Green mandate: England enforces 10% biodiversity boost on major developments

Unavoidable harm requires developers to either create new local habitats, financially support third-party nature projects, or, as a last resort, purchase offset credits from the government when building new housing, industrial or commercial developments.

Buildings and nature

From now on, developers in England are obligated by law to achieve a minimum 10 percent improvement in Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) on major housing, industrial, and commercial projects.

This marks the implementation of the world’s inaugural national Biodiversity Net Gain scheme in England. The mandate requires developers to enhance ‘biodiversity units’ by at least 10 percent through the use of a statutory metric measuring a project’s impact on habitats and the biodiversity advantages resulting from new nature initiatives.

To facilitate the integration of BNG at a local level, £10.6 million in funding has been designated to enlist ecologist teams, augmenting capacity to establish wildlife-rich habitats in conjunction with developments.

Initially applicable to major developments, the BNG requirements will extend to smaller projects (one to nine dwellings) from April 2, with further expansion to cover the largest Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects scheduled for late 2025.

While the BNG regulations necessitate projects to strive for nature preservation, unavoidable harm requires developers to either create new local habitats, financially support third-party nature projects via off-site biodiversity offsets, or, as a last resort, purchase offset credits from the government.

Local Planning Authorities possess various tools to enforce these rules, and the Environment Act 2021 includes mechanisms to ensure developers fulfill commitments through conservation covenants. Off-site projects will be monitored through a digital register maintained by Natural England.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow stated that these requirements align with the demand for new homes, contribute to nature projects, and significantly aid the government’s goal to halt species decline by 2030. Tony Juniper, chair at Natural England, emphasized the pivotal role of BNG in creating compensatory habitats for those lost to developments to reverse nature decline.

Several local authorities and developers, including Berkeley Group, Barratt and David Wilson Homes, and Bellway Homes, have voluntarily implemented strategies to achieve biodiversity net gain. Berkeley Group’s CEO, Rob Perrins, views mandatory BNG as positive for the industry, bringing nature back to urban areas.

Helen Avery, director of nature programs at the Green Finance Institute, sees mandatory BNG as a unique opportunity to attract private finance into nature projects, contributing to ecological outcomes. The Green Finance Institute estimates that the scheme will create over 5,000 hectares of new habitat annually, avoiding almost 10,000 hectares of damage, with estimated economic gains reaching £11.4 billion.

Harriet Parker, ESG and sustainability director at Low Carbon, sees the law as addressing biodiversity loss and offering an investment opportunity through the sale of surplus BNG units between developers. She emphasizes the importance of prioritizing environmental preservation, especially in renewable energy projects where a significant portion of land can be allocated to wildlife habitats.

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