This article discusses the current application of biodiversity gain policy to development in England, recognising the distinction between current policy provision and forthcoming legal requirements. Although the progress of the forthcoming Environment Bill is delayed in the Parliamentary timetable until later in 2021, biodiversity gain is already a national planning policy requirement; however, expectations vary between local planning authorities.
On 2 July 2020 BSG Ecology and LDA Design held a joint webinar on the realities and implications of Biodiversity Net Gain. Attendees included developers (from various sectors), architects, and local authority planners.
The British Standards Institute (BSI) has launched a public consultation on the draft British Standard - BS 8683 Process for designing and implementing Biodiversity Net Gain – Specification. The main purpose of BS 8683 is to set out the requirements for the biodiversity net gain assessment process for all developments across the UK.
BSG Ecology Director Peter Shepherd was recently invited for a second time to address the European Criminal Law Association – this time on the subject of Protecting the Environment after Brexit.
The nature of the subject matter obviously requires a degree of ‘crystal ball gazing,’ so the talk started with what we know; among a series of depressing statistics, the State of Nature Report 2019 highlighted declines in 41 % of UK species, identified that 15 % are threatened with extinction, that we have lost 133 species entirely since 1970 and that the rate of biodiversity loss in the UK has been greater than the global average. The report is one of many sources that identify how critical it is that we take action to reverse biodiversity declines.
The commitment of the Government to mandate biodiversity net gain in England through the Environment Bill, and the revision of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2018 to put more emphasis on net gain are both likely to drive a requirement for higher resolution habitat data to be routinely collected for development projects.
Habitat classification needs to be robust in order to ensure that biodiversity metrics critical to calculating net gain can be accurately applied and their outcomes withstand scrutiny by nature conservation consultees and third parties. The UK Habitat Classification is a potentially important tool in de-risking planning applications, as it provides a more robust outcome than Phase 1 habitat survey.
Since the Government announced plans for new developments to deliver Biodiversity Net Gain on a mandatory basis in England, many local planning authorities have begun the process of incorporating net gain policies into their Local Plans. It is crucial that developers, planning consultants and ecological consultants understand these policies if successful projects are to be delivered. BSG Ecology has therefore developed a policy tracker for England to identify where Local Plan biodiversity net gain policies exist, where they are in preparation, and the Local Plan review stage authorities have reached.
On 4 April 2019 BSG Ecology, DEFRA and LDA Design collaborated to deliver a breakfast seminar on biodiversity net gain. The seminar brought together attendees from local planning authorities and Homes England, with those from the higher education, minerals and house building sectors.
It is likely that delivery of biodiversity net gain will be made mandatory in England, meaning that developments will need to use a metric to measure the extent of net gain required. It is not yet certain, however, how biodiversity net gain will be delivered. Given the need to provide additional land, the use of conservation covenants may become key to the delivery mechanism. Developers need to understand and contribute to developing this mechanism in order to achieve a practical and sustainable outcome.
Steve Betts, BSG Ecology Partner, led a biodiversity offsetting and net gain seminar to a large audience of developers and planning consultants in Newcastle on 27 February 2019.
A key aim of the session was to share learning and promote good practice. The session set out a brief history of biodiversity offsetting and net gain in England and provided an overview of planning policy, which currently varies both locally and nationally.
This article on biodiversity and the new NPPF summarises what the guidance has to say about sustainable development and biodiversity net gain. We also look at whether we are now clearer about how net gain is to be measured, and whether we are likely to see more consistency in its application by local planning authorities and decision taking.