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Biodiversity net gain - from idea to inception

I thought it would be useful to track the development of the net gain concept as it is now gaining significant traction. It does show that good ideas can take a long time to germinate because of the political, economic and social landscape pertaining at the time.

2009

  • Environment Bank is formed to lobby for much more effective mitigation and compensation for biodiversity associated with development impacts.

2010

  • We explain the concept to the then shadow environment minister and the Conservatives subsequently announce a policy for biodiversity offsetting.

2011

  • Biodiversity offsetting becomes a policy initiative in the 2011 Natural Environment White paper.

2012

  • Biodiversity offsetting pilots are established in 6 areas. Environment Bank engages with the one in Warwickshire providing guidance, support and legal documentation.

2013

  • The Government’s Ecosystem Markets Taskforce, of which I was a member, reports on how we should mainstream markets for environmental services, with the number one recommendation being to make biodiversity offsetting mandatory. The report was well received but politically it became difficult to mandate offsetting because, wrongly, it was thought by Treasury that it would be a burden on development. The value of offsetting to the development industry in terms of providing clarity, a consistent and level playing field, a cost-effective solution for developers in helping better net developable area and a more streamlined treatment within the planning and development control sector, was not effectively captured by the consultants or officials.

2014

  • A consultants report on the biodiversity offsetting pilots showed that the only pilot to have developed an effective and scalable system was that which involved the Environment Bank. The others failed to deliver.

2015-2016

  • Natural England’s Board Innovation Group developed the evidence and opportunities for biodiversity offsetting and the concept developed further into ‘net gain’.

2017

  • The National Planning Policy Framework embedded the need for planning authorities to ensure that development delivered net gain. An earlier version included the term ‘where possible’ but this was subsequently removed following strong inputs to consultation by the Environment Bank and others to that effect.

2018

  • Strengthening the position on net gain embedded within the National Planning Policy Framework, the launch of the 25-year Environment Plan by the new Secretary of State for Environment at Defra, Michael Gove, was a game changer. The Plan stated that it was a Government priority to ensure development delivered net gain for biodiversity.

A number of conferences dedicated to the pursuit of net gain as part of a natural capital approach to managing the natural environment, culminated in the CIWEM conference in October in which the following headlines are relevant :

a) Defra confirm that the advantages of net gain in biodiversity for the development industry are to streamline and simplify the planning process, provide a level playing field for developers and reduce costs to developers.

b) Publication of the Ciria, CIEEM and IEMA led industry best practice guidance on net gain for biodiversity.

c) As reported by Environment Bank, Warwickshire County Council and Lichfield Council have now embedded net gain for biodiversity in their planning policies as a mandatory requirement, thus showing leadership in this area. Environment Bank is advising both authorities. Over 50 local planning authorities are now trialing net gain and biodiversity offsetting in over 35 counties across the UK.

d) Environment Agency are now adopting a strategy for net gain in biodiversity for all of their infrastructure projects.

e) The Board and Executive of Thames Water have approved that all projects must deliver net gain in biodiversity. It is seen as providing what customers have said they want to see and they have confirmed that their customers care about biodiversity even when presented in the context of a potential bill increase. Thames Water have made the enhancement of biodiversity a key performance indicator in their budgetary submission to Ofwat in support of their business plan for a £11.7bn spend programme.

f) Thames Water are engaging in the establishment of habitat banking as a service to the development industry and are interested in raising credits from the bank that can be traded.

  • The National Infrastructure Commission announces that the proposed major development known as the Cambridge Oxford Arc will take a net gain approach to biodiversity.

  • The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government announces in its prospectus for new garden towns and villages that proposals to be brought forward for seed funding must demonstrate how they intend to achieve net gains for biodiversity.

  • Environment Bank is engaged in providing free advice to planning authorities on assessing biodiversity impacts, applying the biodiversity impact accounting metric for developments on behalf of planning authorities and providing local plan policy wording and supplementary planning documentation for authorities. Those with which Environment Bank are engaged in delivering net gain solutions are able to secure 4% of the offset fees payable by developers in order to help planning authorities build the capacity of their ecology teams to support their ecological advisory and assessment work, at, therefore, no cost to the tax payer.