A fresh start for Biodiversity Net Gain

With January 2024 announced as the new start date for Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), CLA Chief Land Use Policy Adviser Susan Twining offers advice on BNG and how to find and supply biodiversity units

Defra has confirmed that the introduction of mandatory 10% Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) for new housing, industrial or commercial developments in England will now be from January 2024, a two-month delay. This will provide time for remaining government guidance to be published and Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to train the relevant staff and finalise their processes.

Defra has also confirmed that the small sites metric will be introduced in April 2024 as originally planned. This applies to developments of less than 10 residential units on a site area of less than one hectare, or for non-residential of less than 1,000 square metres.

There was never a question of abandoning the policy, which is in the Environment Act 2021, although the sentiment and actions from government in recent weeks, particularly around nutrient neutrality, created a lot of speculation about delays. The short delay is however a reasonable response to the very real concerns of housebuilder and developer about the availability of Defra guidance and LPA readiness. A survey published by the Royal Town Planning Institute in early September identified that 61% of public sector planners could not confirm if they would have a dedicated BNG resource or expertise within their department by November.

There remains a degree of ‘market jitters’ which is inevitable at the start of a new policy, no matter how much awareness building, training and planning is done. Developers are concerned about the readiness of LPAs, the availability of specialist ecological advisers and the obtainability of off-site biodiversity units of the right type in the right place. Meanwhile, landowners and managers considering options to supply biodiversity units are being hampered by the developer focus on on-site BNG (which is an approach that is encouraged by the metric), and lack of transparent signals on the type and quantity of units that might be needed by their LPA.

The CLA has been raising these issues with Defra, along with other potential risks – such as the use of compulsory purchase or preferential use of local authority land for BNG sites.

Calls for guidance and greater emphasis on offsite BNG provision

Biodiversity Unit Finder

The Biodiversity Unit Finder is an opportunity for landowners to reach potential buyers through an independent and free register.

There is currently concern from developers that there is no easy way to find landowners and managers who have biodiversity units or are interested in providing them in the future. To address this, the CLA is working with the Future Homes Hub to create a free and independent online register of biodiversity units by Local Planning Authority or National Character Area.

The Biodiversity Unit Finder is a valuable service for landowners and managers who have already created, or plan to create off-site biodiversity units, and would like to link with potential buyers. Registration of BNG sites will enable homebuilders to contact local landowners to discuss potential agreements.

The Biodiversity Unit Finder is currently being piloted and we would like to invite you to register any land that already has biodiversity units available, land in development to create biodiversity units, or prospective land for BNG on the tracker. This will enable homebuilders to contact local landowners to discuss potential agreements.

The tool consists of two parts:

  • A contact and information form for landowners
  • An anonymised unit finder map for developers in the Future Homes Hub

The landowner form captures contact information and general information about landowner biodiversity projects, type of biodiversity unit and their stage of development. This information will be used to inform the Biodiversity Unit Finder map which will be made available to Future Homes Hub members to search by location and type of BNG opportunity. They will then be able to contact the landowner to discuss projects. The Future Homes Hub will also receive a copy of any messages sent through the contact form.

If you would like to add your available biodiversity units, projects in development, or prospective land to the register, click here to add your units to the Biodiversity Unit Finder Map. Or here to find out more about the Biodiversity Unit Finder. All registrations are subject to the data agreement set out in the form. As this is still the pilot phase you may be contacted by Future Homes Hub for your feedback on the registration process.

Guidance and advice for CLA members

If you are not quite at the stage of offering sites for off-site biodiversity units, the CLA has a number of other resources available to help you find out more about BNG and build understanding of the opportunities and how to evaluate if it is right for you.

There is a range of CLA Guidance Notes, specifically on BNG from both the developer and land supply side, but others more generally on nature markets. You can find these on the Advice tab of the website. There is also a CLA webinar on supplying biodiversity units with contributions from Defra and Dillington Estate.

In addition, there is a series of published advisory articles in the CLA Land and Business magazine to look out for – the November issue has an article on what happens at the end of a 30 year agreement.

You might also be interested in the CLA Natural Capital Roadshow – Nature Market Opportunities which is running from November to February throughout the CLA regions. The perfect place to have your BNG questions answered.