The concept of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) has gained increasing traction in the past couple of years as more people acknowledge the wide-ranging benefits that nature provides society. Most notably, the idea was included in the 25 Year Environment Plan and embedded within NPPF 2.0 last summer; moves that spell a likely sea change in attitude which will influence emerging policy.
Reflecting this trend, Government launched their consultation in late 2018 for the proposed mandate of BNG. The consultation is open until 10th February.
BNG has been widely accepted by industry leaders, with some having already embedded the requirement within internal policy. A handful of planning authorities, including London and Warwickshire, have also been leading the way with progressive policy requirements. Many areas, however, are still failing with respect to their protection and improvement of biodiversity.
The proposed mandate would therefore roll out the need to deliver measurable gains for biodiversity on all new development schemes which require planning, excluding nationally significant infrastructure projects and house extensions (the consultation also raises the question of whether small scale projects or development on some brownfield land would be exempt, or subject to a simplified approach). This would utilise an amended version of the existing Defra Biodiversity Metric, which would sit comfortably within the existing survey, design and decision-making process, avoiding undue cost or added complexity for developers.
Greengage see the proposed BNG approach as a positive action to redress our impact upon nature, whilst providing a clear framework for developers. It stands to aid decision-making, public relations and the design process, as well as improving the resilience, functionality and quality of new development.
Specifically, having the mechanism to quantify biodiversity value will remove any ambiguity with respect to the appropriate scale and nature of mitigation, compensation and enhancement design interventions; the approach will allow for clarity on area and habitat type to be protected or recreated, creating a level playing field for all scales of development. There will be a focus on the provision of habitats amongst new development, ensuring that we embed nature where we need it most, rather than keeping it in designated areas away from where we live and work. The health, wellbeing and ecosystem service benefits as a consequence of this therefore stand to be significant, reflecting wider industry trends relating to quality placemaking designed with people’s wellbeing in mind.
Measures to provide offsets are however also prescribed where on site interventions are not possible, providing transparency for both developers and decision makers with respect to scale of strategic offsite habitat creation or offset funding arrangements secured via s106 or other means.
In practice, the primary change in the first instance will be the need for ecologists to include a measure of baseline biodiversity units at a site during their baseline assessments. This will then be able to help inform site layout and design, identifying the predicted loss of units as a consequence of proposals as they evolve. Differing scenarios can then be drawn up to enable an overall gain in units, preferably achieved on-site. This approach will not change the existing approach to protected species or the mitigation hierarchy (where schemes must first avoid and then if not possible, minimise, remediate or finally compensate for impacts) but will more clearly identify risk, area need or cost for delivering a scheme from the outset.
Greengage have been closely engaged with BNG for some time and have been in the fortunate position to work with a range of progressive clients who have been early adopters of the concept. Among these are Canary Wharf Group , for whom Greengage assisted with the production of their award nominated 10-year Biodiversity Roadmap published in 2018. This document outlines Canary Wharf’s commitments to securing measurable gains in biodiversity as part of both new development and management interventions relating to existing assets, assessed at the project and Estate scale using the Defra metric.
If you want to discuss how BNG or other emerging changes in policy may affect your scheme then please get in touch with our lead ecologist Morgan Taylor firstname.lastname@example.org 0203 544 3995.