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Turning A Minefield Into A Meadow – Environment Minister To Speak At House Briefing Event

Turning A Minefield Into A Meadow – Environment Minister To Speak At House Briefing Event
3 min read

Rebecca Pow, Minister for the Environment, is to speak at a special House Briefing event to discuss the implementation of the Environment Act. 

Speaking at the online event Building a better future – Preparing for biodiversity net gain, on June 30, Ms Pow will be giving her latest, timely update on implementation of new environmental regulations.

The Environment Act 2021 received royal assent in November last year, but part six of the Act, Nature and Biodiversity, will only come into force when the Secretary of State decides to implement the regulations. With the three-month public consultation period on Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) Regulations and Implementation now complete, it cannot be long until Ms Pow implements this section of the legislation, with its seismic impact upon planning and new developments across England.

In essence the aim of the Nature and Biodiversity section of the Act is very simple. Where new developments are mooted, planning permission may only be granted if the BNG objective is met; that being a minimum 10% net increase in biodiversity comparing pre-development and post-development measurements.  But of course, nothing is that simple.

When enacted, the new rules will require developers to avoid or minimise habitat loss when considering initial site section.  Once selected, in the pre-application stage, developers and planners will need to ascertain if the proposed development falls within the mandatory BNG regulations – as some smaller sites will be exempt – and what percentage BNG is applicable. Indicative percentage BNG and preliminary biodiversity metric outputs will need to be established, and developers must submit biodiversity gain information.

If the BNG target cannot be met fully on site – perhaps by introduction of open water features such as lakes, or through the planting of trees – then off-site opportunities for biodiversity gain will need to be examined.  Planning authorities may restrict these to relatively local projects. If BNG targets still cannot be met by a combination on-site and off-site proposals, then as a last resort developers may be able to buy statutory biodiversity credits from the government – mirroring earlier carbon credits schemes in operation, but restricted to England only.

Even this very simplified version of the pre-application process throws up many questions. Who will be responsible for measuring the pre- and post-development biodiversity? Will the developers take the lead? Will planning authorities need to staff up with an army of ecologists to police applications and on-going developments? Will traditional professional service suppliers, surveyors, architects and the like, step in to fill the breach with new specialist teams? Are there enough trained, qualified and certified experts out there to prevent gridlock in the planning system?

And what of the landowners who may sense the commercial opportunity in giving over less profitable land for use towards biodiversity credits? How will this scheme work? What limitations or expectations will be 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. As developers, planning authorities, professional consultants, ecologists and landowners await the outcome, it is Rebecca Pow who will decide when the countdown stops and when, and how, the BNG regulations will be implemented.

Speaking at the online event, Ms Pow will be accompanied by a range of speakers representing the different stakeholders such as Dr. Helen Fearnley, County Ecologist, Cornwall Council, Rebecca Moberly, the principal consultant for the environment at 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 to explain the implications of BNG legislation, and give practical advice to help attendees prepare for the inevitable changes.

To find out more about the event visit The House Briefing website

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