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Biodiversity Net Gain

New housing developments must legally deliver nature boost in world first
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Aerial view looking down on new build housing construction site in England, UK

From today (Monday 12 February), all major housing developments are required to deliver at least a 10% benefit for nature, with England becoming the first country in the world to make Biodiversity Net Gain a legal requirement.

Biodiversity Net Gain, introduced through the Environment Act, will help deliver the government’s commitment to halt species decline by 2030.

It means developers in England are now legally required to deliver at least a 10% increase in biodiversity when major building projects are undertaken.

Many housing developers are already successfully operating Biodiversity Net Gain and recognising the benefits for people and nature. But from today, it will be mandatory.

To help Local Planning Authorities integrate Biodiversity Net Gain at a local level, £10.6 million of funding is being committed to help local authorities recruit and expand ecologist teams, investing in green jobs and increasing capacity to create new wildlife-rich habitats alongside developments.

‘If we are to halt and reverse the decline of wildlife in line with our ambitious national targets then it will be vital to ensure that new habitats are created to compensate those being lost to developments.

‘Biodiversity Net Gain is a key moment on our path to halting the decline of nature, enabling developers to make a positive contribution through creating new habitats, increasing access to green spaces, and building healthy and resilient places for people to live and work.

‘Many developers are already using Biodiversity Net Gain in new developments and recognising the benefits for people and nature.’

Natural England chair

Avoiding harm to nature

Biodiversity Net Gain requires development to avoid harm to nature, but where that is unavoidable, developers must create new habitats or enhance existing ones either within the site itself or by investing in nature sites elsewhere.

Biodiversity Net Gain means there will be more nature after a development than before. Where this is not possible, developers can purchase off-site biodiversity units from landowners via a private market.

Local authorities have a range of tools to help them enforce Biodiversity Net Gain, while the Environment Act 2021 includes mechanisms to ensure that commitments through conservation covenants are adhered to.

Off-site projects will be tracked and monitored through a digital register maintained by Natural England.

‘Biodiversity Net Gain will help us deliver the beautiful homes the country needs, support wildlife and create great places for people to live.

‘This government is going further and faster for nature, since 2010 we have restored an area for nature larger than the size of Dorset, banned micro plastics and set ambitious targets to halt biodiversity decline.

‘This vital tool builds on our work to reverse the decline in nature and for everyone to live within a 15-minute walk of a green space or water and will transform how development and nature can work together to benefit communities.’

Environment Minister

How Biodiversity Net Gain works 

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) will apply to new planning applications, rather than existing applications.

BNG is measured in biodiversity units calculated through the statutory metric tool. This calculates how many units a habitat contains before development, to then calculate how many biodiversity units are needed to provide at least 10% BNG. 

The statutory biodiversity metric considers the size, quality, location and type of habitat.
BNG can be achieved through on-site units, off-site units or through statutory biodiversity credits.

These credits will be available as a last resort from the government, to prevent delays in the planning system. 

To ensure BNG provides lasting benefits for the environment, the government has set out how the improved significant on-site and off-site habitats will be managed for the long term.

Significant on-site and all off-site gains will need a legal agreement with a responsible body or local authority to monitor the habitat improvements over the 30-year period.

‘We need to take this opportunity and make sure Biodiversity Net Gain can help towards nature’s recovery. Central government, local authorities, developers, and nature charities like The Wildlife Trusts must work together to bring nature to our doorsteps and wildlife to our windows.’

CEO of London Wildlife Trust

Rolling out BNG

As BNG is implemented on 12 February it will apply to applications for major developments only and will be implemented for small sites (between one and nine dwellings) from 02 April 2024.

Roll-out of BNG for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects is expected in late 2025. 

Natural England has also created a Habitat Management and Monitoring Plan template to support management. 

Through the new biodiversity gain hierarchy on-site BNG is prioritised, which involves developers creating new habitats or enhancing existing habitats on the development site. 

If this is not possible, developers can buy off-site biodiversity units from landowners via a private market.

Landowners may include private organisations, farmers, local authorities and NGOs. 

After both on-site and off-site BNG have been considered, as a last resort, developers will be able to purchase statutory biodiversity credits from the government, which will be reinvested in habitat projects across the nation. This will help to ensure that delays in the planning system can be avoided. 

The delivery of BNG within the red line boundary must be considered first before looking off site.

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