New housing developments to deliver a boost for nature in landmark move

From today (Monday 12 February), all major housing developments are required to deliver at least a 10% benefit for nature with England becoming the first country in the world to make Biodiversity Net Gain a legal requirement.

Biodiversity Net Gain, introduced through the world-leading Environment Act, will help deliver the government’s commitment to halt species decline by 2030. It means developers in England are now legally required to deliver at least a 10% increase in biodiversity when major building projects are undertaken. Many housing developers are already successfully operating Biodiversity Net Gain and recognising the benefits for people and nature. But from today, it will be mandatory.

To help Local Planning Authorities integrate Biodiversity Net Gain at a local level, £10.6 million of funding is being committed to help local authorities recruit and expand ecologist teams, investing in green jobs and increasing capacity to create new wildlife-rich habitats alongside developments.

Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, said, “Biodiversity Net Gain will help us deliver the beautiful homes the country needs, support wildlife and create great places for people to live. This vital tool builds on our work to reverse the decline in nature and for everyone to live within a 15-minute walk of a green space or water and will transform how development and nature can work together to benefit communities.”

Natural England Chair, Tony Juniper, said, “If we are to halt and reverse the decline of wildlife in line with our ambitious national targets then it will be vital to ensure that new habitats are created to compensate those being lost to developments.

“Biodiversity Net Gain is a key moment on our path to halting the decline of nature, enabling developers to make a positive contribution through creating new habitats, increasing access to green spaces, and building healthy and resilient places for people to live and work.

“Many developers are already using Biodiversity Net Gain in new developments and recognising the benefits for people and nature.”

Developers like Berkeley Group have been carrying out developments using Biodiversity Net Gain for several years.

Rob Perrins, Chief Executive of Berkeley Group, said, “Biodiversity Net Gain is a positive step for the homebuilding industry and will bring nature back to our towns and cities. Putting this into practice on over 50 sites has been a hugely positive experience for Berkeley Group and these greener, wilder landscapes have huge benefits for the communities around them.

“The challenge now is to make sure that developers and planning authorities take a positive and collaborative approach to delivering Biodiversity Net Gain across the country. This is a big change for everyone involved and we need to work together to unlock the full benefits for people, planet, and prosperity.”

Biodiversity Net Gain requires development to avoid harm to nature, but where that is unavoidable, developers must create new habitats or enhance existing ones either within the site itself or by investing in nature sites elsewhere. Biodiversity Net Gain means there will be more nature after a development than before. Where this is not possible, developers can purchase off-site biodiversity units from landowners via a private market.

Local authorities have a range of tools to help them enforce Biodiversity Net Gain, while the Environment Act 2021 includes mechanisms to ensure that commitments through conservation covenants are adhered to. Off-site projects will be tracked and monitored through a digital register maintained by Natural England.

Biodiversity Net Gain for small sites will still be applicable from April 2024, and implementation for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects remains planned for 2025. Biodiversity Net Gain will prioritise on-site nature development to deliver the maximum benefits for people and nature.

England is the only country in the world with mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain, further cementing its position as world leader on the environment. The UK was also the first country in the world to have legally binding targets to halt the decline of nature.

How Biodiversity Net Gain works

  • Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) will apply to new planning applications, rather than existing applications.
  • BNG is measured in biodiversity units calculated through the statutory metric tool. This calculates how many units a habitat contains before development, to then calculate how many biodiversity units are needed to provide at least 10% BNG.
  • The statutory biodiversity metric considers the size, quality, location, and type of habitat.
  • BNG can be achieved through on-site units, off-site units, or through statutory biodiversity credits. These credits will be available as a last resort from the government, to prevent delays in the planning system.
  • It is also important that BNG provides lasting benefits for the environment. That is why we have set out how the improved significant on-site and off-site habitats will be managed for the long term. Significant on-site and all off-site gains will need a legal agreement with a responsible body or local authority to monitor the habitat improvements over the 30-year period.
  • As BNG is implemented on 12 February it will apply to applications for major developments only and will be implemented for small sites (between 1 and 9 dwellings) from 2 April 2024. Roll-out of BNG for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects is expected in late 2025.
  • Natural England has also created a Habitat Management and Monitoring Plan template to support management.

On-site and off-site BNG

  • Through the new biodiversity gain hierarchy on-site BNG is prioritised, which involves developers creating new habitats or enhancing existing habitats on the development site.
  • If this is not possible, developers can buy off-site biodiversity units from landowners via a private market. Landowners may include private organizations, farmers, local authorities and NGOs.
  • After both on-site and off-site BNG have been considered, as a last resort, developers will be able to purchase statutory biodiversity credits from the government, which will be reinvested in habitat projects across the nation. This will help to ensure that delays in the planning system can be avoided.
  • The delivery of BNG within the red line boundary must be considered first before looking off-site.
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