Don’t leave it too late on Biodiversity Net Gain

Morgan Price explains how the clock is ticking before sweeping biodiversity regulations come into effect next year

According to a recent poll, a third of developers say they are unaware of major new biodiversity regulations that come into effect next January. The research, published by Shawbrook at the start of November, is a timely reminder about the impact of these legal requirements to deliver biodiversity net gain (BNG) on projects.

These BNG regulations are intended to ensure wildlife habitats and green spaces are left in a better state post-development. It means that from next January, developers in England will be required, by law, to achieve a 10% net gain in biodiversity when constructing new housing or commercial developments. These regulations become enforceable by April 2024 for smaller developers, while major Infrastructure Projects are expected to comply by 2025.

The new regulations may be challenging but, if planning starts early enough, they also present real opportunities to deliver better outcomes for nature, communities and building occupants. The outcome should be new habitats and green spaces.

It’s something you now need to factor from the initial stages of project planning.

While BNG can be achieved off-site – by delivering enhancements on land owned away from the site or on units bought from a land manager – considerable advantages lie in on-site measures, where enhancements are made to the land the development is on. This approach meets the requirements of the mitigation hierarchy: a recognised framework that prioritises avoiding or minimising biodiversity impacts, followed by habitat restoration and then offsetting.

Where you cannot use on-site or off-site land, you must buy statutory biodiversity credits from government. Prices for biodiversity credits revealed recently suggest that maximising on-site efforts is likely to be the most cost-effective approach. Individual credits are estimated to cost from £42k to £650k, depending on the distinctiveness of the habitat being replaced, with developers told they must buy two credits for every one biodiversity unit compensated.

Beyond regulatory compliance, there are other benefits to well-designed greenspace near your project. Better green spaces bolster resilience to extremes of weather, including heatwaves and flooding. Woodlands, parks, and rivers can provide localised shading and cooling effects, while green roofs, street trees and other vegetated surfaces can help reduce flood risk in urban areas. They can also improve occupants’ health and well-being by bringing nature closer and creating greener and more attractive neighbourhoods to live, work and do business now and in the future.

Collaborative approach

In our zero-carbon Now or Never strategy, we have been working with customers, in advance of these new regulations, to measure and enhance biodiversity on their projects. We want to partner with customers to leave the wider natural environment in a measurably better state after before development. For example, in Portslade, Brighton and Hove, our project to transform a former school into office space for council staff also provided an opportunity to deliver biodiversity enhancements to the outside area on site. The enhancements, including a sensory garden for people on site to enjoy, a new pond, grassland, scrub, and a species-rich native hedgerow, brought about a 39% biodiversity gain.

Starting early is important because you need to understand the habitats that exist on a site (the baseline) and to create a design that retains as much valuable habitat as possible to enhance other areas of the site. It means having ecologists working closely to create landscaping and planting schemes that maximise biodiversity while also benefitting future occupants and local communities. Early engagement can also allow opportunities for developing offsite solutions to be fully explored.

Mandatory BNG is happening in 2024. We can help you to approach biodiversity net gain with confidence and find the right solutions for your project.

Morgan was writing in Housing Today