The Environment Bill & Biodiversity Net Gain – what lies ahead?

4 December 2020

Before it becomes law, we are already factoring the Bill into the equation, and at Planning Potential we are increasingly being asked to assist with Biodiversity Net Gain considerations.

Charlotte Perry Associate Harrogate

Last Friday (27 November) the parliamentary Public Bill Committee reported on the much-delayed Environment Bill after reconvening the debate following their hiatus due to the pandemic. The Bill will now have its report stage ahead of its third and final reading in the House of Commons. This will be the final chance for MPs to debate the contents of the Bill before it goes to the House of Lords – so, a crucial stage for all of us with an interest in what it means for the development sector.
What will the Bill mean for planning applications? Well, crucially for those working in the sector, the Bill will commit to delivering 10 per cent net gain in biodiversity through the introduction of a standard deemed Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) condition. There will be limited exceptions. This puts BNG at the heart of all decisions, impacting how we plan, where and why.
There is still a little way to go before the Bill’s contents become law, but BNG is not exactly a new concept, as the NPPF already makes a commitment to BNG (paragraph 170d). With the Government’s agenda to generally put issues around climate change and the environment at the forefront of discussions, we are increasingly encountering Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) asking developers to consider BNG in light of the forthcoming changes. Before it becomes law, we are already factoring the Bill into the equation, and at Planning Potential we are increasingly being asked to assist with BNG considerations.
In essence, BNG seeks to address the continuing decline in biodiversity. Therefore, planning applications need to demonstrate a net gain in biodiversity compared to existing pre-development conditions. This should be detailed in applications to assist with the determination of planning applications. So far LPAs are aspiring for the 10 per cent gain target, which can be challenging, particularly on greenfield sites. Therefore, we are encouraging our clients to be ready to respond to new policy, consider net gain in their acquisitions moving forward and weigh up the delivery route to demonstrating net gain.
We are working closely with ecologists across the country who can prepare the necessary surveys to determine biodiversity value pre-development and advise on delivery options to demonstrate the 10 per cent net gain in a biodiversity gain plan. The key action is to consider biodiversity much earlier than perhaps has been done previously. Engaging an ecologist as soon as possible is therefore crucial. Ideally this will be at the feasibility stage to establish the baseline assessment of the site and consider off-setting needs, i.e. on-site enhancements or off-site at biodiversity gain sites, or via purchasing credits. Liaising with the LPA at the pre-app stage is also advisable.
We can assist with making contacts for you to ensure the necessary appraisals and detailed surveys are instructed on your behalf to make the planning stage smoother.
Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, anticipated in Spring 2021, the intention is for a two-year transition period for secondary legislation and systems to support biodiversity net gain to be developed. We will certainly be keeping an eye on this progress to see how the practicalities of this pan out in the few years, but needless to say, it is clear that biodiversity net gain is going to be an important consideration from now on.