From November 2023, Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) will be rolled out across England. This, coupled with voluntary take-up in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland sets the stage for one of the biggest change in the UK’s biodiversity in many years. It will turn developers into drivers of environmental gain - but requires them to make sure they actually create the right habitats. Under the new rules, not all habitats are created equal, and it is vital that developers make the right interventions in order to comply with the new regime.
This blog will explain what counts towards the required 10% uplift in BNG, highlighting the importance of striving for higher uplifts and using onsite solutions whenever possible. We will also discuss the significance of using the Biodiversity Metric 4.0 for calculations and the potential need for additional uplift as requested by the Local Planning Authority (LPA).
The 10% uplift goal
Under the Environment Act, developers must achieve at least a 10% uplift in BNG to ensure the environment is better off after development. Achieving a 10% uplift on each site is a crucial aspect of the UK Government's BNG policy, but it is a floor - not a ceiling. You should note that LPAs may request additional uplift, so it's always a good idea to (i) be aware of what your LPA wants to see and; (ii) aim for higher gains as a matter of good practice.
As we have set out in previous blogs, uplifts are measured in Biodiversity Units (BUs). Onsite solutions are always preferred, as they provide direct benefits to the development area. Habitat creation and enhancement may count towards your BNG so long as the uplift is calculated via the Biodiversity Metric sheet. It is very important to remember that calculations for Biodiversity Units (BUs) must be done using the Biodiversity Metric 4.0 - no other metric is accepted!
The LPA must be satisfied that the metric has been used appropriately and can refuse planning permission based on the provided evidence.
The metric takes into account the risk of delay in habitat creation and enhancement, making it more challenging to reach the 10% uplift. Timely delivery of on-site biodiversity gains is crucial - it is essential that these gains are secured within 12 months of the development's commencement or, if not possible, before occupation. A well-defined timeframe for delivery must be included in any planning conditions, obligations, or covenants that secure on-site gains. Any delay in creation must be accounted for in the biodiversity metric calculation, resulting in a lower number of biodiversity units generated.
If a plan surpasses the 10% uplift, there may also be an opportunity to sell or bank surplus biodiversity units for other schemes.
What isn’t in the 10% uplift?
The Biodiversity Metric 4.0 is a habitat-based approach and does not include species-based features like bird and bat boxes. However, such features should still be encouraged through design guides and codes - as they are excellent features that can boost species numbers and should be included as part of good practice.
To deter developers from clearing habitats before ecological assessments, provisions will be made in the biodiversity gain statement for using an earlier habitat value as the baseline in cases where habitats have been recently degraded. For habitats that have been degraded since January 2020, the pre-degradation habitat should be used as the baseline. In other words, any efforts to degrade a site and artificially bring down the baseline score will not count and you will have to secure uplift to what was there before the degradation took place.
Legal Requirements and Restrictions
It is important to appreciate that BNG is a wholly new system, and assessments are different to the assessments that are used in (for example) environmental impact assessments (EIA), assessments for sustainable drainage, and assessments for river basin management plan (RBMP) mitigation and enhancement measures. Off-site mitigation and compensation for protected sites and species can also contribute to BNG, but at least 10% must come from other activities, like onsite habitat creation and enhancement.
BNG must be legally secured for at least 30 years and registered before it can count towards your target. However, certain habitat creation or enhancements cannot be included in your BNG calculations if they are already required for other regulations, such as tree felling licenses, marine licensing, or environmental damage remediation. RBMP mitigation can contribute to your total BNG, but if you're already providing it to prevent deterioration, you must still achieve 10% BNG through separate activities. If you're providing RBMP enhancement, you don't need additional activities to meet your BNG target.
BNG also does not overwrite established legal and policy provisions that protect the natural environment, including laws for protected sites, species, and priority habitats. A development must still consider these factors and cannot avoid them by delivering a net gain. BNG ensures that habitats are valued and replaced with a 10% increase, assuming the habitat loss is not irreplaceable (the exact definition of ‘irreplaceable habitat’ will be sent out in regulations), and the project is otherwise permissible.
The Environment Act requires that habitats be secured for at least 30 years, but in some cases, such as Habitats Regulations mitigation, the requirement may be for management and maintenance of habitats in perpetuity.
Offsite Units and Biodiversity Gain Plans
Habitat created or enhanced after 30 January 2020 will be eligible for registration and sale of the associated biodiversity gains, as long as it meets the criteria of the biodiversity gain site register. This date coincides with the reintroduction of the Environment Bill into Parliament and marks the point at which landowners could reasonably expect the implementation of mandatory BNG. Enhancements made before this date will be considered ineligible, as they are unlikely to have been carried out for mandatory BNG purposes.
For habitats created or enhanced before 30 January 2020, a re-baselining using the statutory biodiversity metric is required to ensure that only biodiversity units created or enhanced after this date can be sold. This approach guarantees a fair and consistent evaluation of biodiversity gains while promoting responsible development practices.
For all off-site BUs, the land used must be secured for a minimum of 30 years and formally registered on the Biodiversity Gain Site Register. To count towards a development's net gain requirement, off-site biodiversity gains must be secured through a Conservation Covenant or planning obligation and registered before the final approval of the Biodiversity Gain Plan. Off-site habitat creation or enhancement does not need to be completed before its registration or the sale and allocation of biodiversity units to a development.
The government is currently considering whether to require off-site works to commence as soon as feasible, and no later than 12 months after the discharge of the mandatory pre-commencement biodiversity net gain condition through off-site eligibility criteria or as a consideration for Biodiversity Gain Plan approval. When an off-site assessment is linked to an on-site project, the correct spatial risk multiplier must be entered into the off-site section of the biodiversity metric to ensure accuracy and accountability in measuring biodiversity gains.
Whether it is via onsite solutions or offsite solutions it is essential for applicants to clearly demonstrate that the Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) objective has been met during the examination process. To maintain consistency with the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) approach, developers or scheme promoters must prepare a biodiversity gain plan and complete the biodiversity metric. This approach ensures that the necessary information and calculations are available for review by the relevant authorities.
How Joe’s Blooms can help
Clearly, securing a 10% uplift is a challenging prospect. Not only does it require finding the right steps in a complex metric, and finding the resources and skills required to realise the desired uplifts, it also requires developers to make sure they tick all the right boxes. Miss a key criteria or nuanced point, and you run a real risk of the LPA turning down your development.
Joe’s Blooms digital tools ensure that the various criteria that need to be met are always baked into your plan. We make sure that the various uplift options that are presented to you meet the various requirements as set out in the Environment Act, and with our easy-to-adapt services, we can make sure that you can also accommodate any changes that the LPA may ask for as well. From complying with the new law to the bespoke requirements of the individual planning officer - our tools are designed to make sure you can fully comply with the new regime.
In summary, achieving the 10% uplift in Biodiversity Net Gain requires a comprehensive understanding of habitat creation and enhancement, legal requirements, and the use of the Biodiversity Metric 4.0. While the 10% uplift is mandatory, developers should strive for higher gains and prioritise onsite solutions.
What counts towards a 10% uplift? Habitat enhancements that correctly follow the new rules.
The time has come to get prepared for the new rules.