabilities in respect of property development work.

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