New figures for 2013-14 show that the Government’s conservation adviser was consulted on more than 14,000 planning applications – an increase of 9.8% on the previous year. But despite the growing volume Natural England’s staff comfortably exceeded their target of responding to 95% within 21 days or an otherwise agreed deadline. They also bettered last year’s figure of 98%.
The statistics mark a significant improvement in Natural England’s performance since 2008-09 when around 83% of planning application responses were issued within the agreed timeframe.
Rob Cooke, Natural England’s Director of Sustainable Development, said: “Natural England staff have worked really hard over the last few years to improve the service we provide to developers, planning officers and consultants. We’ve listened to their feedback and these figures show that we’re moving in the right direction.
“Each planning application can be an opportunity to secure sustainable development that benefits both the economy and the environment. By providing sound advice quickly and efficiently we’re helping industry to turn those aspirations into reality.”
The enhanced response rates are largely down to improvements put in place by Natural England following feedback from customers and government:
- in 2011 Natural England formed a central team to respond to planning applications of low environmental impact. The central team rapidly advises planning authorities when Natural England has no significant concerns and further consultation is therefore not required
- it has launched a staff interchange programme in which its advisers take up placements in a range of development sectors, enabling them to gain an insight into the needs of customers
- revised standing advice such as for protected species is giving planning authorities more effective information, allowing them to understand potential impacts without needing to contact Natural England
- the new Discretionary Advice Service, which opened in 2012-13, has enabled Natural England to offer developers paid-for advice at the pre-application and post-consent stages of complex planning and licensing proposals. Income generated is then invested in improving staff capacity
Natural England’s average response time for planning consultations was 11.9 days, compared with 13.2 days in 2012-13. Extensions were agreed with local planning authorities in 1004 cases (6.9% of the total) for a variety of reasons, including the need for further information or to resolve complex issues.
Notes for editors
The figures quoted are taken from the “2013/14 Annual report to the Department for Communities and Local Government”. Natural England is required to report annually to DCLG on its performance in responding to planning applications.
Natural England’s statutory purpose is to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced, and managed for the benefit of present and future generations, thereby contributing to sustainable development. It has responsibility for ensuring that England’s unique natural environment, including its flora and fauna, land and seascapes, geology and soils, is protected and improved.
Natural England is a statutory consultee in the planning system for development plans, Environmental Impact Assessments, Strategic Environmental Assessment, Habitats Regulations Assessments, Local Development Orders and for certain planning applications relating to Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and best and most versatile agricultural land. We may also be consulted on a range of other development proposals. In addition, Natural England is a competent authority, issuing consents where there will be impacts on protected species and sites.
Natural England takes a proportionate, risk-based and solution-orientated approach to our planning advice. We seek to enable sustainable development by advising on the avoidance, mitigation or, as a last resort, compensation for impacts on the natural environment through the use of planning conditions or obligations, and on appropriate enhancement measures.
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