The Environment Act received Royal Assent on 09 November 2021, introducing Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), a new regime which is a key component of the Government’s 25-year Environment Plan.
The Environment Act extends to 264 pages, with reference to BNG featured throughout. Whilst it is a lengthy read, it is clear that BNG will become a significant consideration in the lifecycle of a development, and it is crucial that developers and individuals involved in that sphere fully understand the concept.
BNG is an approach to land management activity that seeks to leave the natural environment in a ‘measurably’ better state than it was prior to development taking place.
Whilst there has been much discussion about BNG in recent years, the Environment Bill making its way onto the statute book and Local Planning Authorities’ decisions to embrace BNG strategies in Local Plans has brought BNG requirements into sharper focus.
The principles of BNG require that all new development demonstrates a minimum of 10% BNG compared to its pre-development state through the use of DEFRA’s Biodiversity Metric (Version 3.0 at the moment). Developers are expected to demonstrate a net biodiversity gain on site or have a mitigation strategy in place such as purchasing credits to off-set the impact through a wider management scheme.
Natural England will be responsible for developing a biodiversity gain sites register and statutory biodiversity credit sales service. Each site must be maintained for a minimum period of 30 years, although the register must be kept under review by the Secretary of State, who has the power to increase the period for which habitat enhancement must be maintained. It is understood that Natural England will provide some clarity in the New Year on how Local Planning Authorities and other users will search and view the register, as well as how developers can purchase statutory biodiversity credits.
Implications for Planning & Development
There had been much debate about whether a transition period would be appropriate to allow for necessary mechanisms to be put in place before the BNG requirements are enforced.
This has now been reflected within the Environment Act, with a two year transition period in place to allow Local Planning Authorities to prepare BNG policies, and for site registers and credits sales platforms to be set up in preparation for the November 2023 deadline.
The transition period also allows time for secondary legislation to be prepared to provide more detail on setting up the registers of offsite BNG sites and how the BNG requirements might apply to different types of planning applications. A lot of this activity will fall to Local Planning Authorities and also Natural England as the holders of the credit service; resourcing the departments properly will be key to the success of BNG.
There is a lot to consider with the introduction of BNG. Below are some of the key planning questions to ask to be BNG ready:
It would make sense for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and Natural England to align the BNG objectives and secondary legislation with any remaining planning reforms arising from the Planning White Paper; the timing works well to dovetail with this next year.
In the meantime, take a look at our brochure to help ensure you are ready to meet your BNG requirements. Alternatively, you can talk to our Planning & Development, Land Management or Farming teams who can advise both developers and land owners on BNG – in identifying off-site BNG sites, brokering agreements and advising on their terms, and advising on the value of biodiversity credits.
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