Local Plan Watch: Biodiversity Net Gain
The Environment Act 2021 mandates all new developments in England to provide a 10% uplift in biodiversity, to be maintained for a 30-year period. DEFRA’s biodiversity metric uses habitat type as a proxy, placing a value on the biodiversity a habitat is likely to support by allocating ‘biodiversity units’.
A development can achieve biodiversity uplift through habitat creation and enhancement onsite, offsite or a mixture of both, with onsite delivery given highest priority. Where a project is liable to significant delays due to not being able to secure sufficient unit uplift onsite or offsite within the same district, developers may purchase statutory credits which will become available from the Government when the secondary legislation is in place, however these will be priced highly as a disincentive.
Offsite Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) presents a significant opportunity to contribute to Nature Recovery Networks (NRNs), through placement in strategically significant locations that buffer and connect existing areas of high ecological value. Landscape-scale BNG schemes provide an opportunity to maximise the environmental outcomes by considering whole ecosystems in the habitat design and management, and schemes of this scale are expected to be more cost-effective than smaller-scale equivalents. The 30-year period required for BNG delivery allows habitats to mature, resulting in sites which are significant resources for nature and potentially also benefitting the local community.
Another consideration is the delivery body who will create and manage the habitats within a BNG scheme, which will be dependent on the proposed habitat types and nature of the scheme. Conservation organisations are well-placed to take on this responsibility as their principal objective is the management of land for the purpose of environmental conservation. Additionally, their experience of habitat creation and long-term management often provides assurance to Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) that schemes will achieve their targets.
There are two main methods for BNG implementation: habitat creation to order, or habitat banking. The first results in habitat creation commencing once the associated development receives planning consent in a ‘made-to-order’ fashion. The latter involves advanced habitat creation where the resulting biodiversity units are banked and when there is a development requirement the associated units are then retired. In both circumstances the landowner will be required to register the BNG scheme on the biodiversity gains site register (when available).
A contractual agreement must be in place to secure a site for the purpose of BNG delivery, specifying the responsibilities of the involved parties. This agreement can outline that at the point of a unit trade, the developer is no longer liable for the delivery of offsite BNG and this falls on the landowner or appointed delivery body. Secondary legislation will provide this in the form of a conservation covenant, however until this legislation is in place (expected late 2023) the type of agreement should be agreed with the relevant LPA. The land will remain dedicated to the delivery of BNG for the 30-year period, regardless of any change in land ownership.