The findings of our recent survey of Local Planning Authority (LPA) staff to establish current LPA ecological expertise and capacity in Scotland have been published. The survey was issued in collaboration with the Association of Local Government Ecologists (ALGE).
We received responses from 26 of the 32 Local Planning Authorities and 2 National Park Authorities in Scotland (76%). We had multiple responses from some LPAs with 36 responses in total.
Two thirds of respondents rated lack of enforcement staff to ensure compliance as a high or very high risk to their LPA’s ability to implement the forthcoming NPF4 and Positive Effects for Biodiversity. Additionally, 22% said they have no current ecological resource or expertise available and one third said there had been cutbacks to ecological provision within their LPA (either staffing or resources) over the past 5 years, with many others citing that cutbacks had happened prior to this.
It was also very apparent that planning applications are dealt with differently by each LPA in Scotland. Some LPAs have ecologists that routinely comment on planning applications whereas one-fifth have no access to ecological expertise. Capacity is very low; over half of respondents (56%) said that there is less than 1 full time equivalent (FTE) ecologist available for planning work. Planning case work is only one component across a very wide portfolio of work, with capacity stretched thinly or areas of work not addressed.
Based on the findings of this report, we recommend that each Local Authority should have, as a bare minimum, ecologists and environmental planners who are adequately resourced and trained. The expertise and expectations of planning and ecological staff needs to be clear so that individuals are not having to make professional judgements outside their area of expertise and competence.
Without in-house ecological expertise in local authorities, positive effects for biodiversity cannot be assessed and delivered in a consistent way throughout Scotland.
The survey was issued as a follow-up to an event organised by CIEEM which brought together Scottish Local Planning Authorities to discuss the emerging NPF4, and specifically Policy 3 and the Developing with Nature Guidance; read the report here.