Biodiversity netting gains in Greater Cambridge
South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council (Greater Cambridge) are currently consulting on a new Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) which includes an ambitious Biodiversity Net Gain target for planning applications. Planning Associate, Anthony Child explains more in his blog.
The SPD in Context
The draft Biodiversity SPD builds on the policies of the existing Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire Local Plans, as well as relevant national legislation, providing guidance for applicants on how development of all scales can seek to increase biodiversity to support high quality development in one of the country’s fastest growing areas.
It adds to the direction of travel at both a local and national level for biodiversity enhancement alongside the incoming Environment Bill, the July 2021 revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), Greater Cambridge’s Call for ‘Green’ Sites and Natural Cambridgeshire’s Doubling Nature Vision to name but a few.
The most relevant section for applicants to be aware of is Section 5 ‘Biodiversity in the development management process’, which sets out various measures under ten ‘Biodiversity Issues’ to consider when preparing applications.
10% BNG? Try for 20%
Unsurprisingly, Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) steals the headlines, and for good reason as it is seen as one of the primary mechanisms for restoring biodiversity through development. As expected, achieving a 10% BNG, aligning with the emerging Environment Bill, is mentioned. Whilst not yet adopted policy in Greater Cambridge, many applicants in the last year or so will be familiar with this being a given requirement for their proposals.
Going a step further, the SPD adds an important caveat and perhaps a glimpse into what the new ecology policy in the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan may look like. It advises that if new local policy instructs a higher BNG percentage than that nationally mandated (through the Environment Bill), than the higher of the two amounts shall be the minimum requirement. Local strategies and groups, including the Arc Environment Working Group (EWG), are currently recommending a 20% BNG to achieve biodiversity targets and this may well be the requirement enshrined in local policy in the not too distant future.
Additional measures within the SPD include:
- Calculating pre-development biodiversity value before any site clearance or management work has been undertaken;
- Securing Ecological Design Strategies or species specific Biodiversity Mitigation Strategies via condition;
- Biodiversity Gain Plans to accompany applications;
- 50% of dwellings in major applications to have bird/bat boxes;
- For commercial development, 10 bird/bat boxes for the first 1,000sqm and 1 box for every additional 100sqm.
What does this mean for applicants?
There are no immediate changes for applicants, as the SPD is not yet formally adopted and cannot create new policy. However, it’s another signal of biodiversity’s arrival as a key planning consideration in Greater Cambridge. Applicants should include ecologists within their project teams at the outset to ensure that biodiversity measures are being considered when designing development, not just architecturally but also engineered elements such as drainage.
Alongside this, ecological assessments and enhancements should be discussed at the pre-application stage with officers and presented clearly and thoroughly in application documents. As officers, members and local communities are rightly showing an increased interest in how development is improving biodiversity and it can be a key benefit in the planning balance.
Finally, don’t forget at least 10% Biodiversity Net Gain… for now.
The SPD is currently out for consultation until 17 September 2021 and could be adopted towards the end of this year or early 2022. After this, it will be a material consideration in determining planning application across both council areas.