BSG Ecology was approached in 2012 by Axis PED to join the client team providing support to British Salt (a company wholly owned by TATA Chemicals Europe) for a proposed 14km twin pipeline in Cheshire required to supply brine to various locally based manufacturing plants.
We undertook consultation on the scope of work, baseline ecological survey and reporting, and prepared the ecology chapter for the Environmental Statement that accompanied the planning application.
Detailed and regular liaison was required with statutory consultees throughout the project due to the clear potential for effects on European protected species, the need to secure planning permission relatively rapidly, and the length of the pipeline (which crossed two local planning unitary authority areas).
We completed a detailed desk study which involved careful review of on-line aerial photography, data searches with the Local Records Centre and specific faunal groups coupled with a review of available consented planning applications for the local area. A phase 1 habitat survey was initially completed of the entire (14km) pipeline for a corridor width of 500m.
The survey was extended to include ground level assessments of over 200 trees for their bat potential, a Habitat Suitability Assessment of over 100 ponds for great crested newt, targeted hedgerow survey where construction impacts were considered likely, badger survey and otter and water vole survey of land within the proposed width of the construction corridor.
At an early stage of scoping of the work, great crested newt was identified as a key receptor, and as a European protected species it was essential that the local planning authorities involved had sufficient information about the species and impacts on it to make a planning decision. Our involvement in the project commenced at the end of the great crested newt survey season, and the client’s timetable for submission of the planning application in December 2012 gave rise to a challenging situation: the target submission date prevented the completion of great crested newt surveys in time to accompany the planning application. During our detailed desk study, we found that there were existing data from other recent planning applications in the locality regarding the status of great crested newt in more than half of the identified ponds. We were therefore able to use these data to make reasoned inferences about the newt situation along the length of the pipe to inform the impact assessment for this species.
We worked closely with the two local authority ecologists (in Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester Councils) and Natural England to undertake a thorough assessment of the likely impacts of the pipeline on great crested newts and to gain agreement over the data required to support a planning application that could be validated and determined. A key consideration was the short duration of likely effects on newts and their terrestrial habitat. Where metapopulations were known to be present within several pond complexes, avoidance techniques were adopted in the scheme design, including directional drilling, to avoid harm.
The ecological baseline data were used to refine the position of the final route of the pipe based on the identified constraints. As a result, the scheme was designed so as to avoid direct impacts upon any ponds or trees and to avoid most of the optimal terrestrial habitat.
The planning submission was supported by a baseline of consolidated historical datasets which included data from several years of bottle trapping for adjoining permitted schemes. This meant that we were able to confirm great crested newt presence using known population sizes and propose proportionate mitigation. The local planning authorities and Natural England considered this to be sufficient and the mitigation strategy included a firm commitment to undertake further work to inform a post-consent European Protected Species licence application, including great crested newt surveys at over 40 ponds, updating of existing information and survey of areas that were not accessible at the pre-planning stage.
Following submission of the planning application, BSG Ecology co-ordinated the delivery of great crested newt surveys in Spring 2013 and subsequently updated the mitigation strategy within a Supplementary Environmental Information report. This enabled full consideration of all the great crested newt data before planning permission was granted. The approach also enabled both local authorities to discharge their duties under the provisions of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended).
Planning permission was granted by both local planning authorities with conditions in August and September 2013.
Top photograph: Existing brine pipeline infrastructure in Cheshire
Bottom photograph: Typical pond within the survey area