10 July 2020

The Environment Bill and Biodiversity Net Gain – challenges and opportunities

The emerging Environment Bill represents perhaps the most significant piece of domestic legislation relating to wildlife protection within the last 20 years.

Originally introduced to parliament on 15 October 2019, the Bill was re-introduced on 30 January 2020, with the Public Bill Committee due to report by September 2020.

Whilst this Bill remains in draft at the present time and appears to be some way off from Royal Assent, once enacted this piece of legislation will have significant ramifications for most planning applications in England.

One key aspect of the Bill is that it would entail a legal requirement for developments to demonstrate that they achieve biodiversity net gain, with this to be secured via a mandatory planning condition for all developments in England under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

As currently drafted, in accordance with the Bill, development proposals will need to demonstrate a minimum of 10% gain in biodiversity post-development, calculated using a standard metric process (anticipated to be Defra Metric 2.0). Where net gain cannot be achieved on-site, the Bill confirms that this must be secured off-site, either as a bespoke proposal secured by a planning obligation or ‘conservation covenant’, or, alternatively, through the use of ‘biodiversity credits’.

At present, there are significant question marks about securing off-site net gain, not least the ‘cost’ of a biodiversity credit, whether this will vary across the country, and how the biodiversity credit system will be administered. Once these issues have been resolved (via secondary legislation), it is likely that off-site measures will be important for smaller developments, where it is not possible or viable to secure net gain within the site. This is also likely to be of significant benefit for areas with high land values.

However, for larger sites, it is likely that on-site measures will continue to be the best way to achieve net gain. The provision of well-designed greenspace, which takes on board all of the requirements for the scheme, can contribute significantly towards this requirement. Where specific measures are required as part of a new development – such as new landscape planting for visual screening, and attenuation basins and swales for drainage – these can often have a dual function, and their design can often be refined to maximise their biodiversity value and therefore assist with net gain.

In order to be most effective in identifying opportunities for biodiversity net gain, whilst ensuring that a viable and acceptable planning scheme can come forward, it is crucial that ecological and landscape consultants work together closely. Whilst this has always been true to a degree, the additional requirements imposed by the Environment Bill will involve even closer collaboration between professionals, in order to be as efficient as possible and secure robust consents.

As experts in their respective fields, the team at Ecology Solutions and ES Landscape Planning have the skills and experience of undertaking the necessary assessments, providing advice and designing schemes which deliver biodiversity net gain. Working as an integrated team, the two sister practices fully complement one another to ensure that our clients achieve planning consents that are both robust to challenge and, perhaps most importantly, meet their aims and aspirations.

Following the grant of planning consent, ongoing management may be required as part of a planning obligation or condition to secure net gain. The team at ES Mitigation and Management are experienced in working closely with our team of experts to deliver ecological mitigation, habitat creation and long-term management of greenspace and landscaping to meet any requirements.

Should you have any queries at all regarding the Environment Bill or biodiversity net gain, or require further information about the services available from the ES Group, please do not hesitate to contact us:

Simon Taber (Director) or Josef Saunders (Director) – Ecology Solutions

Alastair Macquire (Director) – ES Landscape Planning

Jonathan Allen (Director) – ES Mitigation and Management

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