08 Mar 2019 Making Biodiversity Net Gain achievable through the use of Conservation Covenants?
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.
There is a live Defra consultation relating to conservation covenants which were introduced as a concept in the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan; this closes on 22 March 2019.
What are conservation covenants?
A conservation covenant is an agreement that is designed to help landowners and other organisations (such as charities and public bodies) formally safeguard land for conservation. Defra and the Law Commission prepared a proposal for conservation covenants, which emerged from the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan and are now seeking views on how they could work. Defra has advised that their use would be voluntary, cost-effective and that the covenants could potentially work alongside s106 agreements. They could, therefore, provide an additional tool to help landowners or conservation bodies secure positive long-term management for biodiversity. The conservation covenant may include wider environmental assets and services such as carbon storage or flood alleviation.
Why does this consultation matter?
This consultation looks in more detail at the mechanics of biodiversity net gain delivery. If a conservation covenant is to be included as part of a development then early consideration of this as an option is essential. The costs associated with this need to be factored into land prices and viability assessments.
A covenant would be legally binding and would continue to apply should land-ownership change. This may have implications for the minerals industry for example, or where there is a consortium of housing developers working together who may wish to dispose of land quickly. The covenants can be modified or terminated through a formal process.
It is important for developers to contribute ideas to the shaping of the delivery mechanisms so that biodiversity net gain can be achieved through a well-designed system, without being unduly onerous, allowing the delivery of development that is sustainable. Consultation responses can be submitted until 22 March 2019.
Further information on BSG’s Net Gain capability can be found here: Net Gain & Biodiversity Offsetting