Conserving wildlife habitats and biodiversity is an important objective of the planning regime – but so is the provision of more new homes. In a High Court case on point, concerns about the welfare of a population of rare bats were not enough to derail plans for a major mixed-use development including 1,210 homes.
Together with the dwellings, 20 per cent of which would be affordable, the owners of the 66.72-hectare greenfield site on the edge of a growing market town proposed 12,650 square metres of employment floorspace, two care homes, community facilities, retail units, open space and associated infrastructure.
Following a public inquiry, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government accepted a planning inspector’s recommendation and granted outline planning consent for the scheme. He described the site as a highly sustainable location for a development that would meet the majority of the area’s projected housing needs for more than a decade to come.
A parish council lodged a judicial review challenge to the permission. It argued that there had been no adequate consideration of the project’s impact on a population of greater horseshoe bats which roosted in a nearby special area of conservation (SAC). The bats were known to overfly and sometimes forage on the site.
The Court, however, noted that the site’s owners had proposed mitigation measures to protect the bats. A network of corridors, or flyways, would be maintained over the site, together with dark areas and hedgerows rich in forage. The Secretary of State was entitled to agree with the inspector that those and other measures would be sufficient to avoid adverse impact on the SAC or the bat population.
Other grounds of challenge put forward by the parish council also fell on fallow ground. In particular, the Court was satisfied that the Secretary of State had issues concerning greenhouse gas emissions and climate change well in mind when he reached his decision. Overall, he had made a series of legitimate planning judgments that could not be challenged on grounds of irrationality.