Public concern about climate change and the environment is at an all-time high. Protesters are blocking roads and pensioners are climbing on trains. Young people have found their voice and are cutting through to the Government agenda. But what does it mean for planning?
The Government has not been entirely idle. At the heart of their response is the Environment Bill, a core part of which is a requirement that new developments must deliver a net gain in biodiversity, to ensure habitats for wildlife are enhanced and left in a measurably better state than they were pre-development.
This is not new news.
DEFRA held a consultation between 2 December 2018 – 10 February 2019, asking people their thoughts on making biodiversity net gain a pre-requisite for granting planning permission in England.
A key question was whether respondents supported a mandatory 10% biodiversity gain. A significant majority of respondents supported a mandatory approach – including, perhaps surprisingly, respondents from the development sector. There was disagreement about the 10% figure, but on balance the Government decided to stick to it, as it strikes the balance between ambition, certainty in achieving environmental outcomes, and deliverability and costs for developers. Therefore, as announced at the Chancellor’s Spring Statement in March, a mandatory approach to biodiversity net gain will be introduced that will legally require developers to ensure habitats for wildlife are enhanced, with a 10% increase in habitat for wildlife compared with the pre-development baseline.
Commenting on the decision, the then-Environment Secretary Michael Gove, said:
“Mandating biodiversity net gain will ensure wildlife thrives at the same time as addressing the need to build new homes. Whether it’s through planting more trees or creating green corridors, developers will now be required to place the environment at the heart of new developments.
This new approach will not only improve habitats for wildlife and create healthier places to live and work, but is central in our ambition to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.”
The Government will hope that the new biodiversity requirement (cost) is small enough to not slow down the delivery of new homes, whilst making a nod to the increasingly loud concerns coming from climate and environment campaigners. Some signs are good with voluntary steps being taken by industry leaders, such as the Berkeley Group.
Other developers will be understandably concerned at the extra costs which their schemes will have to bear and what other measures may have to be trimmed to make the schemes stack up. Developers with projects well underway will be concerned that retrofitting biodiversity net gain will undoubtedly be harder than if it had been planned at the outset.