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Boost for biodiversity: understanding the new nature-friendly rules on property development

General News   |   August 4, 2023   |   Lizzie

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Safeguarding our precious natural environment is essential for our health and quality of life and the long-term sustainability of the planet.

Maintaining biodiversity as much as we can supports people, wildlife, places and all the ecosystems that connect and rely on each other for survival.

Recognition of the importance of protecting and enhancing biodiversity has grown steadily in recent years.

And it’s easy to understand why.

Even before the global climate emergency, there were stark warnings about the threat of human activity to nature.

According to estimates by researchers at the Natural History Museum in London, the UK has lost almost half of its animal and plant species since the industrial revolution.

Habitat decline, pollution and population growth are among the factors that have left us as one of the least biodiverse countries on earth.

So what is happening in the field of property development to address this?

For a long time, improvements to biodiversity have been factored into planning decisions by local authorities, something developers have responded to in line with local priorities.

More and more, planning applications have included measures to support habitat and wildlife conservation, the planting of native species of trees and shrubs in landscaping, and the maintenance of ecological networks.

The government is about to take environmental stewardship a step further with the introduction of new biodiversity net gain (BNG) rules from November 2023.

BNG is a concept designed to enhance sustainability and natural habitats through a nature-positive approach to plans for the built environment.

It involves, in the first place, avoiding, then minimising, biodiversity loss as far as possible.

Under the new rules, a 10% increase in BNG will be compulsory for most medium-sized housing and commercial developments in England by November 2023 and for small developments from April 2024.

In other words, the development must leave biodiversity in at least a 10% better condition than it was in before. And the gain must be secured for 30 years.

If this can’t be achieved on the actual site itself, perhaps because of the volume of building or the particulars of the location, the developer will have to demonstrate it elsewhere.

This will be done by entering an offset agreement with a landowner or buying credits from a national biodiversity register run by Natural England with support from its government sponsor Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

While there are many questions in the property sector about the detail of the new BNG rules and how they will play out, it is certainly an opportunity for green-minded developers to redouble their efforts on biodiversity and further differentiate themselves from competitors in the market.

BNG net gain, coupled with ever-tighter rules on energy efficiency through the system of Energy Performance Certificates for properties, should be good news for the environment.

Hopefully the outcome of such greener approaches to property development will be that we see more and more environmentally sustainable schemes with related initiatives that benefit nature into the bargain.

If you would like more information on the latest developments in the property market, contact us here at Chinneck Shaw.

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