Enhancing biodiversity through the planning system creates a range of benefits for local communities.
Biodiversity net gain (BNG) requires developers to leave the natural environment in a better state than it was, pre-development.
Under the Environment Act 2021, all planning permissions granted in England, with a few exemptions, will have to deliver 10 per cent biodiversity net gain from late 2023.
BNG will be measured using the Government’s biodiversity metric, and habitats will need to be secured for at least 30 years.
This sits alongside: a strengthened legal duty for public bodies to conserve and enhance biodiversity; new biodiversity reporting requirements for local authorities; and mandatory ‘local nature recovery strategies’ (LNRSs).
Councils will need to be ready to meet the new legal requirements in around 18 months – so why should you start thinking about biodiversity net gain now?
BNG delivers measurable improvements for biodiversity by creating or enhancing habitats in association with development.
It is already required through national planning policy in England and Wales, and can be achieved on site, off site, or through a combination of on-site and off-site measures.
There is a lot of preparation required to get ready for the new legal requirements, including planning decision-making and policy, but it’s also worth thinking beyond the essentials.
The LGA’s biodiversity e-learning module highlights the benefits that creating and enhancing biodiversity provides for local communities. Not least of these is that a BNG approach delivers against plans to address the climate emergency, as demonstrated by Cornwall Council’s Climate Emergency Development Plan Document, which includes a BNG policy, alongside policies on green infrastructure and a nature recovery network.
For Plymouth City Council, making the city a great place to live and work is a key driver. It has integrated BNG into its approach to place-making, improving local greenspaces and bringing nature close to people.
Plymouth’s joint local plan with South Hams District and West Devon Borough Councils includes an exemplary BNG policy. They are developing an approach to off-site BNG delivery with local partners that supports local aspirations and nature recovery, funding nature-based improvements to council-owned greenspaces.
Eden District Council wants developers to provide BNG, so, following an LGA Planning Advisory Service review, it allocated funding to enhance its pre-application development management service and employ an ecologist.
As well as providing income, this is key to securing BNG through negotiations at development design stage; it is more difficult at planning application stage.
Meanwhile, Buckinghamshire Council and the Natural Environment Partnership for Bucks and Milton Keynes are setting up an authority-wide BNG scheme, supporting priorities in their corporate plan and delivering against Buckinghamshire Growth Board’s strategic vision.
The council was one of the pilot areas for the new LNRSs and their BNG approach is closely tied to this.
They are working across council teams, including finance, legal and estates, have recruited biodiversity officers, and are finalising a supplementary planning document to set out requirements for developers and a new financial calculator for biodiversity units.
Taking a council-wide approach to BNG helps to deliver broader benefits for nature and local communities, and meet corporate strategies and objectives, and can act as a source of income for local authorities. It’s worth starting now to get this approach embedded.
The LGA’s Planning Advisory Service is developing an online resource centre to help you do just that, see www.local.gov.uk/pas/topics/environment/biodiversity-net-gain