The planning system in England may be about to change as we know it, as the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan is looking to embed net gain for biodiversity within the system. This new consultation looks at whether the approach should be mandatory for developments that require planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA). We hope that this will ensure that biodiversity net gain remains at the forefront of the planning system, protecting our natural environment for years to come.
The main proposals are as follows:
The creation of a ‘biodiversity unit’ metric.
Plans would hopefully include the introduction of an easily accessible tool, meaning that the calculations would be automated, resulting in a standardised ‘biodiversity unit’ metric used to apply different values to habitats. This tool would aim to allow calculations to be made for on-site biodiversity net gain, as well as determine the off-site compensatory habitats. Simply put, the more a development destroys biodiversity units, the greater the level of habitat creation needed as compensation. This would come as a great cost to the developer, emphasising the importance of protecting our natural environment in an economic sense.
To mandate biodiversity net gain across all new developments in England.
The proposed approach would be delivered within the existing planning and development process, but would require developers to assess the overall environmental impact to habitats on the site. Proposals would aim to provide an overall improvement of at least 10%, measured in biodiversity units. This is however a recommended suggestion and we hope that many developers would strive to have as large an increase in biodiversity net gain as possible. If however a developer is unable to mitigate or compensate for the loss in biodiversity, they would be required to pay into a central fund allocated for improving the natural environment elsewhere in England.
The introduction of a tariff system.
Any shortfall in biodiversity units measured against the net gain obligation would need to be compensated with a cash payment. This would ensure that the natural environment elsewhere in England would be improved to try and counter the loss of habitat.
What justification does the government have for these proposals?
The government asserts that the hidden environmental costs of planning and development are not being systematically considered and there are no mechanisms in place to compensate for resulting harm to the local natural environment. In their view, the benefits of creating greener developments are currently not fully understood or measured. A biodiversity net gain approach would ideally aim to fix ‘the balance and provide clear mechanisms and opportunities for developers to leave a legacy of environmental enhancement.’ In other words, the approach would aim to create an environmental standard for planners and developers to work to, ensuring that the natural environment remains protected and conserved for future generations.
Currently, developers and local planning authorities (LPAs) work throughout the planning process to assess biodiversity and to avoid significant environmental harm with their developments. Whilst the current system works well to avoid the most severe impacts on biodiversity and the best sites for wildlife, the gradual erosion of lower value habitats is often overlooked. Collectively, even the smaller ‘insignificant’ losses of habitat add up to significant rates of biodiversity loss overall.
Voluntary considerations of biodiversity loss are a strong start, however it creates an uneven development market. Contrasting this, a mandatory approach to biodiversity net gain would “reduce inconsistency, provide greater certainty for developers and provide a more efficient means for LPAs to implement national planning authority whilst addressing local environment priorities.”
What is the government proposing?
The proposals would be developed within the existing framework and practice for delivering biodiversity. However the emphasis would be on creating available and consistent centralised data, at both national and local level, to be used within the assessment and measurement process. A clear baseline from which to start assessments will be available, along with clear guidance for developers and LPAs, making it as simple as possible to ensure biodiversity net gain is achieved.
Developers which are unable to mitigate biodiversity loss on site or to purchase the required biodiversity units locally could be required to pay a cash tariff on their net gain obligation shortfall. The price would be set at a level to encourage local habitat compensation, estimated to be between £9,000 and £15,000 per biodiversity unit.
So why do you need Ethical Partnership?
Ultimately, biodiversity net gain means that if you work with a developer or planner who is not focussed on protecting and conserving the local natural environment, costs may be much higher. At Ethical Partnership, our business is focused around our values. In everything that we do, we seek to protect and conserve the natural environment and finite resources of the planet and reflect this in the way we advise our clients, design schemes and select our partners.
We offer a comprehensive range of ecology and landscape services to both public and private sector clients to enable them to design developments and other schemes that are sensitive to the needs of wildlife, landscape and habitats. We help our clients protect and conserve local and global environmental resources, have been successful in securing standard and bespoke environmental permits and have an excellent working relationship with the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.
With such as vast range of experience, no planning consultancy is better suited to tackle net gain for biodiversity as we are. So contact us today for a no-obligation quote so we can work out how to best help you achieve your planning goals and together protect the environment for future generations.