Defra has published a consultation seeking views on how the new mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) regime could work in practice.
The BNG policy obliges developers to deliver at least 10% greater biodiversity associated with their sites. It is expected to lead to opportunities for farmers and landowners who can create or enhance habitat to the required standards on their land, by selling the resulting biodiversity units to developers.
The consultation document runs to 109 pages and outlines how the process might work. It includes what sort of projects might be exempt from the requirement to achieve at least a 10% biodiversity net gain increase when undertaking development.
Key points include:
- There are two types of development where BNG will apply: residential and commercial developments for which planning permission is required under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) consented under the Planning Act 2008.
- The biodiversity gains and losses of a development will be measured in “biodiversity units”, using a metric which uses habitats as a proxy for biodiversity and calculates units by taking account of the type, extent and condition of habitats. Natural England has recently published biodiversity metric 3.0 which, subject to further consultation, is expected to be the metric generally used. However, a simplified metric may be used for developments on small sites, which are defined as those of fewer than 10 residential units or an area of less than 0.5ha for other types of development.
- Developers will be able to deliver biodiversity gains on-site, off-site, or by purchasing biodiversity units on the market. However, policy and guidance will encourage off-site biodiversity gains to be delivered locally to the development site.
- Off-site biodiversity gain sites must be maintained for at least 30 years after the completion of the works to create or enhance the habitat. To count towards a development’s net gain requirement, the site must be secured through a conservation covenant or planning obligation to ensure that habitats are maintained even if the land is sold.
- Market analysis estimates that there could be annual demand for around 6,200 off-site biodiversity units with a market value in the region of £135m, based on a unit price of between £20,000 and £25,000.
- Applications from householders are likely to be exempt from the requirement to deliver 10% BNG, as will those where it can be shown that a development affects an area of habitat below a certain level. However, the government has changed its mind on exempting some brownfield sites.
- A developer will need to submit a biodiversity gain plan to the relevant planning authority which sets out how the biodiversity net gain will be achieved. The plan will need to be approved before development can start. Certain core biodiversity gain information will also need to be provided with the application for planning permission.
- The government has said it is minded to allow landowners who want to make land available for BNG to be able to stack payments from the delivery of other environmental services on the same land parcel, provided they are paying for distinct additional outcomes.
- It will be left to the buyer, seller, and any other parties to the agreement to agree payment terms, for example whether there would be a lump-sum, staged payments, or payment by results.
- Defra has said it is aware that farmers want to understand how committing land for habitat creation will affect their eligibility for Agricultural Property Relief (APR) and Business Property Relief (BPR) and work is under way to provide clear guidance on this.
The deadline for responses to the BNG consultation is 4 April 2022.