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England first to make Biodiversity Net Gain a legal requirement

  • by JW

Local Planning Authorities must integrate Biodiversity Net Gain at a local level.


What does Biodiversity Net Gain mean for local authorities ? The Local Government Association has a huge resource available online – and helpfully starts with this collaborative definition:

Biodiversity net gain (BNG) is an approach to development, and/or land management, that aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than it was beforehand… Biodiversity net gain delivers measurable improvements for biodiversity by creating or enhancing habitats in association with development. Biodiversity net gain can be achieved on-site, off-site or through a combination of on-site and off-site measures. For a simple overview, view Natural England’s Introduction to Biodiversity Net Gain on YouTube.

The Environment Act 2021 makes biodiversity net gain mandatory for all but small sites and some exemptions from 12 February 2024 and for small sites from 2 April 2024. Councils will need to be ready to meet the new legal requirements then.

Yes, from last week, the UK Government announced the ‘world-first’ scheme to deliver a nature boost for housing developments – as reported by the Climate Action website:

From the 12 February, all major housing developments are required to deliver at least a 10% benefit for nature with England becoming the first country in the world to make Biodiversity Net Gain a legal requirement.

Biodiversity Net Gain, introduced through the world-leading Environment Act, will help deliver the UK government’s commitment to halt species decline by 2030. It means developers in England are now legally required to deliver at least a 10% increase in biodiversity when major building projects are undertaken. Many housing developers are already successfully operating Biodiversity Net Gain and recognising the benefits for people and nature. But from the 12th February, it will be mandatory. To help Local Planning Authorities integrate Biodiversity Net Gain at a local level, £10.6 million of funding is being committed to help local authorities recruit and expand ecologist teams, investing in green jobs and increasing capacity to create new wildlife-rich habitats alongside developments.

Or, as the government’s own press release would have it, new housing developments are to deliver a nature boost in a landmark move:

In a world first, developers in England are now required to deliver 10% Biodiversity Net Gain when building new housing, industrial or commercial developments... The Green Quarter is a case study of ambitious regeneration in Ealing. 

There are nevertheless concerns from the planning professions, as legal experts warn of delays as the biodiversity net gain requirement comes into force; the building professions are asking what architects need to know about biodiversity net gain legislation; whilst construction welcomes the statutory biodiversity net gain but warns of the burden on local planning.

Finally, as reported in the Guardian, yes, England brings in biodiversity rules to force builders to compensate for loss of nature – but there will indeed be pressures on the planning and regulatory bodies:

BNG is regulated by several bodies, including local authorities and government agencies. This is seen a strength of the scheme, as it avoids the problem of “marking your own homework” associated with voluntary markets. However, regulators lack the staff to check the pledged habitat benefits actually materialise. Zu Ermgassen was part of a study that found that more than a quarter of BNG units are at risk of leading to no tangible increases in biodiversity because there is no monitoring system in place. There are also concerns that there are too few ecologists to oversee habitats or score them correctly. Some may lack independence if they are employed by the developer.

Tom Oliver, a professor of applied ecology at the University of Reading, said environmental regulations are typically let down by lax enforcement. “BNG’s success hinges on effective environmental regulation, monitoring and policing, and yet when you look at all our past case studies they clearly show a failure of environmental enforcement and policing,” he said. “You’re putting in a new approach that relies on mechanisms working when they don’t.”