Proposed new charges for licences
Under the banner of improving services, Natural England (NE) are planning to introduce charges for protected species licences. At the moment, they set very high standards for surveys and information requests required for licence application, and we charge the developer for delivering these. The current cost for a full mitigation licence for bats, for example, would be betweeen £800 and £3000, depending on the size of the site and the scale / complexity of the impact on bats.
The fee that NE are proposing to charge us for that licence is £800 (see: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/natural-england/wildlife-licence-charges). This cost will have to be passed on to the developer.
We have concerns that this added fee will push many smaller developers over the limit of what they are willing to pay for compliance with species protection. They may be increasingly willing to risk getting caught breaking the law, by disturbing bats or destroying bat roosts without a licence. Recent history shows that the fines are generally quite small – although they can be as high as £5000 per bat, most judges would regard the offence as realtively minor and only a few hundred pounds is usually charged.
Unfortunately we will continue to get most of the blame for the high costs that a developer has to pay if he or she has a protected species issue, whereas in fact all of the guidelines that we have to follow, the rules and laws we have to comply with, and the information required for planning applications and licenses are out of our hands, and much of it is set by local and central government departments.
If the fees are inevitable, and it loooks like they may be, one way around this problem would be for NE to make the application forms much easier to complete, so that we can charge less for our services.
Will leaving the EU have any impact on all this? That remains to be seen. One problem is that NE have lost many of their most able and talented staff due to pay cuts and poor working conditions; what we need is a forward-thinking and innovative department which can ensure wildlife is protected without burying everyone in red tape. So lets hope that some of these licence fees will be spent on recruitment of experienced ecological consultants to advise NE on the challenges ahead.