Defra sets biodiversity targets for developers

25 October 2019

"The Government has launched legislative frameworks to ensure that developers meet net-zero carbon targets by 2050"

As touched on in last week’s article, Defra recently published the much-anticipated Environment Bill, which mandates a 10% net gain for biodiversity on development proposals.

The Bill requires developers to guarantee a net gain in biodiversity for 30 years and, when not achievable, developers will have to buy 'biodiversity credits' to enhance wildlife habitats elsewhere. Additionally, LPAs will be required to create 'local nature recovery strategies', identifying where compensatory provision of biodiversity can be delivered.

Furthermore, the Government has launched legislative frameworks to ensure that developers meet net-zero carbon targets by 2050 (to put into context, Extinction Rebellion are campaigning to reach net-zero carbon targets by 2025), improve air quality by setting legally binding pollution targets, transform the way developers manage waste and protect water resources.

The Environment Bill can be read here. The Government's announcement and summary can be read here.

Defra has also published a summary of responses to its consultation, launched in December last year, on its net gain proposal. These can be read in full here.

Narrow Exemptions

The Government says it will "do more to address viability concerns" and is considering several "narrow exemptions" to the policy, including for residential self-builds and for certain types of brownfield land development. The Government intends to keep small sites in the scope of the mandatory net gain approach, but will actively consider whether minor residential developments (less than 10 units or 0.5 ha) should be subject to longer transition arrangements or a lower net gain requirement. The Government will also work to ensure small developments do not face additional new survey requirements.

Concerns raised about the cost sensitivity of the redevelopment of post-industrial developed land will be addressed by a targeted exemption for brownfield sites that meet a number of criteria including that they (i) do not contain priority habitats and (ii) face genuine difficulties in delivering viable development.

Calculation Of Net Gain

With regards to calculating net gain, the Bill requires the Defra Biodiversity Metric to be applied. An updated (beta) version of this will be published for comment and review later this year, alongside a new spreadsheet-based tool which will establish a standard format and automate some of the required calculations. Following a similar approach to BREEAM, a simplified assessment will be used for minor developments (unless priority or protected habitats are present) to calculate their baseline for net gain.

A 10% net gain in biodiversity should not be seen as a cap, and developers are encouraged to go further than the absolute minimum. A biodiversity gain plan will need to be submitted as part of a planning application to demonstrate a 10% uplift is achieved. This should include details of the pre-development value of the site and the steps a developer has taken to avoid adverse impacts from development.

Off-Site Compensation

The Defra consultation considered whether it would be appropriate to allow certain types of sites to use off-site compensation, without fully considering on-site options for enhancement, but this has been rejected to avoid loopholes being exploited which could allow for ‘licenses to trash’ habitats. Instead of adopting this tariff, the Bill has introduced a system for developers to increase the biodiversity value on other registered land. Where off-site compensation is required, local authorities will be able to review developers’ plans to deliver compensation through local habitat creation projects.

Where suitable local projects are not available, there will be the option for investment in nationally strategic habitats. The SOS will publish these charges for credits and the Government will make provision in legislation for a public register of habitat improvement sites in due course.

Stuart Slatter, Director