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Biodiversity Net Gain - What Does This Mean for Development and Infrastructure Projects?

on Monday, 12 July 2021.

On 14 June, the Government announced a proposed amendment to the Environment Bill to extend the Biodiversity Net Gain requirement to Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.

The announcement was contained in the Government's response to the Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity. Its aim is to ensure that "new development leads to more nature, not less". This is in line with the Government's environmental commitments contained in the National Infrastructure Strategy and the 25 Year Environmental Plan.

Whilst the Net Gain Requirement in the Environment Bill already applied to 'Development' under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, it did not extend to infrastructure projects. This resulted in criticism from Baroness Parminter, Chair of the House of Lords' Environment and Climate Change Committee. Lord Randall also disapproved of the exclusion, saying that if the requirement "is to have meaning", the Net Gain Requirement must also apply to major infrastructure projects.

When Will the Net Gain Requirement Be Introduced?

The Environment Bill is currently passing through Parliament and as such, has not yet been enacted. Whilst there is not yet a fixed date for the Bill becoming law, the current target for Statutory Instruments to be laid before Parliament is 31 October 2022. Statutory Instruments will permit the Environment Bill to be enacted as an Act of Parliament at a later date without the need for Parliament to pass a new separate Act.

The Government's response to the Dasgupta Review stated that a suitable transition period would be provided, along with appropriate exemptions to the mandatory Net Gain Requirement. The Government is currently considering "how a biodiversity net gain approach for big infrastructure projects could best be delivered".

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How Will the Net Gain Requirement Be Met?

If the proposed amendment is enacted, biodiversity net gain plans would need to be submitted with planning applications. It is expected that plans will need to provide detail on the following matters:

  • any expected change in the site's biodiversity value before and after the development
  • any steps that the developer proposes to take to minimise any negative impact on biodiversity
  • detail on how net biodiversity gain will be delivered

The application of requirements to Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects is set to be tailored, in recognition of the differences between infrastructure and Development.

On 7 July, Natural England and Defra published Biodiversity Metric 3.0, which sets out how net gain is to be demonstrated. The Metric is mandatory for all development types subjected to the Net Gain Requirement in the Environment Bill. It can be utilised by a wide range of stakeholders, including planners, land managers and developers. Specifically, the Metric can calculate a site's baseline biodiversity and provide guidance on increasing biodiversity, to assist with providing evidence of compliance with the Net Gain Requirement.

Looking Ahead

This proposed broadening of the Net Gain Requirement is consistent with the Government's growing environmental focus within the planning system. For example, Planning for the Future, a White Paper published in August 2020, outlined the need for a planning system that "protects and enhances" the environment. It is believed that the Environment Bill "lays the foundations" for the forthcoming Planning Bill expected later this year.

For more information, please contact David Bird in our Planning team on 07500 838556 or complete the form below.

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