BNG continues to top many agendas as we approach 2020 and, whilst there are still many questions relating to how the mandate is likely to take shape, it’s been possible to gain considerable insight throughout 2019 into what this game changing policy will mean for industry, and how it’s likely to be applied.
First and foremost summer saw Government’s response to the BNG Mandate consultation, in which commitment to delivering the mandated 10% uplift was reiterated, although several changes were put forward, including removal of a universal tariff payment for offsets and an increased onus placed on local authorities to identify habitat creation need. How this further burden will be resourced is unclear, as is the detail relating to how conservation covenants (the mechanism through which BNG would be legally secured) might be handled. Allowing exemptions for some schemes was also viewed as a potential step-back.
Recent analysis has however focused on the launch of the Environment Bill in October. The Bill sets the mandated 10% uplift and sets targets for the secretary of state to publish a universal metric (so far met through publication of the new and improved beta test version of the Defra 2.0 Metric in July) and keep track of BNG through a national site register. The approaches to delivering BNG are restated, either on site, through a direct arrangement off site or through the purchase of credits as a ‘last resort’ with contributions invested into ‘pre-determined local habitat creation projects’ to presumably be identified by local authorities.
Another important point is the need to secure management and monitoring for a 30 year period through the conservation covenant mechanism. It is understood that the legislation would allow for a two year transition period before it was fully applied.
The ecology industry is fully behind the drive for BNG, and although there are still some questions and issues in the Government’s suggestions (including some inherent flaws in the Environment Bill), this is clearly a step in the right direction. Industry response has included CIEEM’s publication of best practice guidance and example case studies, for which Greengage were pleased to contribute one of our projects.
It’s clear that there are still some hurdles to negotiate before we see the Environment Bill implemented through new legislation, but in the meantime we have already been finding an increasing number of authorities requiring the delivery of BNG as a consequence of drivers in the NPPF.
In such circumstances, schemes have had to evidence predicted change in biodiversity measured using the beta version of the Defra Metric 2.0 before determination, with the suggested 10% mandate uplift expected. Offsite compensation has been secured through various means, using a designated provider, or in a more ad hoc manner through securing bespoke arrangements with a local authority or wildlife group who would take on responsibility for the habitat creation and management.
In the absence of contrary case law, it’s therefore clear that local authorities already have the policy framework in place to secure BNG even in the absence of a legal framework. BNG is clearly already here and here to stay.