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How developers can navigate biodiversity net gain requirements

View profile for Shruti Trivedi
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The government’s new Environment Bill proposes a range of ambitious measures to address biodiversity loss, responding to the need to halt species decline by 2030. While driven by an essential requirement to leave the planet in a better condition than we found it, biodiversity net gain requirements are already tripping up developers as they aim to deliver social and economic solutions with new housing, retail, and service schemes.

The National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) dictates that planning policies and decisions should enhance the environment by providing net gains for biodiversity, indicating that in order for schemes to be approved, they must contribute more to wildlife than they take away. However, with land being a limited resource, this creates another hurdle for developers to overcome as they must find the space to offset any negative impact on biodiversity caused by their schemes.

In two years’ time, all developments must provide a net gain of at least ten per cent, which is why it’s imperative that planners start putting in processes now to mitigate biodiversity loss as part of ongoing and future schemes. Below are my top tips for developers to help them avoid getting caught out by the upcoming regulations.

Engage with an ecologist

It’s imperative to bring an experienced ecologist on board with any project, to undertake site surveys and ecological impact assessments. However, the new biodiversity net gain requirements mean that it’s advisable to bring your ecologist on much earlier in the project to ensure the planned development is feasible and help developers to keep abreast of the new requirements.

Consider your metrics

With the new requirements coming into force soon, it’s important to determine if the site in question can offer sufficient biodiversity net gain, or if additional land will be required. Natural England’s biodiversity metric 3.0 calculation tool allows developers to calculate the net gain or loss of the site, helping to establish the potential need for additional land to offset net loss.

Tread carefully

Ecological ramifications of architectural decisions will now have much more bearing. Consider the impact of seemingly small decisions like cutting down trees or replacing grassy areas and ponds as these will negatively impact the biodiversity metric.

Enter a conservation covenant carefully

Conservation covenants are voluntary agreements between a landowner and a ‘responsible body’ such as a conservation charity to conserve the natural environment, aiding biodiversity gain. While a great way to outsource your environmental obligation, they should be entered into with caution as they are legally binding and can often come with onerous and indefinite requirements for landowners.

Get ready

Like it or not, the Environment Bill will be here to stay and will provide important and long-lasting improvements to the natural environment. Developers need to get ready and put plans in place now ahead of the bill coming into force over the next few years.