The UK Government yesterday published its response to the Biodiversity Net Gain consultation that was open in early 2022. CIEEM responded to this consultation, along with nearly 600 others.
We applaud the Government for announcing further support in terms of both funding and guidance for local planning authorities (LPAs). The Government announced £4.18 million for LPAs in January 2022, and will provide further funding up to £16.71 million for LPAs to prepare for mandatory BNG between now and November 2023. This will be followed by further new burdens funding following commencement of the requirement in November 2023.
We are pleased that Government will look into options for extending net gain sites beyond the minimum 30 years. Also pleasing is the Government clearly disincentivising the pre-degradation of habitat sites, and including Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPS) without exemptions.
Government will use secondary legislation to set out a clear definition of irreplaceable habitat and list of habitat types to be considered irreplaceable. Government intends to consult on this definition and seek views on the proposed list.
The sites register continues to only be required for off-site gains, but Government is considering options to include on-site gains. On-site gains should be publicly available through LPAs but a central repository for all net gain sites would be more transparent and accessible. We are pleased to see that Habitat Management and Monitoring Plans (HMMP) will be included in the register.
There continues to be some small exemptions, footprints below 25 square metres or a 5 metre linear feature. This is small but allows the “death by a thousand cuts” decline of nature.
A small sites metric will be introduced and come into effect in April 2024.
For marine sites, Government will provide clarity on the relationship between terrestrial/intertidal and marine net gain units as the marine net gain process is established, will ensure that the BNG approach enables intertidal and marine projects to contribute to ecologically meaningful strategic projects at larger scales off-site in the intertidal zone, aim to provide alignment between the marine licensing and planning system regimes to minimise any conflicting demands or duplication in processes, and put in place the statutory credits system so that intertidal and coastal projects can meet their net gain obligations through payments into national projects in the event that there is a shortage of market or developer-led intertidal or coastal biodiversity units.
Other points of note from the Government’s response include:
- Biodiversity units can be combined with nutrient credits, but not with other ecosystem services (e.g. carbon credits).
- Biodiversity units can be generated on top of existing obligations or grants if further enhancement for biodiversity can be verified.
- Biodiversity unit pricing will be reviewed every six months.
- Defra will initially sell biodiversity credits but intends to phase them out as the biodiversity unit market matures. The credit sales will be invested in Natural England for habitat creation and restoration projects.
- Government will not regulate the BNG market.
- Developers will be able to sell on excess gains beyond the 10%, which may disincentivise going beyond the 10% gain on any particular site.
- Government will make it clear in planning guidance that, whilst higher net gain percentages may be set in local planning policy, careful consideration should be given to the feasibility of requirements above 10%.
- The planning enforcement regime will be the principal way of enforcing delivery of BNG.
- Government is exploring whether accreditation or earned recognition has potential to help focus enforcement and scrutiny of BNG assessments, reporting and monitoring.
- In response to suggestions from respondents that the independence of ecologists is important, Government will also continue to consider whether reforms are needed to the procurement or regulation of ecological expertise but not in the immediate future.
Sally Hayns, CIEEM CEO, said:
We welcome the fact that the Government has consulted on the implementation of BNG and, from this response, appears to have listened to some of the key messages we, and others, sent to Defra. But there is still much to do if the November deadline for mandatory rollout for the majority of schemes to be met. We urge the Government to prioritise the production of guidance and secondary legislation to give stakeholders the confidence and certainty they need to make BNG deliverable.