Under plans published yesterday for consultation by environment secretary Michael Gove,
developers could be required to deliver a ‘biodiversity net gain’ when building new housing or commercial development – meaning habitats for wildlife must be enhanced and left in a measurably better state than they were pre-development.
The proposed new rules require developers to assess the type of habitat and its condition before submitting plans – car parks and industrial sites would usually come lower on this scale, while more natural grasslands and woodlands would be given a much higher ranking for their environmental importance. Developers would then be required to demonstrate how they are improving biodiversity – such as through the creation of green corridors, planting more trees, or forming local nature spaces.
Green improvements on site would be encouraged, but DEFRA said in the rare circumstances where they are not possible, the consultation proposes to charge developers a levy to pay for habitat creation or improvement elsewhere.
While some developers have already been following a biodiversity net gain approach voluntarily, the new proposals are for a standardised, mandatory system. DEFRA explained the approach would deliver the homes the country needs – 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s according to government policy – while at the same time contributing to the goal of passing on the environment in a better condition.
Yesterday’s consultation, which runs until 10 February, is the first step in the government’s ambition to embed the wider principle of ‘environmental net gain’ in development, to drive measurable improvements for all aspects of the environment such as air quality, flood defences and clean water. The government said it will now work collaboratively with developers, water companies, tourism services, energy providers and waste specialists to better understand how profitable development can be a driving force of environmental improvement.
The proposals apply to development covered by the Town and Country Planning Act in England only; nationally significant infrastructure is out of scope.