County pledges to protect natural habitats

Planning applications will be scrutinised much more vigorously to protect natural habitats by Essex County Council highways officers.

Essex County Council has revealed plans to tackle climate change, including embarking on a £1m tree project and setting up a cross-party Essex Climate Change Commission.

Central to the plans to improve Essex’s green credentials is a tree planting scheme known as the Essex Forest Initiative, that will include planting 375,000 trees across Essex over the next five years, equivalent to the size of 210 football pitches.

This is expected to capture 60,000 tonnes of carbon.

Kevin Bentley, cabinet member for highways, said in answer to questions over highway scrutiny with regard to loss of habitat: “We must be much tougher on developers in that situation and I would expect local authorities to be equally as tough as well.”

ECC announced on October 8 plans to set up a working group and formally inaugurate an independent, cross-party Essex Climate Change Commission, which will meet for the first time later this year and be made up, not only of members, but of experts in the field as well.

ECC leader David Finch announced a budget of £250,000 which will be assigned to the group to fund initiatives such as changing procurement rules to require suppliers to adopt more stringent sustainable practices.

The group will also look to change how to enable walking, cycling and public transport as a priority and how to get to having zero avoidable waste by 2050.

Cllr Finch also wants to ensure the council has zero avoidable waste by 2050 and hopes the commission can achieve the government’s target on net zero carbon sooner than 2050.

Cllr Bentley added that when there is a requirement for removal of hedgerows and the necessity for replacement, this is a matter for the local planning authority to consider.

However, he clarified that Essex County Council as the highways authority would not just require a condition to provide clear to ground level visibility splays appropriate for the speed of vehicles at that specific location, but also stricter conditions around the protection of habitats which he added had not been in place previously.

“That’s how it has been done. It will not be done in the future,” said Cllr Bentley.

“You can all expect much more robust responses from Highways.

“It is up to the local planning authority to decide whether they wish to accept that or not.

“We have no vote, but the very effect that housing applications – and I am not against housing, we need housing – could have a detrimental affect on the environment and the hinterland and of that area, for infrastructure, and by that I mean all infrastructure including drainage, has to be looked at.

“And we must be much tougher on developers in that situation and I would expect local authorities to be equally as tough as well.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter