From November this year, all new housing, commercial and infrastructure developments in England will be required to result in a 10% biodiversity net gain (BNG).
This means they will have to assess the habitats affected and their conditions before submitting plans to the local planning authority with details of how they will deliver a 10% benefit for nature.
This will apply from November 2023 for developments in the Town & Country Planning Act 1990, unless exempt. It will apply to small sites from April 2024.
Offsetting is allowed – paying someone else to do something good somewhere else – but developers will have to show that this is the last resort.
The government guidance states: “You must try to avoid loss of habitat to a piece of land you plan to do development work on. If you cannot do this, you must create habitat either on-site or off-site.
“On-site means on the land your development work is on. Off-site is either your own land away from the development site, or you have bought units from a land manager.
“If you cannot use on-site or off-site land, you must buy statutory credits from the government. You must provide evidence for using this option. This must be a last resort. The government will invest in habitat creation elsewhere in England.
“You may be able to combine all three options to make up your BNG. You must discuss this with an ecologist, as you will need to prove why you cannot use one option. You must get approval from your local planning authority before you start building.”
Local planning authorities will have to approve a biodiversity net gain plan for development work before it can start. Whitehall is giving local authorities £16m between them to cope with the extra work involved in all this.
Environment secretary Therese Coffey said: “Biodiversity Net Gain will ensure new developments work for both wildlife and people by creating nature-rich places whilst ensuring that communities get the new homes they need.
“We will continue to support and work with developers and planning authorities ahead of the introduction of biodiversity net gain. We want to help them ensure the developments of the future enhance biodiversity by creating thriving places for plants and wildlife, as outlined under our pioneering environmental improvement plan.”
‘Levelling up’ secretary Michael Gove said: “Biodiversity is a vital part of our mission to create vibrant, green places that people are proud to call home. We want to make sure developers enrich local wildlife when delivering new homes and infrastructure across the country.”
Natural England chair Tony Juniper said: “For decades nature has been diminishing around us at an alarming rate, with England one of the most nature depleted countries on earth. We need significant, collaborative action to reverse this decline and put nature on the road to recovery.