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Richard Blyth: BNG gets the green light for a green policy

Richard Blyth is Head of Policy Practice and Research at the RTPI. Richard breaks down what the new Biodiversity Net Gain policy means for planners and how to prepare for it.

The long-awaited Statutory Instrument enabling the commencement of “Biodiversity Net Gain” (BNG) in England was laid in the UK Parliament on Wednesday . This means that we finally have a start date for mandatory BNG for major planning applications: Monday 12 February 2024.

If there is anyone in the planning world who doesn’t know what this means, a very quick recap:

By means of legislation all major planning applications received after 12 February must deliver a 10% increase in “biodiversity” measured according to a “metric” produced by Natural England.

This measure, introduced by the Environment Act 2021, is I think the first time ever that a law has been passed which stipulates how the uplift in the value of land generated by the grant of planning permission should be (in part) distributed.

In November 2023 the Government issued draft guidance on how to operate mandatory biodiversity net gain (BNG) in the planning system in England.

It covers:

  • What is the statutory framework for biodiversity net gain?
  • How is biodiversity net gain applied through the planning process?
  • Which planning permissions are in scope and which are exempt from biodiversity net gain?
  • How is the biodiversity gain objective of 10% gain calculated? 
  • How will biodiversity net gain be effectively monitored and enforced?
  • What is the biodiversity gain hierarchy?
  • Submitting a planning application
  • Determination of the planning application
  • Biodiversity Gain Plan
  • Phased development

Through regular meetings with DEFRA and DLUHC, we’ve provided feedback on key implementation issues that RTPI members have suggested using our BNG Implementation Survey and advised where draft guidance needs further work to support planners. We are hopeful that the Government will listen and respond to these views and then issue final guidance.

As announced earlier in the autumn there will also be a temporary exemption for small sites which will run until 1 April 2024, which is an important concession to our requests regarding the implementation of this new policy constraint on planning. (For this purpose small sites are those not defined as “major development” under the Article 2 Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015.)  There will be no additional guidance or legislation for the small sites when they come on stream as all this is contained in the current legislation.

Over the last year the Planning Advisory Service has been supporting the profession in its attempts to implement this new obligation. PAS has also published a BNG essentials slide-pack and has webpages on BNG to assist planners.

The Future Homes Hub also provides webpages of support geared more towards those working in the private sector.

BNG will place new burdens on local planning authorities. The RTPI has lobbied hard to ensure that central government money is made available to enable these obligations to be met. A sum of £15 million was made available – in phases – in 2023-24 for this purpose, to be spread over 300 or so planning authorities.

We expect the Government to announce further LPA new burdens funding for 2024-25 quickly before the new local government funding year starts. However, we understand that finding ecologists and planners to operate the new system in a tight marketplace will be a challenge.

RTPI Yorkshire has teamed up with Verna to run a webinar on 6 February to give examples of good practice in getting ready for the new regime. RTPI Members can still sign up here.

In the meantime, planners can continue to use our survey to state their levels of experience, understanding and confidence adapting to new BNG requirements. 

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