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Government backs biodiversity net gains for new Garden Towns and Villages

from David Hill, Chairman

Having brought the concept of biodiversity offsetting to the UK back in 2009, when the Environment Bank was established to promote the concept for biodiversity offsetting and lobby for better outcomes for biodiversity from planning and development, I am heartened to see that we are now at a turning point. In addition to strengthened biodiversity policy within the National Planning Policy Framework and growing movement towards net gain at local authority level, this summer, the Government announced a support package for developers and local authorities to help bring forward new Garden Towns and Garden Villages in order to make a major contribution to meeting future housing needs.

One of the criteria that will be used to determine successful applications for infrastructure funding to bring forward these new settlements, is concerned with green space provision. The criterion requires that Garden Towns and Villages provide ‘generous, accessible, and good quality green and blue infrastructure that promotes health, wellbeing and quality of life, and considers opportunities to deliver environmental gains such as biodiversity net gain and enhancements to natural capital’.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is therefore backing the work of Defra to ensure that biodiversity net gain is delivered by the development sector. It is clear that biodiversity has now become a material consideration in the planning system – at last! This effectively means that net gain is mandatory on development projects that are hoping to receive Government funding. The consultation on net gain becoming mandatory is out soon. It is entirely correct that development should ensure it puts something significant back for nature and leaves a legacy for future generations. However, it is essential that this net gain is not simply landscaping, but does contribute to restoring biodiversity across the UK (see previous article here). A notional target figure of 20% of gain on-site and 80% off-site (through biodiversity offsetting) would make a major contribution to enhancing biodiversity in the country whilst improving conditions within the development site and maintaining development viability in the process.

Environment Bank brokers new wildlife habitat creation funded by the purchase of conservation credits by developers to offset residual biodiversity losses at development sites; the credits are raised from identified habitat banks working with farmers and landowners under long-term contract to the Environment Bank.

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