Biodiversity Gain Plans for developers

Parliament are considering changes to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which would introduce a requirement for developers to provide a net biodiversity gain on all relevant sites.

Parliament are considering changes to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which would introduce a requirement for developers to provide a net biodiversity gain on all relevant sites.

Parliament are currently considering the Environment Bill (2019-20) which proposes changes to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) and other legislation. The Bill is expected to be adopted in 2020. The draft legislation, if passed, will increase the responsibility of developers.

Local planning authorities are currently required to conserve biodiversity in their areas (via Section 40 of The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006), making sure the impact of development on biodiversity is neutral. The new Legislation would require local authorities to make sure the impact of development enhances biodiversity in their areas. It will also amend the Town and Country Planning Act, stipulating that development proposals should individually make a positive impact on biodiversity, to be measured through applying a standardised calculator.

The calculator compares the types and quality of habitats on a site prior to development, to those created through the development to calculate the biodiversity net gain or loss. It would appear that off-site enhancements (to be applied for as part of any planning application) can also be included in the calculations if considered appropriate.

Developers will be required under the Legislation to submit a Biodiversity Gain Plan, which must be approved by the local planning authority before development can commence. The plan must set out how, when applying the calculator, a biodiversity gain of at least 10% can be achieved across the development.  Approval of the Plan and compliance with it will be controlled by a planning condition.

The detail of the bill may change as it moves through Parliament. It has already been amended following industry feedback to allow a wider range of habitats to be considered by the calculator, including living rooves, living walls, individual trees, and a wide range of urban landscape types.

In summary, the Legislation will, if adopted in its current form, require all planning applications for development proposals to be accompanied by a strategy for enhancing biodiversity value. The new Schedule (7a) to be inserted into TCPA would require a condition requiring a Biodiversity Gain Plan to be attached to ‘every planning permission granted for the development of land in England’. There are some exclusions to this, including development granted planning permission by a development order (including permitted development); development on crown land; and any other exceptions the SoS may wish to make at a later point.  In practice, this will result in applicants calculating their biodiversity gain, at least in draft, before submitting a planning application, adding additional complexity and cost to development proposals.

These provisions draw some parallels with the policy requirement for development to generate 10% of its energy from on-site renewables, which we are regularly having to deal with in the Greater Norwich Policy Area and other local authority areas. Although in the case of the renewables requirement, the policy is generally applied to larger scale developments rather than being a ‘blanket application’ as appears to be the case with these Biodiversity Gain requirements.

Additionally, the calculator may prove a useful tool for quantifying environmental and planning gain for large scale developments and, where exceeding the 10% biodiversity requirement, it may provide us and our clients the opportunity to identify a positive ‘material consideration’ that weighs in favour of a development.

If you would like to discuss the calculator or the implications of the draft Bill more generally, please get in touch with Sarah Clinch, Associate Planner at Lanpro.

Parliament are considering changes to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which would introduce a requirement for developers to provide a net biodiversity gain on all relevant sites.

Parliament are currently considering the Environment Bill (2019-20) which proposes changes to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) and other legislation. The Bill is expected to be adopted in 2020. The draft legislation, if passed, will increase the responsibility of developers.

Local planning authorities are currently required to conserve biodiversity in their areas (via Section 40 of The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006), making sure the impact of development on biodiversity is neutral. The new Legislation would require local authorities to make sure the impact of development enhances biodiversity in their areas. It will also amend the Town and Country Planning Act, stipulating that development proposals should individually make a positive impact on biodiversity, to be measured through applying a standardised calculator.

The calculator compares the types and quality of habitats on a site prior to development, to those created through the development to calculate the biodiversity net gain or loss. It would appear that off-site enhancements (to be applied for as part of any planning application) can also be included in the calculations if considered appropriate.

Developers will be required under the Legislation to submit a Biodiversity Gain Plan, which must be approved by the local planning authority before development can commence. The plan must set out how, when applying the calculator, a biodiversity gain of at least 10% can be achieved across the development.  Approval of the Plan and compliance with it will be controlled by a planning condition.

The detail of the bill may change as it moves through Parliament. It has already been amended following industry feedback to allow a wider range of habitats to be considered by the calculator, including living rooves, living walls, individual trees, and a wide range of urban landscape types.

In summary, the Legislation will, if adopted in its current form, require all planning applications for development proposals to be accompanied by a strategy for enhancing biodiversity value. The new Schedule (7a) to be inserted into TCPA would require a condition requiring a Biodiversity Gain Plan to be attached to ‘every planning permission granted for the development of land in England’. There are some exclusions to this, including development granted planning permission by a development order (including permitted development); development on crown land; and any other exceptions the SoS may wish to make at a later point.  In practice, this will result in applicants calculating their biodiversity gain, at least in draft, before submitting a planning application, adding additional complexity and cost to development proposals.

These provisions draw some parallels with the policy requirement for development to generate 10% of its energy from on-site renewables, which we are regularly having to deal with in the Greater Norwich Policy Area and other local authority areas. Although in the case of the renewables requirement, the policy is generally applied to larger scale developments rather than being a ‘blanket application’ as appears to be the case with these Biodiversity Gain requirements.

Additionally, the calculator may prove a useful tool for quantifying environmental and planning gain for large scale developments and, where exceeding the 10% biodiversity requirement, it may provide us and our clients the opportunity to identify a positive ‘material consideration’ that weighs in favour of a development.

If you would like to discuss the calculator or the implications of the draft Bill more generally, please get in touch with Sarah Clinch, Associate Planner at Lanpro.

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