Recent revised Guidelines produced by IEEM: Guidelines for Preliminary Ecological Appraisals (December 2017).
The purpose of these guidelines is to set out the appropriate approach to undertaking Preliminary Ecological Appraisals (PEAs) and the appropriate application of PEAs within the planning process. Additionally, the updated guidelines were to ensure consistency in terminology and assessments carried out by ecologists.
What is a PEA?
PEA is a process rather than a report, it is best described as a scoping assessment that consists of both a field element and a desktop element. The PEA field study follows survey guidelines from the Handbook for Phase 1 Habitat Survey(JNCC 2010), and also tailors the survey elements to be site-specific based on likely distribution of species, aerial photos and record searches. The output is the baseline information that sets out the ecological constraints or opportunities of the site.
What is the correct use of a PEA?
The correct use of a PEA is to gain a baseline index of the site (so designated sites, habitats on site, priority species) and then identify any ecological constraints to the development. This information is then used to advise the agent/client, at an early stage, any ways to amend the scheme design to avoid negative impacts or lessen the impacts.
A PEA will also identify any likely mitigation measures, issues, constraints and also opportunities for enhancements to ensure a biodiversity net gain in line with NPPF.
What is in a PEAR?
The PEA Report (PEAR) would only be suitable for use on a project where there are no further surveys required and the mitigation is clear and straightforward. However, if the PEA has identified that further surveys are required (i.e. bat surveys, newt surveys), then the PEAR would not be suitable to submit in support of the planning application. If further surveys are required, a PEAR would not be sufficient enough to support a planning application as it lacks a detailed assessment of ecological effects, and commitment to mitigation; the planning authority is therefore unlikely to have adequate information to enable the decision maker to determine the application lawfully.
PEARs are written more for the client to let them know what they should be doing on the site rather than submitting to the Local Planning Authority to inform them what the client is required to do on site. Councils are receiving too many reports from individual surveys (i.e. PEARs, bat survey report, reptile survey report) that can and should be streamlined into one report known as a EcIA (Ecological Impact Assessment). Using EcIA means that all the surveys are collaborated (PEA, any further surveys) and take into account any impacts, along with the proposed mitigation and enhancements for the site, including any recommendations for licence applications.
Planning authorities have for many years been advised in government guidance that they should only sanction further ecological surveys in exceptional circumstances -in other words, all necessary survey information should be submitted with the planning application so that it can be taken into account prior to thegranting of planning permission.