The realisation of Biodiversity Net Gains within planning policy and legislation

August 12th, 2019

This summer has seen several key changes in the way ecology is considered alongside development, particularly in relation to biodiversity net gains.

Firstly, the government published new Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on 21st July, reinforcing the movement towards embedding biodiversity net gains “as an integral part of policy and decision making”. This comes as part of the government’s broader targets, set out within the 25 Year Environmental Plan, to “leave the environment in a better state than we found it”.
The PPG sets out both strategic and small scale measures to achieve the ambition of net gains. These include strategic ‘zones of influence’ around protected sites, on-site or off-site habitat creation and the inclusion of simple features such as bird bricks, bat boxes and hedgehog highways within a scheme. Although some of these measures already exist within Local Policy, a national trend towards their implementation looks inevitable.

Following on from this, on 23rd July an update policy statement was published for the draft Environment Bill. This sets out a new mandatory requirement for developers to provide a 10% increase in habitat value compared to the pre-development baseline.

Then, on 29th July Natural England released the beta version of the Biodiversity Metric 2.0, replacing the historic 2012 Defra Metric. The Metric 2.0 looks to calculate the baseline biodiversity ‘value’ of a site and can be used to help forecast biodiversity losses and gains resulting from proposed development or land management changes. By assessing a number of characters, including habitat type, area, condition and connectivity, the Metric can quantify biodiversity losses or gains, allowing developers to demonstrate their commitments to achieving net gains in accordance with planning policy and forthcoming legislation.
Concerns have been raised over the achievability of 10% biodiversity net gain for developments, particularly where space is at a premium and a reduction of developable land could hinder viability. However, allowances have and will be made within the above policy, forthcoming legislation and Metric assessments to provide the option of mitigation off-site where it is not possible on-site.

These changes of course add to the existing responsibility on developers to put forward well designed, sustainable schemes. Inevitably, this reinforces the benefits of taking a carefully integrated, interdisciplinary approach. At CSA we believe our multi-disciplinary team offers the expertise and support required to help you deliver an attractive and well-considered final design.