Biodiversity net gain: an opportunity for landowners?

 

Harry Greenfield, CLA Senior Land Use Policy Adviser, looks into environmental net gain and the role of landowners in delivering it.

Harry Greenfield

Chapter 1 of the Government’s 25-Year Plan for the environment is headed “Using and managing land sustainably”. First on the list of policies to achieve this is to “embed a ‘net environmental gain’ principle for development”, which the Government has recently consulted on in a bid to realise this aim. As well as producing the CLA’s response, together with our Head of Planning, Fenella Collins, I have been attending meetings with Defra and talking to CLA members about how this might affect them.

So, what is net gain? Broadly, it seeks to ensure that development leaves biodiversity in a better state than beforehand by following a series of steps (known as the Mitigation Hierarchy). Ideally, wildlife habitats should be protected or restored during development. Where this cannot be fully achieved, compensatory habitats should be created on, or as close as possible to, the development site. The net result should be you end up with more biodiversity than you started with.

The Government proposes making net gain mandatory within the planning system, building on its current voluntary use by many developers and local planning authorities to help standardise the process, ensuing a level playing field.

There will be an inevitable need for areas of wildlife habitat to be created or managed to compensate for the environmental impacts of development projects, offering an opportunity for landowners to provide them. The Government’s proposals make clear that they hope embedding net gain will be a first step to creating a market for biodiversity off-sets, something the CLA has supported for several years.

Many details are yet to be decided, including how the system is administered; how long compensatory habitat sites are in place; and how to ensure that net gain does not impact the viability of small development sites in rural areas (on the latter point, the CLA has proposed an exemption for such sites).

Development, especially in rural areas, is often hindered by charges that it leads to environmental harm. A well-designed and implemented net gain policy could help to promote public support for development by demonstrating the benefits to the environment. The CLA will continue to engage with Government and members to ensure this is achieved.

The CLA’s consultation response can be read here