The need to prepare for the biodiversity net gain (BNG) requirement is coming into force officially this November. Business development director for Environment Bank, Helen Wyman says, time is of the essence for developers to start planning their BNG strategy now to ensure the financial viability and successful delivery of their projects.
BNG, as mandated under The Environment Act 2021, affects all development projects, with little exception. It is designed to reverse the decline of biodiversity and put back more than is being lost through development.
With the two year transition period coming to a close this November (and no later than 2025 for NSIPs), this regulatory requirement will become mandatory in every Local Planning Authority (LPA) in England, with many LPAs already adopting localised policies. It’s set to revolutionise and restore the natural environment and if utilised in the right way, it can also be an enabler for developers to support sustainable economic growth.
Contrary to popular belief, the government doesn’t want to stand in the way of development at any stage in the process. It recognises a critical housing shortage and understands the challenges faced by the construction sector. However, nature has been in decline for decades and BNG is a demonstrable solution to help prevent further environmental damage.
How can BNG be achieved by developers?
The primary incentive is onsite BNG delivery, however, with The Land Trust recently reporting that 89% of developers believe the availability of land for onsite mitigation to be the biggest challenge, it’s likely that a large proportion of BNG will be delivered offsite.
Onsite involves setting aside developmental land to deliver the habitat creation. On the face of it, this is the most straight forward solution, however the developer then becomes responsible for baseline surveys, habitat creation works and 30-years’ worth of ongoing management and monitoring of the habitat created, not to mention the pressure this can place on the net developable area. They will also need to fund the project and will be legally responsible for the BNG delivery, therefore taking the risk of the scheme failing, which can be challenging in certain areas such as residential.
This is one of the reasons developers are choosing to purchase BNG Units generated from existing offsite Habitat Bank schemes. Delivery partners, such as Environment Bank, are seeing a surge in demand for units, providing an instant solution that removes all the risk and liability. Developers can simply purchase or reserve the required number of BNG Units from them in order to meet their legal obligations.
With nationwide availability of BNG Units, Environment Bank can facilitate projects anywhere in the country and can provide costs for their units upfront. This enables developers to engage early in the planning process, across single or multiple projects, with an end-to end solution that provides certainly on costs. It also provides a smooth and cost-effective transition through the mitigation hierarchy, ensures scheme viability, and the effective use of development land.
What is a Habitat Bank?
Habitat Banks are landscape scale nature recovery sites managed for 30 years to create the best outcomes for nature by establishing new habitats such as woodlands, wetlands and species-rich grasslands. Provisions like Habitat Banks deliver immediate solutions, as well as an opportunity for developers to demonstrate how they are playing a key role in nature recovery.
How can developers be helped by Environment Bank?
Working with Environment Bank at the pre-planning stage will help ensure developers can meet the necessary BNG requirements where these cannot be delivered onsite. Environment Banks’ experts work with developers and their ecology consultants to understand site-specific needs – as defined by the Defra BNG metric – and match them exactly through their nationwide network of Habitat Bank sites, each creating residual BNG Units.
Environment Bank and its team of ecologists liaise with and provide all relevant documentation to the appropriate LPA. They are responsible for managing the process, removing the long term burden and taking on all of the risk. They are also legally accountable under planning legislation for the entire term to ensure delivery, monitoring, and reporting on the habitat creation.
This delivers a co-ordinated, efficient, and risk-free solution that meets the needs of the developer as well as the specific requirements of the LPA for the 30 year term.
When should developers start planning their BNG strategy?
Plan now for November 2023. From here, there will be an automatic pre-commencement condition imposed on every single planning permission, which will set out that a biodiversity gain plan must be submitted and approved by a LPA before any development begins.
Simply put, the earlier you engage in your BNG strategy the better. Without it you are putting the financial viability and delivery of your development project at risk.