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Good news for nature or a new race to the bottom?


The mandatory delivery of 10% biodiversity net gain (BNG) came into force for residential and commercial development this week. We wanted to understand what that means for the industry and explore whether it goes far enough.

BNG is not a new concept, but up until this point it’s either been a ‘nice to have’, a seeming planning hurdle or mandated within local plans. Now it’s been rolled out nationwide and has the potential to be hugely beneficial.

The process of determining BNG asks developers to understand how much biodiversity was on their site prior to works commencing, and then show a minimum 10% improvement upon that level.

Clearly this process favours brownfield sites or arable land development and that’s a good thing. It protects many of our rich nature sources because to produce an uplift would be almost impossible. Areas such as our unique chalk streams and those which native butterfly species and veteran trees call home, are all elements which, in my opinion, should be protected.

This new Environmental Act also delivers benefits for people and communities. We know that people who live within close proximity of nature rich green spaces live 2.5 years longer on average. We also know that children ‘who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often’.

On top of this, every hectare of nature-rich grassland holds a carbon stock of 60 tonnes of CO2, and trees approximately 25kg of CO2 per year.

So, as people frantically try to reverse our environmental and ecological breakdown, this move hails positive action from government and drives the hands of the industry that is responsible for 39% of global emissions.

While this does all seem positive – I think the policy could have done more.

The ability to off-set and buy off-site BNG alludes to the general mood of shifting the responsibility elsewhere. Far easier to simply pay someone else to do it than have to do battle on your own ground.

But here is where that argument falls down. Because we also know that house prices with views of green spaces are £2,500 higher on average, and the social impact of having a garden can be up to £575 per person per year.

So while on the surface it might feel easier to favour off-site to maximise development potential, the long term gains could be much greater if nature is intrinsic to the site design.

The second battle the legislation faces, as with all regulations, is a race to the bottom. While developers up until this point have been breaking the mould or going above and beyond to meet 10% BNG, their actions are now mandatory and they lose their key advantage point.

The fear is that those more environmentally and socially conscious developers who have been going above and beyond up until this point now rest on their laurels and don’t continue to drive nature restoration in the industry forward.

We need these businesses to continue to spearhead the movement and demand greater change.

As BNG inevitably becomes the acronym of every design meeting, we need the 10% threshold to be a minimum and not a target, not only for the sake of nature but for people as well.

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