The last week or so has been a flurry of fairly stressful activity. I haven't felt so stressed about the project at any point so far. Thankfully as a result we now have nearly everything in place to finally submit our planning application. I hoped to have done that by now, and as I'll explain one of the reasons for the recent activity also makes it more urgent than ever to submit the plans as soon as possible. Urgh.
I went to see the planning officer again with the virtually complete plans (previously I'd only shown them my own computer mock-ups of possible designs, rather than the actual accurate plans). The planning officer didn't really have much to add this time, having already commented on the basic principles of the project (and broadly approved - see Elevated Greenery), but she did add that we'd need a Bat Survey before we could submit our application. Despite my best efforts to find out what additional information we needed to accompany the application this annoyingly hadn't shown up in any lists on the Dorset For You website or the Planning Portal site. The Dorset website is so convoluted that I can't guarantee it's not on there somewhere in the depths but certainly not anywhere obvious. The Planning Portal ("the UK Government's online planning and building regulations resource") does have a lot of information, but when it comes to local information requirements it just says that pull-down lists will show what you need when actually submitting a planning application online. That's not much use in advance.
But anyway, in order to submit a planning application for work involving disruption to a potential bat roost (ie: a roof and/or loft) it must be accompanied by a certificate stating either that no bats have been found, or if they have been found then by a certified Dorset Bat Mitigation Plan (DBMP), as all species of bats are protected by both UK and EU legislation. This has to be carried out by a licensed ecologist, and similarly to the difficulty verifying information requirements, finding out who in your area holds the relevant license is not straightforward. Thankfully, I managed to find a fairly local company (part of the Dorset Wildlife Trust) who were able to come and do the survey within a week.
The friendly and helpful ecologist (from Dorset Ecology) who did our survey did find evidence of bats, or at least a bat: around 20 droppings, which have since been analysed and found to be of a Long-eared bat (there are specialists who can identify bat species by their poo, apparently). The ecologists report doesn't specify whether that's a Grey or Brown Long-eared bat, but after some brief research I'm guessing Brown as they are not as rare as Grey and our DBMP describes "a bat roost of low conservation significance". The survey costs just short of £200 including travel and VAT.
Having found bats, the DBMP then has to be written, including details of works involved, design of finished building and the area of loft that will "remain available for use by bats" (ie: will still be loft space). This costs a further £300. This is then sent to the Natural Environment Team (NET) at the local authority (in this case Dorset County Council/DCC) for approval. The NET then demonstrated a lack of capacity to read plans by asking for details of loft dimensions which they had already been supplied with. This wasn't very helpful.
Once the ecologist had pointed out to the NET that they did in fact have all the necessary information (and had slightly changed the wording of the bat plan to clarify exactly which appendix to look for the relevant plans in) they went a long way to appeasing my annoyance by suddenly being incredibly efficient and immediately emailing a certificate approving the DBMP provided it is made a condition of planning permission, should it be granted (Dorset County Council add a £50 charge for reading and approving the bat plan).
The bat plan/DBMP sets out an approach to works that will minimise any potential disruption to bats. I'll explain what in the next post as this is already quite long.