Mandatory changes to the planning process: Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG)

Written by Elizabeth Malone

Elizabeth is a Chartered Landscape Architect, passionate about creating sustainable landscapes. She is particularly interested in urban design, conservation and naturalistic planting design.

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Biodiverse Public Open Space

As of November 2023 (TBC), it will be mandatory for developments requiring planning permission to achieve Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG). The Environment Act 2021 introduced the requirement that new planning applications for development meet the following objective ‘biodiversity value attributable to the development exceed the pre-development biodiversity value of the on-site habitat by at least 10%’.

Land development is one of a number of factors that has contributed to the degradation of the natural environment, by providing a more meaningful and quantifiable approach to biodiversity value – the environment can be enhanced by development and land/estate management through the principles and process of Biodiversity Net Gain.

At BoonBrown, our Landscape Architects work closely with Ecologists to realise the biodiversity requirements of a site. It is imperative in this process, that Landscape Architects and Ecologists are brought on board early on in a design project to seek to maximise the biodiversity value of a site, whilst also leading to enhanced places to work and live – effectively creating places and spaces of benefit to all – centred around nature. We balance site-specific requirements against other environmental concerns, such as flood mitigation and the need for landscapes to be resilient to climate change. We are also experienced in producing Landscape and Ecological Management Plans and working alongside Ecologists to deliver Biodiversity Enhancement Management Plans – to maximise the benefits of your site.

As part of the requirements of BNG, it is essential that solutions are designed and built to last and to achieve the required distinctiveness and condition as intended – in line with the minimum maintenance period of 30 years, we are able to produce dynamic landscape and ecological management plans that can be adapted throughout this period – to ensure that the habitats and spaces created are fulfilling their potential and are designed for the long-term. It is critical therefore that maintenance costs be calculated at the design stage.

In some instances, it may not be possible to achieve BNG on-site – we are able to work across both rural and urban environments and tailor our approaches to biodiversity creation accordingly. Where BNG is not possible, we can work alongside developers to recommend alternative approaches – including the exploration of BNG via off-site units or through statutory credits.

Where off-site units are required, BNG provides opportunities for farmers and landowners to partner with developers to implement biodiversity enhancement measures on their land to at least the minimum 10% BNG requirements and they will receive a payment from the developer for doing so. At present, there are no guidelines for appropriate monetary values, and the sum(s) paid for taking land out of production and putting it forward for BNG development is to be negotiated on the open market. The terms of agreement between the farmers / landowners and developers is to be negotiated between the two parties, but is likely to be the minimum maintenance period of 30 years. BNG is also seen as a form of farm diversification and is therefore seen as an additional income stream related to land stewardship.

Statutory credits can be bought by developers as a last resort, when onsite and local offsite provision for habitat creation do not meet the BNG requirements. Biodiversity credits will be set higher than prices for equivalent biodiversity gain on the market. It is intended that this system will be run by a national body and not at a local level. The forthcoming DEFRA consultation on BNG secondary legislation will provide further clarification on this matter.

BoonBrown’s Landscape Architecture team seek to address BNG through creating spaces and places of benefit to nature through enhanced and better joined up habitats, where wildlife can thrive, through promoting health and well-being, through connecting people with the outdoors and creating more attractive and resilient places to work and live, natural capital assets also improve the economy and are a meaningful contribution towards climate change mitigation and net-zero targets.

For your BNG requirements, BoonBrown will be happy to work with you through this process, ensuring that your developments maximise their biodiversity value – leading to enhanced sites and more attractive and resilient places to work and live.