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Penny Simpson

Penny Simpson


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“She has extensive knowledge of the protected species legislation.” “Penny understands the complex, key issues quickly and well.”
(Chambers & Partners, 2024)

Penny has lead a Freeths team which has recently won a landmark environmental case in Harris vs Environment Agency. The High Court ruled that key European nature conservation laws remain enforceable against the Environment Agency (and by implication other public bodies), despite the UK having left the EU. Click here > to read our press release.

Having trained in the City (Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s environment team) and with 20 years’ experience in both private practice and in-house roles, Penny is a solid and experienced all-round environmental lawyer with particular expertise in “natural environment” law.

Within the “natural environment” niche, she has built a strong, national reputation in advising a wide range of private and public sector clients. She advises on the regulation of protected habitats, protected species, water resources, air quality and environmental impact assessment. Her clients are most often developers, environmental consultancies, mineral sector operators and water sector operators. Penny works with clients to overcome the constraints imposed by natural environment law so as to deliver planning permissions and the other environmental consents they need (e.g. protected species licences, environmental permits, abstraction licences).

She also advises local authorities, objectors and environmental organisations on these issues. She has significant experience in defending public and private sector clients when faced with environmental-related regulatory or criminal proceedings. These could be brought by the Environment Agency, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, the Forestry Commission or the police (e.g. pollution offences, protected species offences, breaches of permits/licences).

More generally, she advises on the environmental aspects of property and company transactions where she negotiates to limit her client’s environmental liabilities. She also has significant experience in health and safety law and frequently advises her clients on health and safety compliance.

Penny is recognised as a Leading Individual in Chambers & Partners (2024 edition). She is listed as a Recommended Lawyer and Leading Individual in the Legal 500 (2024 edition) for Real Estate Environment.

Legal Services

Environmental Law

Penny has very significant experience in advising developers on how to address and overcome environmental regulatory constraints to their developments (from legislation typically relating to environmental impact assessment, protected habitats, protected species and water resources).

Her expertise is often needed at the planning application stage, where she provides both strategic and more detailed advice to direct the optimum planning strategy, or where she intervenes to remove environmental based objections. She is also frequently retained following grant of planning to advise on the strategy to obtain subsequent environmental consents needed to deliver the development, such as protected species licences, environmental permits and abstraction licences.

Influencing Emerging Environmental Law and Policy

Penny and her team frequently provide both public and private sector clients with advice on emerging environmental law or policy. This allowed those clients to then take that advice and use it to inform long term business strategies or to put pressure on government or trade bodies to influence change.

Environmental Training Courses for Environmental/Planning/Developer Professionals

Penny has a national reputation for her self-devised and self-delivered day long environmental law training courses, aimed at environmental, planning and developer professionals. She runs a suite of different courses pitched at various levels and at various locations around the country. Penny is also often invited “in-house” to provide bespoke courses on various environmental law issues, depending on the specific needs of her clients.

