Biodiversity Net Gain

Are Local Authorities Ready For BNG?

What is BNG?

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is a policy designed to facilitate the restoration of nature during land development. It ensures that wildlife habitats are improved rather than depleted, guaranteeing that the natural environment is left in a better state than before the development occurred.

What do Local Planning Authorities need to do?

Implementing Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) requires Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to diligently collect and analyse extensive data during the planning application phase. Additionally, they are required to oversee these efforts for 30 years after the development takes place. This mandate applies uniformly to all LPAs, regardless of the number of applications they receive; adherence to these standards is obligatory.

What are the challenges?

Some Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) might lack complete understanding regarding the rigorous monitoring needed to fulfil their responsibilities in enforcing Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) within their jurisdiction. This understanding is vital because LPAs act as stewards of BNG, tasked with ensuring adherence and using their planning enforcement powers to maintain BNG standards. Neglecting these responsibilities not only puts the advantages of BNG at risk but also leaves LPAs vulnerable to legal repercussions.

Beyond their fundamental duties, Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) might also be assigned the following tasks:

• Monitoring the implementation of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) plans, which includes keeping track of changes in land ownership or the participation of various organizations;

• Confirming the submission of monitoring reports and addressing any missing reports promptly;

• Implementing corrective actions if plans deviate from the intended path, which may involve negotiating necessary remedial measures; and

• Carrying out on-site visits to support the aforementioned activities.

Given the 30-year duration of the monitoring process, there will be a substantial need for extensive coordination. This involves meticulous recording and transferring of all relevant data, especially considering staff turnover and changes over such a lengthy period.

How can LPAs offset these risks?

Buying credits from the LPA

To avoid conflicts of interest, many Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) are providing developers with the opportunity to purchase offsite units directly from the Council. This practice aligns with the Biodiversity Duty and ensures transparency, particularly given that LPAs are often large organizations with multiple vested interests.

Software Assistance

The automation of ecology is not feasible, and human expertise will always be indispensable for interpreting and making judgments on intricate ecological data. For instance, ecologists are typically required to assess monitoring reports, of which software cannot do.

The utilization of software systems can aid Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) in several ways:

• Presenting the BNG Metric: Software systems can display the Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) Metric, facilitating both initial assessments and long-term tracking.

• Ensuring Habitat Management and Monitoring Plans: These systems can help in maintaining and ensuring compliance with Habitat Management and Monitoring Plans.

• Monitoring Report Deadlines: Software systems can keep track of report deadlines, ensuring timely submissions.

• Documenting Enforcement Needs: They provide a document trail, especially valuable when enforcement actions are necessary.

Additionally, collaborative research efforts, coupled with the development of new policies and processes, are underway to offer further support in monitoring. Through collective efforts, LPAs can alleviate the potentially overwhelming burden of BNG, allowing them to concentrate on establishing and preserving nature-rich areas for the benefit of all.

References

UKGOV (2023) Understanding biodiversity net gain. Available online at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/understanding-biodiversity-net-gainCIEEM (2023) Are Local Planning Authorities ready to monitor mandatory BNG? – by Richard Marsh MCIEEM & Dr Mikael Forup CEnv MCIEEM. Available online at: https://cieem.net/are-local-planning-authorities-ready-to-monitor-mandatory-bng-by-richard-marsh-mcieem-dr-mikael-forup-cenv-mcieem/