Big Changes for Consideration of Biodiversity in the Planning System

The Environment Bill and Biodiversity Net Gain – Big Changes for consideration of Biodiversity in the Planning System

Currently the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF 2019) requires that all developments provide ‘net gains for biodiversity’ – defined as leaving biodiversity in a better state than before. The way this has been interpreted to date by Local Authorities is that a requirement for biodiversity enhancements is provided in most T+C Planning Act decisions based around recommendations provided in ecology reports and secured by Landscape Plans. The Environment Bill which was included in the Queen’s Speech at recall of parliament and is anticipated to be enshrined in law in early to mid-2020 will go much further than the existing provisions.

The Bill will require all developments to demonstrate a 10% gain in biodiversity. This will be measured by using DEFRA’s Metric which essentially places a numerical value on the habitats pre and post development based on their distinctiveness (quality), area, links to wider ecological networks and essentially their ‘recreatability’. Crucially the metric places a value on all habitats, so unlike the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process; even low value habitats are included and are not ‘scoped out’. As well as requiring use of the Metric, the Bill will also require that all retained land is managed and monitored for a period of 25 years and that appropriate financial commitments are made to ensure adequate funding for this. Where there is insufficient land within the planning application boundary, an offset will need to be secured externally.

Clearly this will place a new financial burden on many developments, especially those which are small or those with nominal green infrastructure provision/a tight red line. Some marginal developments may even become financially unviable. It will become crucial to involve ecologists at the earliest possible opportunity, ideally at feasibility stage; so that clear advice on the potential opportunities and risks from a biodiversity perspective can be provided. There are also potential opportunities for unused land to be brokered for offset capacity.

Our national Planning, EIA, Landscape and Ecology teams work together for the benefit of our clients. The in-house communication between these disciplines ensures positive development outcomes once the Environment Bill becomes law. Several Local Authorities are already requiring this process to be implemented in advance of the National roll-out via the Bill.

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