Recent Work

  • Penny, working together with a wider professional team for a large strategic land acquisition client, has succeeded in securing changes to proposed housing and environmental protection policies within the proposed Bradford Core Strategy. The changes were needed so as to protect the development potential of her client’s 500 dwelling site. Penny’s expertise in habitat legal protection was key to securing the required policy changes which were achieved by attacking the Council’s approach to its “Habitats Regulations Assessment” through the examination and adoption process of the Core Strategy. Following this success, the client instructed Penny to advise on its planning application strategy. Penny’s work contributed to securing a ‘no objection’ from Natural England and other consultees on the nature conservation issues, followed by a resolution to grant planning permission from the Council. Since then, the Secretary of State has called in the planning application and so Penny is now working further to secure planning permission following an inquiry in May 2019.
  • Penny devised and delivered a strategy for a large housebuilder client so as to persuade Natural England to issue a “test case” protected species (Great crested newt) licence, allowing the client to proceed with its development over the winter period without first having to trap and move the animals from the development site. This delivered for the client a significant time saving of nine months and of course the associated cost savings. This “test” case has led the way to Natural England becoming more flexible in its approach to the issue of protected species licences to developers.
  • Penny devised and delivered a strategy to secure, for a national strategic land management client, a protected species licence from Natural England at an early stage in the project – before full planning permission had been granted. This was a significant achievement since Natural England’s policy is that full planning permission is a pre-condition to the issue of such a licence. Early issue of this licence enabled the client to sell the site to a housebuilder for development without delay and at full value with no ongoing environmental constraints to development.
  • Penny devised, for a large County Council client in England, a successful approach to environmental assessment and mitigation of its 1,500 unit development scheme project, taking into account the scheme’s air quality impacts on nearby sensitive habitats. Penny identified the strategy and arguments needed to present the project in compliance with key environmental legislation so as to avoid objections to planning permission, ensure a smooth path towards planning approval and to prevent any successful judicial review of the permission. Planning permission has now been secured.
  • In an urgent situation, Penny formulated a strategy for a Midlands-based housing developer to allow construction works to proceed at a 1,000 unit site, and therefore costs to be minimised, where protected species were unexpectedly found on the development site whilst works were already underway. The local Wildlife Trust and Natural England ultimately confirmed Penny’s approach to be acceptable.
  • Penny advised on a successful strategy to obtain, for a large national housebuilder client, a Great crested newt licence from Natural England so as to deliver a 750 unit scheme in Essex. In difficult circumstances, involving an outline planning permission which imposed an approach for great crested newts that was neither practical nor acceptable to Natural England (from whom the protected species licence was needed), Penny devised a new strategy that was ultimately accepted by the planning authority under the outline permission and which Natural England also agreed to licence. As such the development was delivered on schedule.
  • Penny recently advised a Local Planning Authority on the correct approach they should adopt when assessing impacts of a development on protected species. This issue has been subject to much caselaw and the local planning authority needed clear advice on whether a particular development could be approved, given the significant level of local objection to it.
  • Penny has advised an industrial operator client on the implications of Brexit for its development projects in sensitive habitats areas, allowing them to prioritise the deliverability of their long term development interests.
  • Penny is currently working for two large non-governmental organisations on a large project focussing on identifying the challenges for continued legal protection of the marine environment given the UK’s decision to leave the EU. The result of this work will be used to put pressure on the government to maintain marine environmental standards as the EU departure process proceeds.
  • Penny advised a large UK non-governmental organisation on the (now adopted) Welsh Environment Act and its implications for the protection of the environment. Her advice was used to table amendments to the draft legislation, as it was debated through the devolved legislative adoption process.
  • Penny has been retained by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management for the last five years to provide a variety of annual environmental law day-long courses to its members and non members. She gets excellent feedback from her courses.
  • In the last 12 months, Penny has provided to 10 separate environmental consultancy companies bespoke day-long training courses on various environmental law topics for their staff. Again the feedback has been excellent.

Compliance & Regulatory

Penny receives frequent instructions from clients facing allegations of environmental crime or regulatory breaches from a wide range of regulators (such as Natural England, the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, the Forestry Commission or the Police). She advises her clients on the strength of their position, on whether to attend voluntary interviews under caution conducted by the regulator, and where necessary represents them at any interview under caution.

She has an excellent track record in these cases. In almost all the cases she has dealt with in the last 5 years, the investigations have been successfully resolved either prior to or following an interview under caution, but without issue of any court summons. The exception was a single case where a summons was issued but Penny was able to devise arguments to persuade the Crown Prosecution Service to withdraw the case so that no further action was taken.

Environmental Regulatory Compliance

Penny frequently advises her public and private sector clients on environmental and health and safety compliance, so as to ensure compliance but with the least regulatory burden on the client.  Her advice extends to conducting legally privileged “gap analysis” reviews of compliance; identifying further work needed to plug any gaps, drafting procedures or policies to fill any gaps, and training staff on the use of new policies and procedures and the relevant regulatory frameworks.

