If you are looking to get planning permission for a development project, whether it’s an independent or commercial one, then you now need to consider a requirement called Biodiversity Net Gain. This is part of the Environment Act that was introduced in 2021. While it will not technically become law until 2023 due to an agreed transitionary period of two years, as of the end of 2022 it is already being used as a requirement in many parts of the UK, such as Cornwall.
Here, we’ll be looking in more detail at what you need to know about Biodiversity Net Gain in terms of UK planning permission. The basic premise is that it aims to preserve and improve the environment while also allowing developers to address things like the need for more affordable housing.
What does Biodiversity Net Gain actually mean?
When a development project takes place, this of course changes the environment where the new buildings will be located. The idea of Biodiversity Net Gain is that when the project is complete, the biodiversity of the site in terms of plants and wildlife will be better than it was before, rather than worse. For approval, a project needs to be able to show a net gain of 10%.
For some projects, in places where there is little to no biodiversity at present, this can be easily achieved. However, for other developments it can be something that requires more complicated planning. It is done with the help of ecologists, who can advise developers on how to manage construction without damaging natural life in the area, or if necessary, make plans to relocate things like trees or animals. This can involve a simple survey followed by a plan with an ecologist for small scale independent projects in areas where there isn’t much wildlife to consider, through to ecologists needing to be heavily involved in the project from planning through to completion. The level of complexity depends on the project and existing life on the site.
If you are planning a development project in the UK, you will need to meet this 10% Biodiversity Net Gain requirement, and will need to get surveys and assistance to demonstrate this. While it may sound complicated, the objective is not to hinder development, and if you choose an expert like Arbtech the process can go relatively smoothly.
What happens with projects where removing or destroying environmental elements is unavoidable?
Of course, for some projects, removing or destroying things like old trees or animal habitats is absolutely unavoidable. It would be impossible to build something like an airport or a major shopping complex without having to remove some of the natural elements currently on the site, but it can even be the case when building something far smaller, like a cottage in a countryside area.
In this case, a net gain can still be achieved by doing things like relocating these environmental elements to another site (which will still count as part of the Biodiversity Net Gain, even if things are not going to be at the location of the finished development), and planting new things as part of the development.
There is essentially a hierarchy of things that can be done by developers in terms of preserving and improving biodiversity. This starts with things that don’t harm the existing environment at all, such as planning building around natural habitats and using approaches that don’t harm or disturb them.
However, lower down in the hierarchy when planning for Biodiversity Net Gain are strategies for when the project would be impossible without some disruption or destruction. It aims to provide approaches that favour the most environmentally sound options, but does not make meeting the 10% improvement requirement for planning permission unrealistic or unattainable for projects in many cases.
All of this will be considered in your Biodiversity Net Gain plan which will be worked on by experts.
What are the benefits of the policy?
The purpose of the Biodiversity Net Gain policy, and other policies from the Environment Act, is to prevent the deterioration of natural biology in the UK, and in fact, to continually improve it. In the past, developments had been associated with a negative impact on the local environment in terms of nature, and this is something that needed to be addressed for the future. If every project improves its local biodiversity by 10%, then the environmental gains over time will be huge.
Achieving these improvements provides a lot of benefits when it comes to life in the UK, including:
- Preserving endangered species
- Making it easier for us to study and learn about natural and environmental science
- Creating better looking places to live and work
- Providing natural resources
- Giving us places to enjoy outdoor activities
- Keeping food chains under control
- Providing oxygen
We have all kinds of different environments in the UK, and they attract different insects, fish, animals and plant life. It benefits all of us to protect and promote the nature around us, while still being able to meet the needs of our societies when it comes to buildings and infrastructure. Even in urban areas where the criteria can be easily met, having to improve biodiversity by 10% will create more pleasant environments for people to enjoy.
That said, approaches to preserving natural habitats can feel like an extra hurdle for developers. The aim was to find a balance between the environmental goals for improving the UK, and things like housing and economic needs.
If you are looking to plan a project, then by engaging with expert surveyors and considering biodiversity in your approach you should hopefully find success in getting the planning permission you need.