Biodiversity Net Gain and its impact on future infrastructure and housing projects
Biodiversity Net Gain is an approach to development which aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than beforehand. Implemented correctly, it should have a positive ecological impact, delivering improvements through habitat creation or enhancement.
It’s by no means a new concept, in fact Biodiversity Net Gain has been best practice among responsible infrastructure companies, developers and landowners for some time now. Bell Ingram, for example, has been working for a major utilities client on a project to provide biodiversity enhancement for a major pipeline development in the North-West of England. Our land agents have been tasked with identifying and acquiring nearby land with the potential for habitat creation and enhancement. The project started in 2020 with completion scheduled for 2030.
It’s worth noting that Biodiversity Net Gain has been a part of planning policy in England through the National Planning Policy Framework for a couple of years, although it has not been widely adopted.
However, the principle has now become enshrined in law as one of the more ambitious provisions of the new Environment Act 2021. This legal requirement, which applies only to England*, requires new developments to provide a 10% Biodiversity Net Gain to be maintained for a period of at least 30 years in order to secure planning permission.
While this condition has no legal effect yet (and will be brought into force through secondary legislation at a date not yet known), the provisions are far reaching and complex.
In essence, Biodiversity Net Gain means developers in England must ensure their projects deliver biodiversity improvements to meet the required 10% increase. To do this, they must evidence a project’s final Biodiversity Net Gain value using the specified Defra biodiversity metric if they want their plans to get a green light.
To achieve Biodiversity Net Gain, proposals must follow the ‘mitigation hierarchy’ which compels planning applicants to avoid harm in the first instance, then mitigate or finally compensate for losses on-site, off-site or through a combination of the two solutions. These measures will be implemented in planning conditions.
*The Biodiversity Net Gain principles set out in the Environment Act only applies to England, but the Scottish Government has committed to bring forward a new biodiversity strategy in October and its delivery plan six months later.
With a background in environmental management, Ben Hewlett is a Land Agent based in Bell Ingram’s Northwich office where he works on behalf of our utilities clients.