Ecology integrated into planning process on complex residential development

Baker Consultants was awarded a contract with Commercial Estates Group (CEG) to provide comprehensive ecology input for the proposed Hele Park development scheme in Devon at outline planning stage. Following this, Redrow, the housebuilder developing the site, subsequently contracted the team to provide ecological advice on the detailed planning application for Phase Three of the development.

The baseline ecology surveys and Landscape and Ecology Management Plan (LEMP) helped to ensure that the ecological impact of the development was reduced and that the development was integrated into the wider landscape setting. Following our advice, important ecological features were retained and new habitat created as part of a robust green infrastructure. Bats, dormice, birds and amphibians are all set to benefit from early ecological input into the development.

The initial development

The 72-acre Hele Park site was granted Outline Planning Consent in 2013. The site is a former golf club close to Newton Abbot in Devon, which is part of an emerging strategic growth area. The development aims to transform the western edges of the town.

View across Hele Park golf course prior to development

View across Hele Park golf course prior to development

Hele Park is a residential-led, mixed use scheme with a range of residential and community uses. Phase One of the scheme included 650 new homes, public open spaces, offices, allotments, foot- and cycle-paths, landscaping and associated infrastructure.

As part of this initial development, CEG made financial contributions to local education and children’s play facilities, as well as highways contributions. Additionally, people with a connection to the local area receive priority for the affordable properties that make up 38% of the development.

Initial ecological surveys

Baker Consultants provided a full suite of ecological surveys for the original Hele Park development. This initially included a Preliminary Ecological Assessment together with bat and dormice surveys. Following this, we carried out bat transects and static surveys, bat roost surveys of mature trees, updated dormouse surveys, breeding bird and cirl bunting surveys. We then conducted a review of the local council’s supplementary guidance and new Local Plan. From these, we provided a full ecology chapter, as part of the scheme’s Environmental Impact Assessment.

Jon Allen, Development Project Manager & Acquisitions South at CEG, said: “Baker Consultants’ comprehensive understanding of ecology regulations was integral to outline planning consent being secured for Hele Park. We were particularly impressed with their innovative survey methods and the quality of their Ecological Impact Assessment.”

Why were these surveys important?

Firstly, the proposed development site was set to occupy a site within the Natural England-defined South Devon Natural Area, which is characterised by an undulating landscape of rolling hills dissected by numerous river valleys.

Secondly, although the proposed development was not on, or immediately adjacent to any statutory sites of nature conservation, important navigational routes for bats were identified through the application site. In particular, a ‘strategic bat flightway’ (as identified by Natural England) passes within 200m to the south of the development. This is a key dispersal route out of the South Hams Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which is a site of European importance for greater horseshoe bats. Bat roosts were also identified locally.

Finally, the network of hedgerows within the application site was connected to a wider network of hedgerows, providing corridors for the movement of bats and other mobile species to the west of Newton Abbot. Hedgerows are a UK priority habitat and almost the entire network of hedgerow within the application site was mature and well established. Many of the hedges qualified as ‘important’ under ecological criteria in the Hedgerow Regulations 1997; many being retained farmland hedgerows that had been incorporated into the landscape design of the golf course. Following our advice, these have since been retained within the new development. This was of particular importance, as bats were using them as commuting routes and dormice were present. These species and their habitats are protected under European legislation.

One of the hedges in which dormice were found

One of the hedges in which dormice were found

Input to the planning application and production of a LEMP

During Phase Three of the development, Baker Consultants provided ecology advice to support the successful detailed planning application for the last part of the overall site. Most recently, we provided Redrow with a Landscape and Ecology Management Plan (LEMP) to discharge planning conditions for their hybrid application for 60 dwellings, three of which will be self-build plots and 20% of which will be affordable housing.

Following an assessment of the site, we listed thirteen objectives to reduce the ecological impact of the development and provide biodiversity enhancements. These included: maintaining and, where possible, strengthening the green corridor function of habitats; enhancing and protecting the existing ecological hedgerow resource for dormice; maximising the ecological value of new ponds and species-rich grassland in the drainage detention basin; and keeping key habitats litter free. We also liaised on species protection across the site for bats, dormice, cirl buntings and amphibians.

One of the plans of Redrow's development at Hele Park

One of the plans of Redrow’s development at Hele Park

Finally, we advised on the incorporation of key wildlife habitats within the green infrastructure, including habitat creation for the site. As part of this, new habitats will be established to enhance and help protect retained areas within the development. Our recommendations included broad-leaved woodland, species-rich grassland, three new ponds and bat and bird boxes. Overall, this will help conserve the ecological integrity of retained habitats and is essential for maintaining their functionality for species such as bats, dormice, birds and amphibians.

Reuben Cooke, Technical Manager at Redrow, said: “Baker Consultants provided a professional service that contributed to the success of this scheme. Their technical and ecological expertise gave us confidence that the development would meet all legal ecological requirements.”

Conclusions

The Hele Park development was a particularly complex scheme that successfully received planning permission with very few conditions for its size. Early involvement from the experienced team at Baker Consultants in assessing and designing the ecology aspects into the project contributed to this success and that of the subsequent Hele Park Phase Three.

Carlos Abrahams, Technical Director at Baker Consultants, said: “The Hele Park development benefitted from our involvement from the early stages of the project. Our expertise allowed us to provide a cost-effective, innovative package of ecological surveys and a comprehensive Landscape and Ecology Management Plan to ensure ecological compliance at all stages of this complex scheme.”