A new law will see developers required to increase biodiversity in any planned proposal – but how will this work?
Planning for Biodiversity
A change in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 will require developers to ensure that the habitat for wildlife is in a better state than it was before they began their development.
For larger projects this requirement will come into play in November of this year, while smaller sites will have to adhere to the new rules from April 2024.
Biodiversity net gain (BNG) is a means of contributing to the recovery of nature while developing land. It is making sure the habitat for wildlife is in a better state than it was before development commenced. This will mean that developers must avoid a loss of habitat on the piece of land that they are developing – in fact they must show at least a 10% improvement.
If this can’t be achieved on-site, they will be required to create a wildlife habitat off-site. This may open up opportunities for land managers; if developers don’t have other land to use in this way, they will be able to buy diversity units from landowners.
If neither of these options are possible, as a last resort it will be possible to buy statutory credits from the government, which will be invested in habitat creation elsewhere.
Developers will need to use the services of an ecologist to discuss the options – it may be possible to use a combination of on-site, off-site and statutory credits – but evidence will be needed to justify the plans. This must also be approved by the Local Planning Authority before any work actually starts.
Benefits of Biodiversity
BNG has plenty of benefits: it will encourage greener neighbourhoods that are nicer places to live and work, and help mitigate climate change by protecting our natural areas. It will offer protection against extreme weather – offering shade in hot weather in parks, woodlands and by rivers, and encouraging the planting of trees, green roofs and vegetation in urban areas that can help to reduce flood risk.
However, smaller habitats will be harder to maintain, and more vulnerable, with it being more difficult to retain species higher up the food chain in stressful situations such as extreme weather conditions. The requirement for local authorities to approve each development’s BNG is also likely to tie up already stretched resources.
The ability to use the BNG credit market could address this potential problem – companies are already being set up where ‘credits’ will be sold so that biodiversity is improved on third-party land. This will hopefully allow for bigger habitats and more joined-up planning when it comes to improving diversity in a local area.
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