Biodiversity Net Gain Consultation

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On Tuesday 11th January 2022, DEFRA and DLUHC launched a consultation on how the legislative requirements for Biodiversity Net Gain are to be implemented within the planning system.

The proposals in the consultation, which can be accessed here, seeks initial views on everything from:
• The scope of the regulations;
• The types of development that are to be excluded from them;
• How the regulations are to be applied to different types of schemes, such as phased developments; small sites and NSIPS; and
• How the market for off-site credits is intended to work; including proposals for Habitat Banking, additionality etc.

Once enacted, these proposals will significantly impact how developers obtain permission for new housing schemes and the design, and shape of those developments. There will be a need to make biodiversity improvements and considering the impact from the outset of design will be vital. It is certainly not going to be a tick box exercise and therefore adapting to the change now and proactively working with ecologists and landscape architects. Experience suggests that well planned and developed landscape will add value to your scheme, create increased saleability and provide a positive impact on the environmental issues which we face.

It will also provide an opportunity for some landowners to replace the environmental stewardship funding streams that are due to be lost as a result of BREXIT. As such, engaging with the consultation is critically important.

We are still working through the detail of the consultation, but a few initial points of interest are set out below:

  1. Exemptions

The Government has significantly refined its approach to the types of development that will be exempt from biodiversity net gain requirements. Exemptions are currently only proposed for:
• developments impacting habitat areas below a ‘de minimis’ (minimal) threshold
• householder applications; and
• change of use applications

The plans to introduce exemptions for the certain brownfield development schemes, that had previously been discussed, have been dropped entirely. As such it is extremely likely that any new development proposals, including those for agri-businesses, would be impacted by the requirement to provide a biodiversity net gain, or relevant mitigation measures, in some form.

  1. Outline Permissions and Phasing

The consultation now recognises the issues that the current metric can cause for outline and phased developments.

As such, proposals are being put forward to allow for a phased approach to providing biodiversity information, and meeting relevant targets, in respect of phased or outline planning permissions.

This can only be helpful for larger strategic sites, but care will need to be taken to ensure that the final version of the proposals are fit for practice.

  1. Small Sites

A simplified biodiversity metric and extended transition periods are being proposed for small sites. Ensuring that this simplified metric is workable is likely to be critical for smaller developments – such as setting up small scale holiday accommodation or farm-diversification schemes.

  1. The Market for Creating and Trading Credits

There is a clear acknowledgement in the consultation proposals that setting up a successful market for off-site habitat creation credits will be complicated and require the involvement of multiple stakeholders.

In particular, the consultation states that:
“The market for biodiversity units will not operate in isolation, and we are aware that landowners and managers are keen to understand whether they will be able to combine or ‘stack’ payments for different environmental services from the same parcel of land. Further information is set out in Part 3 ‘additionality’ of this consultation.

We are aware that farmers and large estate owners want to understand how committing land for habitat creation or enhancement will affect their eligibility for Agricultural Property Relief and Business Property Relief. Work is underway to provide clear guidance on this”

The “Additionality” section of the consultation sets out proposals for how biodiversity net gain requirements may interact with:
• statutory protected sites for nature conservation; and
• payments for other environmental services;
which will be of interest to any landowners who are considering setting up ‘donor’ sites.

The consultation closes on 4th April 2022 and is worth engaging with.

The team at Wharton is going to be preparing its response, which will be led by our Ecology Team. If you do not have the time to prepare your response, but would like some input, then please let Matt Wall our Principal Ecological Consultant know, as he and the team can make sure that your views are factored into the Wharton consultation response.

For more information on how Wharton currently help with Biodiversity Net Gain click the button below:

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