Biodiversity Net Gain laws have been introduced meaning housebuilding projects in England will be required to provide a positive contribution to local ecosystems.
Homebuilding projects must now provide at least a 10% gain in biodiversity or else face having their planning permission rights removed. This forms parts of the government's plans to halt species decline by 2030.
We look at how these laws could affect your project, crucial materials you may need and the potential costs that may be involved with the new Biodiversity Net Gain laws.
What are the Biodiversity Net Gain laws?
The government has introduced Biodiversity Net Gain as a means to support the restoration of nature alongside land development.
It was approved as part of the 2021 Environment Act under a statutory framework introduced by Schedule 7A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and will form part of the Building Regulations for 2024.
Its goal was to ensure that land used for building a house, which also served as a habitat for wildlife, would be left in an improved condition compared to its state before development.
This would be done by ensuring homebuilders avoid loss of habitat to a piece of land where development takes place, and if this cannot be done a habitat must be created. A Biodiversity Net Gain Plan needs approval from the planning authority before starting the development.
Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, said: “Biodiversity Net Gain will help us deliver the beautiful homes the country needs, support wildlife and create great places for people to live.
“This vital tool builds on our work to reverse the decline in nature and for everyone to live within a 15-minute walk of a green space or water and will transform how development and nature can work together to benefit communities.”
Why were the plans delayed?
Biodiversity Net Gain laws were originally meant to be introduced in November 2023, before being delayed until February 2024.
The decision to delay Biodiversity Net Gain came after local councils expressed concerns they would not have the resources needed to enforce the scheme and also closely follows plans by the government to delay nutrient neutrality laws.
According to a survey conducted by the Royal Town Planning Institute, over 60% of public sector planning departments expressed uncertainty regarding their ability to secure the essential resources and expertise required for implementing the scheme.
A government spokesperson noted that the government has allocated over £15 million to assist local councils in their efforts to prepare for and hire new specialists who can effectively implement the scheme.
Biodiversity Net Gain materials
The government has announced materials which they believe will ensure that homebuilders and planning authorities have access to the necessary tools to implement Biodiversity Net Gain. These include:
- The statutory biodiversity metric, critical for calculating the correct biodiversity gain.
- The draft biodiversity gain plan template, which will help developers prepare for what they will need to complete during the planning application stages.
- The Habitat Management and Monitoring Plan template, which will set out how the improved significant on-site and off-site habitats will be managed for the long term.
- A package of Biodiversity Net Gain guidance that sets out further advice for landowners, developers, and Local Planning Authorities around their role and responsibilities in delivering mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain.
The impact on self builders
Homebuilding associations have stated their concerns with regards to the new laws and its impact on those looking to self build.
The Home Builder's Association (HBA) wrote to ministers in July 2023 with their concerns that new laws were going to harm self builders the most because local councils were unable to set enough land aside to deliver the "narrow vision of habitats" set out by the Biodiversity Net Gain calculator.
Neil Jefferson, managing director of the Home Builders Federation (HBF), added: “Homebuilders across England and Wales have embraced the principle of biodiversity net gain and are committed to creating places that protect and enhance the natural environment.
“[But] there are significant gaps in the government’s guidance which will not only prohibit local authorities’ abilities to effectively manage this new requirement [but would] inevitably lead to further delays in the planning process."
What payments might self builders be forced to pay?
Homebuilding projects will need to prove they have a positive impact on the environment, or else be forced into purchasing biodiversity credits.
If a home is built and causes a loss in habitation the project will need to contribute to the biodiversity in the local area. In other words, the goal is not just to avoid a net loss of biodiversity but to achieve a net gain.
The process typically involves assessing the existing biodiversity on a site, determining the potential impact of a proposed development, and then implementing measures to enhance biodiversity. These measures could include habitat restoration, the creation of new habitats, or other conservation initiatives.
The aim is to achieve a minimum 10% enhancement in biodiversity compared to the pre-development state for the approved development. This increase can come from on-site improvements, off-site gains, but if not then homebuilders will need to buy biodiversity credits or else face having their planning permission revoked.
The government have produced a draft Biodiversity Net Gain planning practice guidance for those who want to see exactly how their project could be affected and how to gain approval.
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News Editor Joseph has previously written for Today’s Media and Chambers & Partners, focusing on news for conveyancers and industry professionals. Joseph has just started his own self build project, building his own home on his family’s farm with planning permission for a timber frame, three-bedroom house in a one-acre field. The foundation work has already begun and he hopes to have the home built in the next year. Prior to this he renovated his family's home as well as doing several DIY projects, including installing a shower, building sheds, and livestock fences and shelters for the farm’s animals. Outside of homebuilding, Joseph loves rugby and has written for Rugby World, the world’s largest rugby magazine.