9th October 2013

The Bat Conservation Trust has outlined our concerns about changes to permitted development rights for the conversion of agricultural buildings to a dwelling house in a government consultation.

Agricultural buildings, in particular barns that are no longer in heavy use, have an elevated likelihood of use by many UK bat species, along with other iconic and declining species such as barn owls and swallows. These agricultural buildings are often of a type that has historically supported these species, not only because of their design, but also because they are usually adjacent to a rural landscape that provides the vital foraging areas that these species need. Retaining the use of converted buidlings by bats and other species is not a new concept and much help and advice exists in how to consider wildlife from the outset, but retaining wildlife needs to be flagged as a requirement.

The Department for Communities and Local Government have opened a consultation on proposals to change permitted development that would allow barns to be converted. BCT submitted a response to the consultation raising specific concerns. BCT highlighted the fact that bats are a European Protected Species (EPS) and that all such protected species must be considered when changes to a building are proposed that could impact the animals themselves or their places of shelter (roosts in the case of bats), whether or not planning permission is required. The proposals outlined that the permitted development rights may extend to include demolition of the existing building such as redundant agricultural buildings, which have an elevated likelihood of use by many UK bat species.

BCT strongly urged that the proposals take into account the obligations placed on decision makers in relation to protected species, stressing that the biodiversity duty of both public authorities and local government appears not to have been taken into consideration. It was also noted that a failure to meet these duties not only leaves the local government open to legal challenge on a domestic scale, but also at a European level.

Another alarming consequence of these proposals is that applicants could be left vulnerable to prosecution should they impact EPS from their actions. A failure of local government to alert the applicants to this risk means that the local authorities could also be held accountable for the resultant criminal charges.

BCT strongly recommended that:

  • The list of reasons for prior approval which currently includes the subjects of local plans on design, material types and outlook and also for transport and highways impacts, should include prior approval requirements to ensure that protected species legislation is taken into account.
  • That the excluded types of development listed in the proposal should include buildings that host protected species.
  • Protocols and triggers currently exist that alert planners and applicants to the presence of protected species in developments. It is strongly recommended that the adoption of similar measures accompanies these proposals.

More details of our latest consultation responses