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The Environmental Bill is scheduled to come into force in Autumn 2021 and will introduce a new framework of governance aimed at enhancing and preserving our environment for future generations leading to a two year roll out of the long awaited 'Biodiversity Net Gain' requirements ('BNG').
The BNG will be brought forward by imposing a condition on most planning permissions in England (amending the Town and County Planning Act 1990) to require a 'biodiversity gain plan' is submitted and approved by the local planning authority prior to commencement of development.
Applicants for planning permission will need to evidence that their development will provide at least a 10% biodiversity net gain. Biodiversity value will be calculated using a metric published by Natural England. The mechanisms for delivering the biodiversity net gain can include for example: habitat creation or enhancement or by creating green infrastructure.
Delivery of the BNG can be at the development site. However significantly, if that is not possible, it could alternatively be at offsite locations. If as a last resort, no on-site or off-site options are available, statutory biodiversity credits can be purchased from the Government. These will be used to fund national/larger biodiversity projects and will likely be more expensive.
Enforcement will be either through planning conditions or conservation covenants in the long term. Conservation covenants are a private voluntary agreement between landowners and a 'responsible body' such as a conservation charity or government bodies. If the covenant is breached, the responsible body will be able to bring enforcement proceedings for breach of contract.
There had previously been some suggestion that a template covenant would be made available which would certainly help provide some further clarity as to how the covenants will work in practice. Such covenants might also include the ability for the local planning authority to enforce as well as the responsible body, but this remains to be seen.
The main question around the cost of enforcement and how that would be funded has not yet been adequately answered. Conservation charities will want to understand this before making a decision on whether to apply to register as a responsible body.
The scheme is a significant positive step forward nationally in terms of conservation and habitat preservation. It will provide notable opportunities for charities in terms of registering land to a habitat bank for off-site delivery of BNG. This gives an opportunity to earn a revenue stream from the land whilst preserving the biodiversity for generations to come.
However, it may also bring some challenges in terms of balancing reputation and donor's expectations as well as the potential for increased competition to acquire land appropriate for BNG plans which may increase prices. The scheme also offers opportunities in terms of acting as a responsible body to ensure compliance and vital protection of the designated sites. However, before any charities can make a decision on the attractiveness of becoming a responsible body, the key question of funding for breach of bio-diversity commitments needs to be answered.
If you would like to talk to us about the impact of Biodiversity Net Gain on your charity, get in touch with one of our experts below: