A hot topic, but what is it?
Biodiversity net gain is an approach to development which aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than before the development was carried out by improving a site's biodiversity value. It requires developers to take a pre-development baseline assessment and then provide on-site habitat creation where possible, to ensure the necessary gains are achieved. If on-site biodiversity improvement measures are not possible, then the habitat creation can be provided off-site instead.
What are the timescales?
This Government strategy is set out in Part Six of the Environment Act 2021 and will apply to nearly all developments in England and Wales once the relevant provisions come into effect in November 2023. Although not currently mandatory, most local authorities have already introduced policy requirements and are requiring developments to demonstrate some level of biodiversity net gain as part of the planning process.
The updated timetable published by the Government confirms that from January 2024 all planning permissions granted for housing, industrial and commercial developments will be subject to a condition which requires a biodiversity net gain plan, demonstrating a minimum of 10% gain, to be submitted to and approved by the local planning authority before development can begin.
Biodiversity net gain for small sites will be applicable from April 2024, and implementation for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects remains planned for 2025.
Things to be aware of
The consultation on biodiversity net gain regulations and implementation was launched in January 2022 and ran for 12 weeks. The response was published in February 2023.
There are very few exceptions proposed as part of the consultation response. These include householder applications and development affecting less than 25m2 in area or 5m for linear habitats. Mandatory biodiversity net gain will also be delayed until April 2024 for small sites of less than a hectare with 9 dwellings or less, or less than 1,000 m2 of non-residential floorspace.
Because there is the opportunity to provide habitat creation on nearby land, it is possible for any landowner to set aside land for habitat creation or enhancement and to sell biodiversity units to developers.
Any land allocated for habitat creation to achieve biodiversity net gain must be maintained for at least 30 years. This will be secured by a planning obligation or a conservation covenant and will bind any subsequent landowners. There will also be an ongoing responsibility on the landowner to manage and report on the habitat creation for the duration of this period.
The consultation report fleshed out some of the detail, but a lot remains outstanding. We are hopeful this will be addressed via regulations and possibly further guidance later this year.
If you have any questions in the meantime, please get in touch with our Planning and Infrastructure team.