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How will biodiversity net gain impact developers?

How will biodiversity net gain impact developers?

From November 2023, new legislation in England will require every new development to measurably improve the biodiversity of its site by a minimum of 10%.

Brought about under the Environment Act 2021, biodiversity net gain is a concept that aims to enhance and protect biodiversity as a result of new development projects.

The idea is to ensure that any development leads to a net gain in biodiversity, meaning that the ecological value of the site is improved.

While this approach has significant benefits for the environment, it could also present challenges for smaller to mid-tier developers. In this article, we will explore how biodiversity net gain will impact developers and look at the reasons behind this shift.

What is biodiversity net gain?

Biodiversity net gain is a framework that requires developers to enhance biodiversity on or near their development sites. It involves measuring the ecological value of a site before development and setting targets to achieve a net gain in biodiversity post-development. This can be achieved through measures such as habitat creation, restoration, and improvements.

Local authorities will continue to decide on planning, but from November 2023 (April 2024 for smaller sites), applications will be required to deliver a minimum of 10% biodiversity net gain. Authorities are free to elect a bigger number than 10%, so early engagement and an understanding of local requirements is essential.

What are the potential challenges for developers?

  1. Increased costs: Implementing biodiversity net gain measures could potentially result in increased costs for developers. Smaller developers may have limited budgets, and the additional expenses associated with biodiversity enhancements could pose a challenge. The costs might include ecological surveys, design changes, habitat creation, and long-term management and maintenance.
  2. Expertise and resources: Biodiversity net gain requires specialised knowledge and expertise to assess, plan, and implement ecological enhancements. Not all developers have access to in-house ecological consultants, or the necessary resources to engage external experts. This could lead to delays, increased reliance on consultants, and additional expenses.
  3. Land availability: Biodiversity net gain often requires dedicating a portion of the development site or nearby land for habitat creation or restoration. Smaller sites may face constraints in terms of available land for such purposes, especially in urban or densely populated areas.

There are various ways of meeting commitments, however. What is encouraged is: onsite habitat, nearby offsite habitat, potentially far away biodiversity units (of land) that developers have purchased from a land manager, and lastly biodiversity credits i.e., money. Credits are very discouraged however, and biodiversity units are just as simple for the developer, as responsibilities lie with the seller.

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Demonstrating a long-term commitment

There is a growing societal expectation for sustainable and environmentally responsible development practices. Biodiversity net gain aligns with these expectations and helps developers demonstrate their commitment to environmental stewardship.

Biodiversity net gain can also offer long-term economic advantages. Ecosystem services provided by biodiversity, such as pollination, water purification, and flood control, have significant economic value. By preserving and enhancing biodiversity, developers contribute to the resilience and sustainability of local ecosystems, which can have positive economic impacts over time.

Any commitments (or the commitments of land managers, if biodiversity units are bought), are long-term: a 30-year plan for habitat management must be agreed with local authorities.

Biodiversity net gain represents a shift in the way development projects are planned and executed. While its environmental benefits are undeniable, developers may face challenges in implementing these requirements, perhaps due to limited resources, expertise, or land availability.

Taking a consultative approach

When considering the need to hire an ecological consultant, it’s worth remembering that their role is not to simply evaluate plans and provide a definitive judgment, but to offer guidance. A skilled consultant, particularly if involved from the beginning of a project, should take a collaborative approach, working alongside the developer to lay out all the available options, even those not previously considered. For example, it might be assumed that an urban site has no possible space for habitat creation, until the consultant recommends a green roof. A wildflower meadow on a roof has substantial benefits for local diversity, and would count as a biodiversity habitat.

At BuildSafe, our team will always keep up to date with developments and new legislation that may affect our clients. Check our blog regularly for news, tips and insights, and get in touch with any questions about our services.

More detailed government information about biodiversity net gains is available here.

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