Recent Work

  • Penny successfully represented a large public body (with nationwide responsibilities for large areas of land/inland water) in its defence against serious wildlife crime allegations by the Metropolitan Police. Penny directed the client’s response to the investigation which involved three interviews under caution with the police and further requests from the police for witness statements from three employees. A Magistrates’ Court summons was issued against her client so commencing a formal criminal prosecution but Penny succeeded in identifying defects in it, so persuading the Crown Prosecution Service to dismiss the case entirely.
  • Penny has directed, for a water company client, the defence of two environmental investigations by the police, one in relation to alleged great crested newt offences; and one in relation to bat offences. In both cases Penny has secured a favourable outcome with no formal action taken.
  • Penny has advised a nationwide environmental charity on two allegations from the police relating to badger offences. In both cases the allegations were dropped following interviews under caution.
  • Penny has defended a large number of environmental consultancy clients in separate cases when facing criminal allegations from Natural England and/or the police relating to wildlife crime or breach of Natural England protected species licences. In all cases where defendant identity was an issue, Penny persuaded the regulator that the correct suspect should be the corporate entity, rather than any individual (so avoiding risk of loss of individual professional accreditation). She has also frequently secured creative resolutions to these cases, such as through the use of community resolutions to address any breaches, so as to avoid further action.
  • Penny has worked over 18 months with a large household-name UK client which suffered a significant and unexpected underground spill of diesel at one of its sites. Penny advised on the immediate emergency response to the incident, including management of contact with all environmental and health & safety regulators and management of the environmental/remediation consultants who undertook the clean-up operation. Her advice has ensured avoidance by the client of any environmental or health & safety liabilities. In addition her advice has enabled the client to identify and address areas of environmental and health & safety regulation where compliance needed further attention.
  • Penny has worked with a UK water company client on its internal environmental assessment policies and procedures, to ensure the company’s compliance with a wide range of environmental requirements. Penny’s (legally privileged) review of, and comments on, the policies and procedures mean that they will operate to secure compliance in the most effective way, and with the least burden on the client. She has also assisted in training the water company’s environmental and engineering staff so as to ensure that the relevant legal frameworks and procedures are fully understood.
  • Penny has advised one of the largest UK conservation charities on its approach to habitat restoration of large areas of redundant land using waste materials taken from other large infrastructure projects disposing of these materials. The use of such materials is highly regulated through the EU Waste Directive and requires an environmental permit from the Environment Agency. However, Penny and her team have identified an approach which allows lawful use of the materials to create new habitats with the least onerous form of environmental permit.
  • Penny has advised a large land-owning national charity on its internal environmental assessment procedures, to ensure that its land operations are carried out in compliance with environmental laws. Penny has provided a legally privileged review of their policies and procedures and suggested changes that should be made to make them more robust.



Related News & Articles [ 70 ]

To contact Penny or for more information…

Call: 0345 017 1133
Mobile: 0791 876 7811
Or email: Send an email


  • Chartered Institute of Ecology & Environmental Management

“Penny is unique in my experience; not only does she have and unparalleled expertise of her discipline but she combines that knowledge with an acute awareness of her clients’ commercial interests. I never hesitate to introduce her to my customers because I know that she will deliver pragmatic, definitive advice based on the most up to date case law.”

“I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the splendid work you did in securing our newt licence to the time scales required. I have no doubt we could not have achieved what we did without your help.”

“As for the course [Penny Simpson’s legal training course for environmental/ecological consultants/other professionals], it was 11/10. Brilliant. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve insisted that my colleagues go on the next one, and you should too!”

“She frequently advises real estate developers and local authorities on regulatory issues and is also recommended for contentious matters, including water contamination disputes.”

(Chambers & Partners, 2023)

“Penny Simpson is noted for her command of the law concerning natural environment and biodiversity protection.”

(Chambers & Partners, 2023)

“Penny Simpson has an unparalleled grasp of environmental and habitats regulations and would rate her as a market leader in this field. She has a forensic attention to detail and an ability to deliver pragmatic solutions.”

(The Legal 500, 2022)

“Penny Simpson has an impressive knowledge of protected species legislation and experience of working on a broad range of projects for various clients, allowing Freeths LLP to provide efficient and comprehensive advice.”

(The Legal 500, 2022)

“Freeths certainly know their stuff on environment law! Penny Simpson is the leader of a great team.”

(The Legal 500, 2022)

“Penny Simpson has a tenacious and incisively intelligent approach, which very obviously put all the other legal representatives involved into the shade.”

(Chambers & Partners, 2023)

“Penny is thorough and thinks of everything, down to the minute details. She is very impressive.” “Penny is able to quickly assess complex situations and has the ability to disseminate and communicate information in layman’s terms.”

(Chambers & Partners, 2022)

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