Net Biodiversity Gains: 5 Things You Need To Know

Back in December 2018, the Government launched a consultation on whether to introduce a mandatory biodiversity net gains policy which would require developers to leave the development site environment in a measurably better condition than it was before the development was carried out. 

The Government has now published its response to that consultation and has confirmed that a requirement for a net biodiversity gain of 10% will be introduced through the Environment Bill.

Guidance on how developers should protect wildlife has also been published, including the famous "hedgehog highways" which allow hedgehogs to wander through back gardens for food and shelter.

1. What is the requirement?

A new law will be introduced requiring developers to deliver a 10% net biodiversity gain on new developments.  It will be a mandatory national requirement and the "gain" (or biodiversity outcome) will have to be maintained for a minimum of 30 years, with longer term maintenance encouraged "where this is acceptable to the landowner".

The Defra biodiversity metric will be used to measure the changes to biodiversity and the environment before and after the development and to ensure that a 10% gain will be achieved.  An updated version of the biodiversity metric will be published for comment later this year and a new spreadsheet based tool will be used for the calculations.

Where environmental improvements cannot be made on site, the developer will be able to make payments for off-site provision via the purchase of the Government's proposed Statutory Biodiversity Units.  Money raised from Statutory Biodiversity Units will "where possible" be invested directly into local habitat creation projects.

2. Why is it being introduced?

The Government wants new development to meet the country's needs, but also to improve the environment by "more than compensating for biodiversity loss if it cannot be avoided or mitigated".

The Government is also planning to legislate for conservation covenants as part of the Environment Bill.  These will be private voluntary agreements that will also secure long term environmental benefits.  They may bind the land so that they can be enforced against the current landowner and future owners by the responsible body, which could be a conservation charity.

3. Who will be caught by the requirement?

The requirement will apply to all built development requiring planning permission, subject to a number of limited exemptions, including brownfield sites where certain criteria are met.  This will include sites that do not contain priority habitats and which face genuine viability difficulties. 

The Government will also consider exemptions for specific ownership types of development where the net biodiversity gain may be disproportionate (such as residential self-build).  We await further details on this once the draft Bill is published.

4. How will it be imposed?

The Government response suggests that the requirement will be imposed via a planning condition attached to the relevant planning permission.  However, it could also potentially be included as a Section 106 obligation, particularly where payments for Statutory Biodiversity Units are being made.

5. When will it be introduced?

The Environment Bill will set out a two year transition period for net biodiversity gain to give an appropriate lead in time for developers and landowners.  The Bill will be introduced in the second parliamentary session when the Government returns after Parliamentary recess in September and will then go through the Parliamentary process before being enacted. We will keep you posted.

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