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.
BSG Ecology recently attended two events in London focussing on biodiversity, planning and the environment. There are many changes taking place in this area of our work and these events proved useful in keeping us up to date on current thinking and practice and on potential future changes to how biodiversity is addressed through the planning system.