Row of cows at farm in Shropshire

Biodiversity Net Gain – giving back to nature

15/05/23Biodiversity Net Gain – giving back to nature

We have recently been engaged to carry out a valuation on a greenfield development site in Telford. Any prospective development that takes place on the site will be affected by the imminent changes to Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG).

This is a government initiative to develop land, while contributing to the recovery of nature. It’s a way of making sure wildlife habitat is in a better state after a development than before it took place. The initiative will affect land managers, developers and local planning authorities.

From November 2023, any large development covered by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 will need to demonstrate a BNG of between 10%-20%. Through a combination of on-site or off-site habitat work, if the threshold cannot be reached, the developer will need to buy statutory ‘credits’ from the government. Those defined as smaller sites – less than 10 homes and where the site is under one hectare, or on plots of 0.5 hectares where the number of homes is not known – will have until April 2024 to adopt these changes.

Planning for the future

Ascertaining the impact on nature of a developed site will become part of the planning application procedure. In conjunction with any planning application, a Biodiversity Net Gain Statement will be required, before a Biodiversity Net Gain Plan is then submitted and approved, prior to the commencement of the development. This process is designed to provide a clear and consistent document that the developer uses to demonstrate their BNG, and the planning authority can check whether the proposals meet the BNG criteria.

If you’re a developer, you must aim to avoid the loss of any natural habitats present on the land you are going to develop. If it’s not possible to do this, you must create a replacement habitat – either on-site or off-site. On-site refers to the land on which the development work is taking place on. Off-site is either your own land, separate from the development site, or ‘units’ that have been bought from a land manager. If you are a land manager, you can get paid by selling biodiversity units. To qualify for this, you must be a land manager with land in England, consent to register land if you’re not the landowner and have a legal agreement for the land you’re registering.

Safeguarding the environment

If it’s not possible for a developer to use on-site or off-site land, they will have to buy ‘statutory credits’ from the government and must provide backup evidence for using this option. It must be used as a last resort, after any other options have been explored. This is to encourage the developer to address the loss of any natural habitats the project may cause and to ensure that sustainability and the environment are considered. As part of the legislation, the UK government will invest in habitat creation elsewhere in England. To reach the 10%-20% threshold, it may be possible to combine all three options – on-site, off-site and credits – to make up your BNG. Local Planning Authorities will have to approve a BNG plan, including the source and location of the natural habitats, for any development work before it can commence.

The changes are being introduced towards the end of 2023 and it’s best to be aware of them, as they are an additional layer of planning that will have to be considered for any development to take place. If you have a development project in the offing, it may be worth hastening its progress, to precede the deadline for the legislation’s introduction. If you are a land manager and would like to know more about how to gain an income from biodiversity units, or simply more about the BNG initiative, then please get in touch and talk to one of our consultants today.

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