Defra’s consultation proposed mandating biodiversity net gain, on all schemes approved under the Town and Country Planning Act system. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that planning policies and decisions “should” enhance the environment by “minimising impacts on and providing net gains for biodiversity”. Defra proposed making this mandatory by updating planning guidance and by putting a “clear duty in legislation”.Defra’s proposed biodiversity net gain is measured by the biodiversity metric, developed by Defra and Natural England in 2012, which allows practitioners to assess a habitat in terms of its value to wildlife, condition and size, and thus calculate habitat losses and gains.
Under the system, existing habitat protections will be maintained and a “mitigation hierarchy” will mean developers would have to first seek to avoid harm and then seek to mitigate any harm before being allowed to compensate for habitat loss if other measures are not sufficient. Defra’s proposal is that, where compensation is required, developers either find credible ways to offset the loss locally, or pay into a tariff likely to be levied under the existing section 106 system.
Matters for clarity are as follows;
What will be the required level of net gain?
The consultation suggests that developments should be required to improve biodiversity by ten per cent, but the figure is not decided.
Will there be any excemptions from the policy?
The consultation has indicated that Defra is considering making small schemes, brownfield schemes and commercial and industrial schemes exempt from the net gain mandate.
How will the tariff be collected?
The consultation suggests that the Section 106 system is likely to be the best vehicle for collecting tariff monies, but nevertheless asks whether tariffs might be better collected nationally by central government.
Clearly, it is evident that additional burden will be placed upon authorities; many authorities don’t have in-house ecologists and professional expertise will be required to assess the existing and net gain in biodiversity.