The principle of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is now heading a full pelt towards the planning process with major implications for landowners and developers. Here are the basics.
In principle, BNG requires developers to ensure habitats are enhanced and left in a measurably better state than they were pre-development, delivering at least a 10% improvement in biodiversity.
Whilst not yet a mandatory requirement, in February 2019 the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was updated and introduced a requirement to ‘identify and pursue opportunities for securing measurable net gains for biodiversity’. When the Environment Bill receives Royal Assent at the end of the year Local Planning Authorities will have a legal framework for targeting biodiversity enhancements. It is proposed that there will be a 2-year transition period but we are aware of authorities already imposing BNG.
Green field planning applications, even those benefitting from an allocation will need to ensure they are submitted with BNG in mind. For example, a residential development of 10 hectares will be expected to provide a ‘net gain’ of 10% totally 11 hectares elsewhere. If a local authority has a site already identified for BNG, then payment of a commuted sum through a s106 agreement may be possible.
For those promoting development proposals, the introduction of BNG is another barrier to delivery imposed by the planning system. Our very recent experience is one of a delayed committee date while the consultant ecologist tries to reach a palatable level of compensatory land with the Council’s ecologist. In this case, the applicant is fortunate to have land with limited development potential available. Had this not been the case, the Council’s consultation response was clear, planning permission would have been refused. A commuted sum in lieu of provision was not an option as the Council had no identified site where this sum could be spent.
Cost is another obvious impact arising from BNG. Developments already burdened with CIL and s106 requests will now have to factor in BNG delivery into their appraisals. The costs of BNG land will vary but whether it’s an impact of £12k or £200k per acre, the impact on a site’s viability will be challenging.
A further barrier imposed by BNG is its impact on site delivery. When will BNG be requested to be effective; prior to development commencing or triggered at some defined point of occupation? The former will necessitate compensatory land to be purchased and habitat created well in advance of the programmed site start.
However, BNG should be seen as an opportunity for landowners with land not benefitting from immediate development potential. BNG land can either be sold or leased (for circa 30 years) to a developer. On occasion and depending on the habitat to be created, land can be continued to be grazed. The value attributable to the land will ultimately be reliant on the availability of similar land nearby and how urgently the developer requires it.
At Meller Speakman, we benefit from a network of developer clients and landowners so are well placed to advise on the implication, good or bad of BNG. Contact Peter Wain or Mark Murphy for further information.