THE OMBUDSMAN has criticised Warwick District Council for failing to properly consider the impact a housing development may have on local wildlife.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has ordered the council to pay a Warwickshire Bat Group £1,000 to pay for new bat hibernation boxes following its investigation.
It comes after the council approved a planning application without requiring the developer to provide necessary details of bats using the site, despite the history of bats living in the area. The location of the site has not been revealed.
When the site was approved for housing in the mid 2000s the secretary of state insisted a bat barn was created to protect the local bat population.
Then following an application to create a development in 2017, developers removed a hedge and a number of trees which were important to the bats.
Planning officers had recommended planning permission be approved, despite the concerns of ecologists they consulted. The planners failed to mention in their report to the council’s planning committee that the council’s ecologists had objected.
This was because the ecologists did not have the details they needed about bats using the site to give meaningful advice.
The council had also created a ‘section 106’ legal agreement with the developer requiring compensation for the loss of bio-diverse land, either by providing alternative land or by paying financial compensation. Ecologists had calculated the loss of bio-diverse land was worth more than £350,000.
Chief executive at the local government and social care ombudsman, Nigel Ellis said: “When considering planning applications for particularly sensitive sites such as these, it is all the more important that planners gain the necessary information and advice in a timely manner, to give the committees approving applications the best chance of making an appropriate decision.
“Evidence of at least three different species of bats have been found at the site, and a nearby major infrastructure project had to be relocated because a rare species was found. In this case, because the necessary surveys were not conducted at the right time, we can never be sure just what impact the development has had on the local bat population.
“I hope the measures the council has now agreed to take will go some way to offset the potential damage that has been done to biodiversity in the area, and the agreed improvements to the planning process will ensure decisions are made properly in future.”
Following the investigation the council has identified woodland managed by a local wildlife group, that could be improved for bats by installing hibernation boxes.