When planning a new development of any size, one of the first considerations should be the impact your project will have on the local environment. Construction work may destroy some elements of the local ecosystem and disturb others, which can have a huge knock-on effect for local and even national wildlife, as well as causing environmental damage. To try and counteract that, and to improve and protect the planet, the government has a set of rules around biodiversity in development projects – with the latest addition being a biodiversity net gain credit system.
What Is Biodiversity Net Gain?
Essentially, biodiversity net gain is an environmental policy enforced at both a local and government level. It outlines an approach to development and land management that aims to leave the natural environment not only unharmed, but in a considerably better state than it was before use. The national policy backing for biodiversity net gain can be found in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), but since the document is quite extensive at 75 pages, we’ll summarise the main points for you:
- Local Plans should promote the conservation, restoration and enhancement of priority habitats, ecological networks and the protection and recovery of priority species.
- Development should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by minimising impacts on and providing net gains for biodiversity. This can help to establish coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to the current and future pressure the environment faces.
In short, anyone submitting a planning application needs to have considered the environmental impact they will have, and put plans in place to not only negate that impact, but make improvements to the environment and biodiversity of the area. What’s more, they will need to prove it too! Under The Environment Act, the key components of mandatory biodiversity net gains are:
- A minimum of 10% gain required, calculated using the Biodiversity Metric and set out in a biodiversity gain plan
- Habitats to be secured for at least 30 years via either planning obligations or conservation covenants
- Net gains delivered on-site, off-site or via a new statutory biodiversity credits scheme
- National register for net gain delivery sites
The good news is, these are not mandatory just yet – but they will be very soon. The government expects that the mandatory biodiversity net gain requirements will come into effect in Winter 2023, which means all plans currently being drawn up should include a biodiversity provision.
How Do You Calculate Biodiversity Net Gain?
Of course in order to be able to meet any sort of target, you need to be able to measure your performance. To do this, a number of metrics have been developed to help you calculate your own biodiversity net gain. The most recent system is called the Natural England Metric 3.1. It’s free to access here, and includes tools like auditing and accounting software and a spreadsheet-based calculator to help landowners and developers calculate their own metrics.
Once you understand what your current metric is, you can then put together a biodiversity gain plan to improve it and meet (or exceed) those minimum numbers. Your biodiversity gain plan should include:
- How adverse impacts on habitats have been minimised
- The pre-development biodiversity value of the onsite habitat
- The post-development biodiversity value of the onsite habitat
- The biodiversity value of any offsite habitat provided in relation to the development
- Any statutory biodiversity credits purchased
- Any further requirements as set out in secondary legislation, where applicable
The Credit System
If a developer is unable to meet that statutory minimum 10% biodiversity net gain, then the biodiversity net gain credit system comes into play. This is still a pilot system at the moment, but is expected to be launched in Winter 2023, along with the mandatory minimum gains. If a developer is unable to meet the mandatory minimum, they can buy credits instead. The price of these credits will be higher than the price for equivalent biodiversity net gain on the market, and will be run by a national body. The money paid for these credits will then be used to invest in habitat creation, maintenance and protection on a national level.
At Engain, we specialise in helping you overcome the complexity of environmental projects and planning applications. We come on board early in the planning process, and work with you to carefully manage ecological and environmental development requirements for your project, including ensuring you meet or exceed that 10% minimum on every project. If you would like to know more, get in touch with the team today.
To discuss your project requirements, please contact our experienced team