THE ENVIRONMENT Bank has been working to establish a rapidly expanding network of habitat banks across England in order to be able to deliver high-integrity biodiversity units.
From January 2024 developers must deliver at least 10% biodiversity net gain on the vast majority of all new developments in England with few exceptions. The BNG strategy is designed to mitigate the environmental damage of development and ensure that nature is left in a better state.
They say that, “To reduce initial biodiversity loss as much as possible, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) compels developers to adhere to a ‘mitigation hierarchy’ in their BNG delivery options. Biodiversity loss from developments must first be avoided as much as possible and then any impact should be appropriately mitigated on-site. When on-site mitigation is impossible or poses a threat to project viability, developers can purchase Biodiversity Units to compensate off-site.”
Importantly, the Environment Bank says that their landscape-scale habitat banks are fully funded for their full lifetime. This includes the cost of capital works, habitat management, ecological monitoring, and detailed reporting.
They say, “Our high-quality, landscape-scale nature restoration sites are strategically located in areas of ecological importance around England. They are designed in collaboration with the respective local stakeholders to ensure they contribute to broader network recovery.
“We are well on our way to establishing a habitat bank in every local planning authority area to provide local access to biodiversity units. This ensures that the social and environmental benefits of biodiversity net gain remain close to where the development is happening and minimises the need for cross-boundary selling or statutory credits.
“Our sites include a mosaic of habitats appropriate to the surrounding environment, including grassland, woodland, wetland, and river corridors. This ensures that common off-site development biodiversity requirements are met while also supporting the local nature recovery strategies.”
The Environment Bank’s habitat banks are typically established on low-yielding land to avoid any impacts to food security, and can help to provide long-term income security for rural landowners through secure annual land leases and management payments.
The Bank explains that their nationwide network of habitat banks helps to ensure that biodiversity units are available in each Local Planning Authority or National Character Area. This is necessary because if habitat sites are unavailable in the immediate LPA, then developers have to purchase additional cross-boundary credits.
“When local delivery options are unavailable, developers can purchase biodiversity units beyond the LPA/NCA, though they will be required to deliver additional biodiversity gains as a penalty for non-local delivery. This ‘cross-boundary’ delivery from an adjacent LPA/NCA requires an additional 50% biodiversity uplift, and delivery beyond an adjacent LPA/NCA requires an additional 100% uplift.
“When all other options have been exhausted, developers can purchase statutory biodiversity credits from the government, with these being punitively priced and incurring the same +100% spatial risk multiplier as any other delivery beyond an adjacent LPA/NCA.”
The Environment Bank says that while on-site BNG delivery may seem preferable, it is often unachievable, with habitat establishment typically impractical and adequate maintenance virtually impossible.
They say, “If a Section 106 agreement or conservation covenant needs to be placed on a development site to lock in its status as an area for Biodiversity Net Gain, the purpose of this area cannot change for the legally mandated 30-year period as required by the Environment Act 2021. This means that developable areas can be significantly restricted by on-site delivery, with future adaptability no longer feasible.
“Removing the pressure for on-site Biodiversity Net Gain delivery also ensures that green spaces on-site are free to use for recreation and amenities which do not contribute to BNG, such as allotments, playing fields, and flower gardens.
“Off-site BNG delivery therefore creates protected havens for nature where it can thrive while also giving developers far more freedom on-site – resulting in the best solutions for developers, local communities, and the environment.”
The key for developers, the Bank says, is to distinguish between the credible providers that can be trusted to design and deliver a biodiversity gain plan for the full, legally mandated 30-year term and those that cannot.
If developers find a trusted provider who can offer reliable, high-quality Units locally, LPAs will be far more likely to grant your project planning permission.
They say that, “At Environment Bank, our team of field ecologists, RTPI planners, and legal experts are setting the gold standard in habitat creation and providing access to high-integrity Biodiversity Units nationwide. We are establishing an expanding network of the highest quality Habitat Banks across England – with funding for these sites already secured for their entire lifetime.
“We provide end-to-end Biodiversity Net Gain planning support to ensure our Biodiversity Units demonstrate the long-term ecological outcomes that your planning officer will accept. Environment Bank is taking vast strides towards unlocking truly sustainable development and tackling the existential threat of biodiversity loss.”