Consultation on West of England Joint Spatial Plan – our concern for bat colonies

The Joint Spatial Plan (JSP), which sets out proposals for built development across the West of England, has reached an important stage, with hearings taking place during July, September and October, chaired and overseen by inspectors from the Government’s Planning Inspectorate. The role of the planning inspectors is to determine whether the JSP is sound and legally compliant, and interested parties, including individuals, organisations, local authorities and private companies have been able to submit written and oral evidence on a range of issues.

Avon Wildlife Trust has responded to every stage of the consultation process in an effort to ensure the environment is put at the heart of the JSP. AWT’s Head of Land Management, Eric Heath, gave evidence in the oral hearings expressing our serious concerns over the future of the North Somerset and Mendips Bat Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the  lack of detail offered in the JSP setting out how the delicate mosaic of habitats that contribute to this area will be protected.

The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) was legally obliged to carry out what’s called a Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) – the first stage of which is a Screening Assessment and identifies which nature sites designated under European laws may be affected by the JSP. This screening assessment identified the North Somerset and Mendips Bat SAC as having the potential for significant effects from the JSP development proposed.

The next part of the HRA is a process called an Appropriate Assessment, which is a more detailed look at the ways the JSP could impact on the European conservation sites and whether these impacts can be avoided or mitigated.

AWT disagrees with the findings of the Appropriate Assessment because it fails to identify the level of impact the development proposals may have. No research has gone into identifying how greater and lesser horseshoe bats use the landscape that surrounds the designated sites. We believe it’s possible that some of the sites proposed for intense development –specifically the 7,850 new houses and several new roads to be built around Nailsea, Backwell, Churchill and Banwell – may be important breeding grounds for greater and lesser horseshoe bats, including bats from well beyond the West of England Region.

The planning inspectors will continue to gather evidence over the next few months and are due to publish their findings in the winter. We will continue to use every opportunity we have to urge the West of England Combined Authority to lead the way in embedding nature-friendly development across the region and protect our internationally- important bat colonies.