The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with more than 1 in 7 species facing extinction, according to the WWF. Earlier this year it was announced that from November onwards, all housing and infrastructure developments are set to be ‘nature positive’ in line with the Environment Act. The act aims to halt the decline of all species registered in the UK by 2030. Biodiversity is a key aspect for achieving this aim.
What is Biodiversity Net Gain?
Biodiversity Net Gain is an approach to planning and development that leaves biodiversity in a measurably better state than it was in before the development took place. Measurable improvements are made by creating or enhancing habitats in association with the development. Improvements can be made on or off-site as long as the habitats are being left in a better state than they were prior to the development. On-site biodiversity means the location of where the development is taking place and off-site refers to either land owned away from the development site or units bought from another land manager.
What can Local Authorities and Housing Developments Expect from November Onwards?
As part of the Environment Act, all developments in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, will be expected to deliver a 10% increase in Biodiversity Net Gain for every development. This means all developments must try to avoid the loss of a habitat and if a habitat is lost, they must be compensated on or off-site. Additionally, by November, Local Authorities will need to be able to assess and determine that all planning applications are legally compliant with the 10% aim for biodiversity. To make these assessments, a clear local plan policy helps provide guidance to ensure the changes are delivered locally.
Builders of smaller sites, spaces defined as under 10 homes where the site is under one hectare, or on plots of 0.5 hectares where the number of homes is not yet known, will have until April 2024. This gives them more time to prepare and apply best practice knowledge from observing activity on bigger development sites where policies are already in place.
Including Biodiversity Net Gain in Local Plans
With the mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain coming into effect, establishing BNG as part of local plan policies gives local authorities an opportunity to test applications of BNG ahead of the legislative session requirements in November. The benefits of locally specified policies allow authorities to set out strategies and considerations they require developers to consider when delivering BNG, ensuring it is carried out to directly benefit locally important habitats.
Additionally, a locally specific policy further helps ensure BNG links with other strategic environmental objectives the local authority has. By planning ahead, developments are considered more to help maintain habitats and provide them in the correct areas where they are needed. It helps to establish BNG is included more in on-site rather than off-site developments and creates a holistic approach to sustainability which encompasses the wider environmental strategic objectives of the council. To help councils implement the plans, the Government has recently announced £16 million of funding for Local Planning Authorities to support the enhancement of biodiversity in the council regions.
Guidance for Biodiversity Net Gain
From November onwards, all development projects must ensure more biodiversity is gained than is lost throughout developments and that there is the potential for up to 20% BNG to be delivered if required by the local authority. This is where local authorities need to consider including biodiversity in specific policies to make BNG requirements in planning applications a lot smaller.
A Biodiversity Net Gain Statement will be required alongside a planning application before a Biodiversity Net Gain Plan is submitted and approved prior to the commencement of development. This is designed to provide a clear and consistent document where the developer can demonstrate their BNG and a planning authority can check whether the proposals meet the biodiversity net gain objective.
On-Site Biodiversity Net Gain
Developers may be able to include enhancing or creating habitats in their BNG proposals if they are already included in the development too. The requirements for these habitats currently are:
- They comply with a statutory obligation or policy, e.g. green infrastructure, environmental impact assessment (EIA) compensation or sustainable drainage
- They provide river basin management plan mitigation and enhancement measures
- They provide mitigation or compensation for protected species or sites, for example, nutrient mitigation
These factors may contribute to the BNG requirements of development, just as offsite compensation for protected sites and species may contribute also. Though it is stated that at least 10% of BNG should be completed as part of other activities such as habitat enhancement.
Off-Site Biodiversity Net Gain
In circumstances where on-site biodiversity improvements are not possible, developers will be able to pay for improvements on other sites elsewhere by purchasing ‘units’ via a private, off-site market. A government-run statutory credit scheme is currently being set up which developers will be able to access as a last resort with off-site biodiversity.
If offsite units are being used as part of the BNG plan for the development, they need to be legally secure for at least 30 years. If they have not been registered before the planning application is made, these sites cannot count towards the BNG of a development.
Habitat creation too should not be counted if this is being required to fulfil other requirements set out by:
- Restocking conditions relating to a tree felling licence or a restocking notice
- Marine licensing
- Remediation under the environmental damage regulations
Developers will further be required to demonstrate how they are replacing or improving the biodiversity of a location through biodiversity metric trading. Biodiversity metric trading rules require that any habitat affected within a development needs to be replaced on a ‘like for like’ principle, either off or on-site.
The measures coming into place in November are a key part of the Environment Act and the wider government aims of addressing the risks of climate change.