Planning decisions, ECoWs and what the guidance documents say…

In our previous post where we looked at terminology and remits of the ECoW. We discovered that the role of an Ecological Clerk of Works is perhaps still misused with 61% of Ecological Clerk of Works required to monitor more than just ecological compliance. There is evidence of this leading to an ECoW being appointed to large construction project with no experience of monitoring and advising on all round environmental compliance, this of course presents a risk to the environment.

When Local Planning Authorities determine the conditions of consent, they will often use internal guidance documents and advice from statutory consultees. To try to understand where the inconsistencies appeared we searched for patterns within the terminology used by different authorities; the results of which showed a clear difference between authorities in what the role of an Environmental/Ecological Clerk of Works entails.

Highland, North Lanarkshire and Fife Councils were much more likely to specify that an Ecological Clerk of Works only monitor ecological compliance than the likes of the Energy Consents Unit and Perth & Kinross Council. Whilst this may be coincidence, further investigation found a possible reason for this difference.

The Highland Council has a guidance document called ‘The Highland Council Guidance Note: Construction Environmental Management Process for Large Scale Projects’  which details the role and remit of an Environmental Clerk of Works, suggesting ‘a key construction environmental management tool is for the appointment, if required, of an appropriately qualified Environmental Clerk of Works (ECoW)’. It is likely that the use of this document for guidance may have encouraged planners and developers to better understand the role of an ECoW and this is seen in Highland Councils conditions of consent, where if they are only concerned about an ecological constraint, they advise an ecological clerk of works is engaged.

Perth & Kinross Council has a similar renewable energy planning guidance document, this does not reference an Environmental Clerk of Works at all. However, it does infer that the Ecological Clerk of Works will provide input to all things environmental.

Ambiguity in documents such as these are a possible cause for the misuse of the ECoW term.

The energy consents unit oversees the determination of Scotland’s biggest onshore energy projects, sometimes deciding on the biggest construction projects in the UK. Of the three ECoW projects decided by the ECU in 2018, all three specified a requirement of an Ecological Clerk of Works to oversee environmental compliance. An extract from one of the decision notices states

Ecological Clerk of Works

19.1 No development shall commence until the planning authority has approved the terms of appointment and the identity of the proposed appointee by and at the cost of the Developer of an independent and suitably qualified ECoW with roles and responsibilities which shall include but not necessarily be limited to:

 • Providing training to the Developer and contractors on their responsibilities to ensure that work is carried out in strict accordance with environmental protection requirements required by this deemed consent and by law.

• Monitoring compliance with all environmental and nature conservation mitigation works and working practices approved under this deemed planning permission, the CEMD, all CEMPs, the Pre-Construction Species Survey and Protection Plan and Habitat Management Plan.

• Advising the Developer on adequate protection for environmental and nature conservation interests within, and adjacent to, the application site.

• Liaising with and providing information to the Habitat Management Plan Steering Group (established in accordance with condition 23).

• Consideration of proposals made by the Developer for review of the Habitat Management Plan and reporting to the planning authority and SNH on such proposals.

• Consideration of all reporting by the Developer required in terms of this deemed consent during construction, including ornithological and vegetation reporting and tree felling and reporting to the planning authority and SNH on such reporting.

• Directing the placement of Site Infrastructure (including written approval of any micro-siting, as permitted by the terms of this deemed consent) and the avoidance of sensitive features.

• Regularly reporting to the planning authority, SNH and SEPA on all of the matters falling within his or her roles and responsibilities and making urgent reports to the planning authority, SNH and SEPA as may from time to time be appropriate.”

The condition states that the Ecological Clerk of Works must oversee environmental and all CEMP compliance, it could and perhaps should be argued that this is beyond an Ecologists remit. 

The Scottish Government sites the ‘Good Practice during Wind Farm Construction’, a joint publication by a number of statutory bodies, guidance to assist planning authorities sets out various good practice measures to be used during wind farm construction and uses the term ‘Clerk of Works’ carefully when specifying the associated remit. The document advises that

“The scope of works and level of resource commitment required of the CoW needs to be commensurate with the scale of the development, and the complexity of the archaeological and ecological and/or environmental issues at a site. For this reason it is often the case the CoW position represents a broad multidisciplinary resource.”

The document mimics this terminology throughout the guidance but stops short of defining that Ecological Clerk of Works oversees ecological monitoring and that an Environmental Clerk of Works oversees a broader scope. At the end of the dedicated ‘Clerk of Works’ section, there is a link for further information to The Association of Environmental and Ecological Clerks of Work’s ‘Good Practice Guidance’.

However the Scottish Governments “Onshore wind turbines: planning advice” publication simply states

“Good practice during construction: Planning authorities should generally encourage developers to appoint Ecological Clerks of Works to ensure that agreed designs and construction techniques are followed following planning approval.”

Is it any wonder that things are a little muddled?

We are working with anyone that will listen to improve consistency, but first there needs to be a recognition that there is a problem. More information will follow…..