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Rebecca Pow, Secretary of State for the Environment, will speak at a special House Briefing event to discuss implementation of the Environment Bill.

Speech at the online event Building a Better Future – Preparing for a net gain in biodiversityOn June 30th, Ms Pow will provide her latest, timely update on the implementation of new environmental regulations.

The Environment Bill 2021 received Royal Assent in November last year, but part six of the bill, nature and biodiversity, will not come into force until the Secretary of State decides to implement the regulations. With the start of the three-month public consultation period Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) Regulations and Implementation now complete, it cannot be long before Mrs Pow implements this section of legislation with its seismic impact on planning and new developments across England.

In essence, the objective of the Nature and Biodiversity section of the Act is very simple. In the case of new developments, a building permit may only be granted if the BNG target is achieved; this is a net increase in biodiversity of at least 10% when pre- and post-development measurements are compared. But of course nothing is that simple.

When enacted, the new rules will require developers to avoid or minimize habitat loss when considering the first section of the site. Once selected, developers and planners must determine at the pre-application stage whether the proposed development falls under the mandatory BNG regulations – as some smaller sites are exempt – and what percentage of BNG is applicable. The indicative GNG percentage and preliminary metric results on biodiversity need to be established and developers need to submit biodiversity gain information.

If the BNG target cannot be fully achieved on-site – perhaps by introducing open water features such as lakes or by planting trees – off-site opportunities to increase biodiversity need to be explored. Planning authorities can limit these to relatively local projects. If BNG targets still can’t be met through a combination of on-site and off-site proposals, as a last resort, developers may be able to buy mandatory biodiversity credits from the government — a mirror image of previous carbon credit schemes that are in operation, though are limited to England only.

This very simplified version of the pre-application procedure also raises many questions. Who will be responsible for measuring biodiversity before and after development? Will the developers take the lead? Do planning authorities need to deploy an army of ecologists to oversee proposals and ongoing developments? Will traditional professional contractors, surveyors, architects and the like step in to fill the gap with new teams of specialists? Are there enough trained, qualified and certified experts to prevent a standstill in the planning system?

And what about landowners who may see a commercial opportunity to surrender less viable land for use in biodiversity credits? How will this scheme work? What constraints or expectations are placed on proposed sites? Will the regulations create a patchwork of small islands of biodiversity locked in a sea of ​​monocultural farmland?

The recent consultation has undoubtedly addressed many of these concerns. So while developers, planning authorities, professional consultants, ecologists and landowners await the outcome, so be it Rebecca Pow who decides when the countdown ends and when and how the BNG regulations are implemented.

Ms Pow will be joined at the online event by a range of speakers representing various stakeholders such as: dr Helen FearnleyCircle Ecologist, Cornwall Council, Rebecca Moeberlythe Chief Environmental Adviser to the Planning Advisory Service, and Jason Reeves, Head of Policy at the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. These and many other experts will help explain the implications of the BNG legislation and offer practical advice to help attendees prepare for the inevitable changes.

To find out more about the event, visit The House Briefing’s website.

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