Can planning achieve more development AND more biodiversity?
In planning decisions, biodiversity and development are usually treated as conflicting interests which need to be balanced. You build houses, you lose biodiversity. However, a new consultation attempts to turn this attitude on its head, by proposing a system where the process of development will achieve a net gain in biodiversity.
A consultation on the proposed new scheme was published on 2 December 2018 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). Under the system all new developments that would otherwise result in a loss or degradation of habitat will need to demonstrate that wildlife habitats have been enhanced and left in a measurably better state post-development (with limited exceptions for permitted development, home extensions and brownfield sites). The consultation suggests a 10% improvement. If this is not possible, a tariff would be applied.
So how would these scheme work? Developers and local authorities will be familiar with contributions to provide infrastructure or community benefits in the form of s.106 Agreements or Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). However, or off-site biodiversity gains has, until now, only operated as a voluntary scheme. Under the proposed new rules, developers would be required to assess their sites’ habitat before submitting plans. As a part of pre-application negotiations, developers would need to demonstrate where the biodiversity improvements would take place (ideally on-site, and if not nearby) and how biodiversity would be improved (e.g. through the creation of green corridors, tree planting or local nature spaces). Many developers already undertake evaluations as a part of the environmental impact or appropriate assessment and it is hoped that it could be integrated into this process. Local authorities should also seek to identify suitable opportunities for habitat improvement in the local plan. The tariff would only apply to those scenarios where suitable local compensation opportunities were not available. The consultation suggests this would be set between £9,000 and £15,000 per biodiversity unit and would fund habitats for both strategic and local biodiversity priorities to ensure an overall net gain in biodiversity.
There are three parts to the consultation:
- A consideration of the objectives of the proposed ‘net gain’ policy;
- An examination of the core concepts of biodiversity and environmental net gains, along with those aspects of natural capital considered in developing an environmental net gain approach; and,
- An assessment of how to mandate and implement biodiversity net gain for development (including measurements, delivery and monitoring mechanisms) as well as those sites, if any, which should be exempt from the rules.
The consultation closes on 10 February 2019.
Posted on: 21/12/2018
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.
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