Objective: How does the council ensure that biodiversity is always a priority in decision-making in relevant areas?
Liam Jones (Head of Planning)
Mike Redman (Director of Climate Change and Place Services)
Adam Reynolds (Green Space Development Manager)
Laura Tapping (Climate Emergency Programme Officer)
Mike Redman (Director of Climate Change and Place Services) (MR) introduced the report, explaining that it had been produced in response to a member request and was a timely overview of the work the council was engaged in to protect and promote biodiversity. He acknowledged that the paper only really scratched the surface of the topic, which was inextricably linked to the council’s climate agenda. The commitments the authority had made were particularly salient: put simply, if they did not get carbon emissions under control, the implications for biodiversity were serious, with millions of species at risk of extinction due to rising global temperatures. Officers from a range of different departments had contributed to the report, including the climate team, green space management, trees, planning and flood risk management. He felt it showed an impressive range of things that CBC was doing to promote biodiversity and mitigate the worst effects of the climate emergency.
The Chair moved into Member questions and debate:
· One Member highlighted the importance of biodiversity to individuals’ quality of life in the town. Exposure to the natural world had a major impact on mental health, and the most deprived areas were the least likely to have areas of biodiversity.
· One Member asked whether the council had a commitment to always use native species when they planted plant trees and flowers, and to use the best species for the natural habitat. MR responded that this was a complex issue, as most species were threatened by disease and higher temperatures, and it was not clear whether they would thrive in the future, so they could not always rely on native species. The county council was also reluctant to plant many of the species they had seen flourish in the past because they were forest trees which could get very big and cause damage to highways. He was in regular contact with the council’s experienced Trees Officer, Chris Chavasse.
· One Member acknowledged the tension between tidiness (which many residents prioritised) and biodiversity, and the need to balance competing interests.
· One Member asked what levers the council could pull in terms of promoting biodiversity through housing. MR responded that there were some constraints from a legal point of view – if a building complied with building regulations then there was not a lot they can do. The council had passed a climate change SPD to encourage more carbon neutral developments, and was working with Climate Leadership Gloucestershire to lobby central government to allow greater autonomy for local authorities on these issues. Developers were obviously focused on making a profit, and climate was not their key concern.
· One Member asked whether ‘friends of’ groups had the opportunity to advise and influence the council on local issues. MR responded that they worked very closely with these groups through the Green Space team. It was good to encourage community groups to have a degree of autonomy in the face of climate change, and helped build resilience.
· One Member noted that in their ward, they had a park which was just downstream of a sewage outlet that constantly discharged raw untreated sewage into the river. There were also rivers contaminated by Himalayan balsam (a non-native invasive species), while parts of the Honeybourne Line had issues with Japanese knotweed. The council needed a strong partnership with the Environment Agency to tackle these issues, though the EA had suffered cutbacks recently. MR agreed that this required a long-term approach, and they had volunteers working to remove the invasive species mentioned. One key issue was that at some times of the year, trying to remove it made it worse.
· One Member suggested planting more developed tree species that were less susceptible to antisocial behaviour such as vandalism.
· One Member highlighted the need to work with ‘friends of’ groups and harness the different skillsets and enthusiasm of volunteers.
· One Member asked how the 2021 Environment Act fit into the council’s plans. MR acknowledged that with new planning rules coming into effect next year, they were expecting a rush of planning applications just beforehand to avoid this. The Act would have a clear impact on the National Planning Policy Framework.
· One Member looked forward to seeing how biodiversity concerns were factored into the Golden Valley development. MR responded that he had engaged with the developer and was reasonably assured about that. He sat on the Gloucestershire Local Nature Partnership working group, which was proposing a county-wide fund using credits from developers who could not provide the necessary biodiversity uplift themselves. These credits would be used within Gloucestershire rather than allowing developers to purchase their net gain elsewhere in the country. There was considerable support for this across the county’s planning authorities, and a draft memorandum of understanding was being signed at the moment. CBC wore multiple hats as a planning authority that was also a landowner, so there were lots of ways they could enforce these things. He expected that the main challenge would be ensuring compliance both pre- and post-development.
The Chair thanked the Director of Climate Change and Place Services for his report and answers to Member questions. He expected the environment and climate teams to be of great importance over the next few years.