Chapter 15 of the Draft Revised NPPF published at the start of March 2018, introduces some changes for Biodiversity and the Natural Environment, bringing the framework up to date and aligning it with DEFRA’s 25 Year Environment Plan (published in January 2018). Some of the key elements are:
> Improving biodiversity is now cited as an Environmental “objective” (Paragraph 8c) as opposed to a ‘role’ of the framework. However, the objectives are not seen as criteria against which every decision can or should be judged (Paragraph 9).
> Reference to avoiding “net loss of bio-diversity” (NPPF , 2012 – Paragraph 9) has been removed, with a move towards “minimising impacts and providing net gains for biodiversity” (Paragraph 168d) whilst retaining the mitigation hierarchy approach (Paragraph 173a).
> Additional policy is included suggesting that plans should take a strategic approach to strengthening existing networks of habitats and green infrastructure (Paragraph 169).
> For those few schemes where conservation and biodiversity is the primary objective, these should be “supported” (Paragraph 173d) rather than just “permitted”, as previously indicated. A move away from ‘preservation’ to ‘conservation’ of ecological networks, priority habitats and species (Paragraph 172b) is indicated, accepting the dynamic nature of ecology and how it should be viewed.
> An important reminder is that the presumption in favourable of sustainable development does not apply where development requiring Appropriate Assessment (AA) under the Birds or Habitats Directive is being considered, planned or determined (Paragraph 175). Whilst this reinforces the influence of EU legislation, how directly effective such legislation will be upon the planning process in the future remains to be seen.
> A potentially significant change relates to loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats including, but not limited to, ancient woodland. The draft text states that schemes which result in such impacts to these habitats and features should be refused unless there are wholly exceptional reasons (such as for nationally significant infrastructure projects) AND where a suitable mitigation strategy exists (Paragraph 173c and footnote 49). The wording also maintains a high level of protection for individual aged or veteran trees outside of ancient woodland.
> Recognition has been given of the wider benefits from Natural Capital including from trees and woodland, giving greater backing to the retention and extension of tree cover within developments.
> A greater focus is given to development delivering “measurable net gains” for biodiversity (Paragraph 172b and 173d), potentially encouraging the wider use of biodiversity metrics.