Progress with Biodiversity Net Gain has been announced, as The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) set forth a consultation to shape the secondary legislation, policy and guidance that will translate the aims of the Environment Act 2021 into real, tangible gains for our environment, society and industry.
Biodiversity Net Gain – What is it?
The concept of quantifying the net impact of a development proposal on biodiversity is not new. Currently, planning policy promotes biodiversity improvements through the planning system where possible but, until now, there has been no legal requirement for developments to deliver net gain.
The Environment Act changes this and through amendments to planning law, will require all planning permissions in England (subject to exemptions) to be granted subject to a scheme being able to demonstrate that a 10% biodiversity net gain can be achieved.
What is being consulted on?
DEFRA are consulting on the practical and legal implementation details of the new BNG requirement for development. During the consultation, key questions will assist in:
- defining the scope of the biodiversity net gain requirement for Town and Country Planning Act 1990 development,
- applying the biodiversity gain objective to different types of development, and
- establishing how the mandatory biodiversity net gain requirement will work for Town and Country Planning Act 1990 development.
The consultation presents a significant opportunity to influence the ways in which development can be shaped to deliver lasting benefits for wildlife and to people’s ability to experience nature where they live and work.
In 2018, consultation on making BNG mandatory for new development through the planning system indicated broad support for proposals, and the UK Government included provisions for this mandatory gain in the Environment Plan. The Environment Plan is a 25-year strategy for a ‘Green Future,’ setting out government action “to help the natural world regain and retain good health.” By adopting the plan, achievements will include:
- Clean air
- Clean and plentiful water
- Thriving plants and wildlife
- A reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as flooding and drought
- Using resources from nature more sustainably and efficiently
- Enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment.
This will effectively relieve pressures on the environment by mitigating and adapting to climate change, minimising waste, managing exposure to chemicals and enhancing biosecurity.
These provisions will help to make biodiversity a prominent consideration in development and are expected to generate a market for biodiversity units worth around £135 million. The Act sets out the framework for biodiversity net gain requirements whilst leaving some detail to be provided through secondary legislation, policy, and guidance. The Environment Act’s biodiversity net gain provisions apply:
- for development for which planning permission is granted under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, a new planning condition for net gain that must be met before development may commence, and
- for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects consented under the Planning Act 2008, a new requirement to meet a biodiversity net gain objective. This will take effect after the UK Government has published a biodiversity gain statement, or statements, setting out the objective and how the requirement is to be met, including transitional arrangements.
Both requirements are subject to separate transition arrangements which will be discussed during the DEFRA consultation.
What does this mean for developers?
The BNG policy obliges development to deliver at least 10% greater biodiversity associated with their sites. This will fundamentally shift the way habitat losses are considered as part of development. It is therefore vital that the DEFRA solidify the right approach to improve such environmental outcomes and “improve certainty to make the process less burdensome for development”.
Responses to the consultation will shape the secondary legislation, policy and delivery plans which will translate the Environment Act’s aims into real gains for our environment, society and industry. Working directly with Local Planning Authorities in the consultation is important within policymaking processes, to strengthen the successes of the plan and to ensure all future development will be monitored and comply with biodiversity requirements. The consultation will help establish a specific and robust meaning of BNG, removing ambiguity and ensuring environmental sustainability can be upheld by planning policy.
In conclusion, BNG will help deliver measurable improvements for the environment by creating and enhancing habitats in association with development. This can be achieved on-site, off-site or through a combination of both measures. The proposed requirement is framed as a pre-commencement condition which must be discharged before any development can begin. The planning authority must approve the development’s BNG plan, as long as requirements have been successfully met, such as the pre-development biodiversity value, the proposed approach to enhancing biodiversity on-site, and any proposed off-site biodiversity enhancement that have been planned or arranged for the development.
This approach to biodiversity gain information can aid decision-making by providing planning authorities and consultees with an understanding of how proposed development intends to meet the national BNG objective and to create a more sustainable planning system.
You can read more about the consultation and have your say here.