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How the new Environment Act impacts Biodiversity

After what feels like years of waiting, the new Environment Bill has finally received Royal Assent, making it the Environment Act 2021.

The Act, which is now UK law, establishes a legal framework for environmental governance and sets long-term and legally binding targets, to be enforced by a new independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) and which will hold government and public bodies to account on their environmental obligations.

What does the new Environment Act say?

The Act will help clean up the country’s air, restore natural habitats, increase biodiversity, reduce waste, and make better use of natural resources. The overall aim is to halt the decline of nature by 2030.

The key outtakes include:

Nature:

  • Strengthen biodiversity duty by ensuring that all new developments deliver at least 10% increase in biodiversity
  • Local Nature Recovery Strategies to support a Nature Recovery Network
  • Duty upon Local Authorities to consult on street tree felling
  • Strengthen woodland protection enforcement measure
  • Legally binding targets on species abundance for 2030, which will help to reverse declines of iconic British species like the hedgehog, red squirrel, and water vole.

 Waste and recycling:

  • Extend producer responsibility to make producers pay for 100% of cost of disposal of products, starting with plastic packaging
  • Help people to transition to a more circular economy, incentivising them to recycle more through a deposit Return Scheme for single use drinks containers
  • Charges for single use plastics
  • Greater consistency in recycling collections in England

Clean air:

  • Require Local Authorities to tackle air quality
  • Simplify enforcement within smoke control areas

Water:

  • Effective collaboration between water companies through statutory water management plans
  • Drainage and sewerage management planning a statutory duty
  • Ensure that water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows.

How does it impact biodiversity?

Biodiversity Net Gain has become mandatory through the Environment Act 2021. It is an approach to development that aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than it was beforehand.

It encourages developers to include biodiversity improvements through habitat creation or enhancement, as well as avoiding or mitigating harm.

New developments are now required by law to demonstrate a minimum of 10% increase in biodiversity on or near their application sites for at least 30 years.

What does this mean for developers?

The Environment Act has brought in new requirements for planners and decision-makers within councils in relation to nature and biodiversity. These requirements must be considered by developers at every stage of the development process, from land acquisition and design to construction and ongoing site management.

Biodiversity Net Gain is a vital part of securing planning consent in England. Today, developers are no longer simply required to mitigate their biodiversity impacts, but they must also, by law, deliver at least a 10% biodiversity net gain compared against the pre-development biodiversity value of the development site.

How to approach planning

Ecological appraisals and survey reports have been a requirement of planning applications for many years. They show that mitigation or avoidance of harm to key habitats and protected wildlife, as well as enhancement measures, have been included in the development plans, and that the work complies with wildlife laws and policies.

Local planning authorities require new planning applications to include Biodiversity Net Gain calculations to prove there will be biodiversity improvements.

This proof needs to include:

  • Written documentation and clear maps showing the assessment of net gain for biodiversity to submit with planning applications including the completion of the DEFRA Biodiversity Metric 2.0: Calculation tool
  • The level of net gain for biodiversity currently acceptable in the local planning authority area
  • The measures to achieve 10% net gain for biodiversity onsite or alternative compensation measures
  • Financial support for 30 years positive biodiversity management (through a s106 or similar agreement)
  • A Design & Access Statement explaining the derived Biodiversity Net Gain
  • Proof that an ecological consultant has advised on the mitigation hierarchy, avoidance of damage, and a net gain assessment or compensatory off-site solutions.

How an ecological consultant will help

Appointing an Ecological Consultant at the earliest stage possible will ensure that the best possible solutions to achieve Biodiversity Net Gain are considered from the very start.

An ecological consultant will take into account a multitude of criteria, such as habitat distinctiveness, its condition, its local and regional significance, and its connectivity to other habitats. They will follow the latest guidelines from professional bodies and Defra, as well as making sure the interpretation meets with the local planning authority expectations.

If net gain for biodiversity isn’t achievable, and losses are unavoidable, then offsite compensation or ‘biodiversity credits’ might be acceptable. Both measures require good technical evidence.

If Biodiversity Net Gain isn’t possible at the site of the development, you may be able to buy additional land, or buy land from a ‘habitat bank.’ However, it’s always preferred that measures are taken at the original development site as much as possible.

For more information about Biodiversity Net Gain and how to incorporate it into your scheme design, get in touch with us on 01225 459564 or email enquiries@engain.com.

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