Biodiversity net gain: hurdle or opportunity?

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The art of planning consent is always on our radar. Earlier this year, we published a blog about community engagement and how liaising with the community can significantly increase your application’s chance of approval.

Another factor developers and landowners need to start paying attention to is biodiversity net gain (BNG).

It’s part of the Environment Bill 2020, which sets out the government’s commitment to protecting and improving the natural environment in the UK. Planning authorities will use BNG to make sure applicants leave the surrounding environment of their chosen site in a better place than when they found it.

The government say each new development must create a biodiversity net gain of 10%, either on site or locally. However, they’ve also proposed a biodiversity gain sites register to allow for improvements elsewhere.

The aim of the legislation is to first avoid harm, but then mitigate or compensate for damages when they can’t be avoided.

Developers can submit a BNG plan as part of the application, or as a condition of planning approval. A plan should first show how developers have calculated the baseline biodiversity value of the site and then how they’re going to achieve the net gain.

Examples of biodiversity improvements include hedgerows, trees and planting, even bird and bat boxes within the buildings. Developers will also eventually be able to buy biodiversity credits, which they can then use in a number of ways to enhance and protect surrounding habitats.

The environmental bill is still in progress, but even though it’s not written into law yet, The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is already encouraging LPAs to use it.

Unsurprisingly, Cornwall are one of the first LPAs to make BNG standard procedure.

Soon, those developers that aren’t meeting BNG requirements are likely to experience delays to their planning applications. But developers shouldn’t view BNG as a hindrance. It should be seen more as an opportunity to improve the value of the project, as well as the reputation of the business.

In an increasingly carbon-conscious industry, property businesses need to be doing all they can to express their environmental credentials. Making every effort to mitigate their biodiversity damage can surely only ever be seen as beneficial, especially for those businesses who rely on third-party funding.

Banks, pension funds, private equity firms are all taking bolder stances on who they’re willing to partner with. The more sustainable a business is, the easier it is to secure investment. So on top of appeasing local planning authorities, a robust BNG track record could also make the business more appealing to investors, now and further down the line.

Even though BNG hasn’t reached the statute book yet, it doesn’t mean developers can’t start including it as part of their proposals. If planners aren’t making it compulsory, they’re certainly aware of it, and will only look on favourably at those that are making it a priority.

Those that don’t, could risk short term delays to their proposals and long term damage to their reputation.

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Published by MX