22 October 2020
Back in 2019, the Chancellor announced in the Spring Statement to Parliament that Biodiversity Net Gain will be mandated for all new developments in England as part of the upcoming Environment Bill. The Bill is currently at Committee Stage within the House of Commons and there is still some way to go before it becomes an Act of Parliament; however, its current contents cannot be ignored in respect of future construction and development.
Biodiversity Net Gain refers to the process in which all new developments must consider the environmental impact of the proposed scheme and ensure that post-development biodiversity is left in a state better than it was before, for example, providing more natural habitat than there was existing prior to development.
In the Environment Bill summer policy statement (updated 23 July 2019), Defra stated that:
“Through the Bill, we will introduce a mandatory approach to biodiversity net gain. This will require developers to ensure habitats for wildlife are enhanced, with a 10% increase in habitat value for wildlife compared with the pre-development baseline. Exemptions for certain types of development will be made in a targeted way, and we will continue to work to establish potential approaches to achieving biodiversity net gains for nationally significant infrastructure projects and marine development, which remain out of scope of biodiversity net gain in the Bill.”
Delivering better biodiversity outcomes at new development or re-development sites is not new; Net Gain is already a feature of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Many local planning authorities (LPAs) already require the use of a Biodiversity Metric to demonstrate biodiversity net gain within their own policy frameworks.
However, at the time of writing there is no standard national approach to the use of a metric and different LPAs have different requirements, such as which metric to use or the percentage net gain new developments are expected to achieve. There a several metrics available for use, but it is hoped by Natural England that the Defra Biodiversity Metric 2.0 will be become the standard metric by the time the Environment Bill becomes law.
A Biodiversity Metric applies a numerical unit value to each kind of habitat on site, such as grassland and hedgerows, according to its distinctiveness and ecological condition, amongst other factors. Essentially it is a tool that can be used to measure and compare the existing biodiversity of the site and what will be delivered post-development. A percentage net gain or loss figure will result on its completion.
The use of a metric does not replace the current requirement to consider all ecological impacts on site as a result of the proposed development, such as impacts on protected habitats and species, or those that are rare or of importance for nature conservation, normally delivered in the form of an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) or Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) report.
The completion of a Biodiversity Metric must be carried out by a suitably qualified ecologist and in practice, one who is experienced in undertaking the calculations required. To complete the metric the ecologist must collect ecological baseline data about the site, undertaking a habitat survey (UK Hab) to understand the current conditions on site and establish area values of existing habitats.
They will then work closely with the landscaper and master planner to understand the post-development design and site management in respect of biodiversity going forward. At this stage it helps to provide the areas of post-development habitats to the ecologist to assist with the completion of the metric. The completed Biodiversity Metric assessment can then be submitted with the planning application, along with any other relevant reports required.
At ECOSA we are experienced in undertaking biodiversity metric assessments to support planning applications. Our ecologists can advise on the process and how to achieve biodiversity net gain in respect of your proposed scheme. In fact, the earlier we are involved in the project the better as we can help you navigate any potential constraints or pitfalls without delay!
If you require a biodiversity metric assessment, or are a consultant or developer looking for ways to enhance your site for biodiversity, get in touch today with our expert team who will be happy to assist.