BSG Ecology was commissioned by Thomas White Oxford Ltd, the development company of St John’s College, to provide ecological support for Oxford North. The project aims to deliver a new sustainable business community that will include large-scale new employment, housing and infrastructure and will generate approximately £150 million GVA per annum for the local economy. BSG provided wide-ranging ecological survey and assessment support, with the main challenge achieving a biodiversity net gain solution in what at the time was a rapidly developing new area of policy. Proactive consultation with Oxford City Council identified a range of onsite and offsite habitat creation measures to address net gain policy requirements. At a meeting on 16 December 2019, Oxford City Council resolved to approve, subject to the necessary legal agreements, Oxford North’s planning application, submitted by Thomas White Oxford.
Biodiversity Net Gain was a particular challenge as this issue was addressed in the context of a changing policy backdrop. During much of the survey and design process national planning policy (the original NPPF) stated that net gain should be delivered ‘where possible,’ but by the time of the finalisation of the proposals Local Plan Policy had evolved to include a requirement for 5 % net gain. A further layer of complexity was added by the Area Action Plan for the site: the targets for number of residential units, sustainable transport and employment provision were demanding, reducing the options to deliver biodiversity net gain within the site boundary.
Understanding the way in which policy was likely to evolve, we initially reviewed the opportunities for net gain within the site. Species rich habitats could be created in three areas of public open space, totalling in excess of 9 hectares, and incorporated in the Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS) scheme, but a deficit remained. To address this we engaged in early discussions with both Planning Ecologists and the Parks Department of Oxford City Council, with the aim of identifying further opportunities for enhancement in areas accessible to the local population.
The outcome of this process has been that 3 hectares of land has been identified on which species-rich grassland can be created, complementing the work of a group of local residents who have already created meadow, wetland areas and undertaken woodland management on adjacent land. In addition, there is the option of contributing to the Wild Oxford initiative, which aims to bring reserves across the city into positive management and help people discover them.
A resolution to approve Oxford North’s planning application was made on 16 December 2019. Construction is likely to start once all pre-commencement conditions are discharged.
“BSG Ecology’s understanding of emerging policy with regard to biodiversity net gain made the process of delivering the planning application for this hugely important project for the local economy far more straightforward. They have provided high quality ecological advice throughout, and have engaged proactively with stakeholders to achieve solutions on our behalf. The outcome will be a project that delivers for both the economy and biodiversity.” William Donger, Director, Thomas White Oxford Ltd.