Dr Robin McArthur, chair of the Joe’s Blooms Academic Council, explains how the upcoming statutory requirement for property developers, Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), will positively impact people and the environment, and what’s in it for businesses.
- BNG is a major opportunity for the built environment industry to champion the UK’s nature recovery journey and enhance green spaces around the country.
- Starting in November, it will require property developers to invest in measures that increase the biodiversity score of plants and wildlife in the local area by 10% after development.
- Policymakers, ecology and biodiversity experts, academia, and businesses must come together to ensure that developers have the guidance they need to guarantee BNG’s success.
Sustainable housing, energy efficiency, and the journey to ‘Net Zero’ have been the biggest buzzwords in the UK’s planning process these past few months. As policy-makers grapple with how to achieve the UK’s climate goals without compromising on house-building targets, a big change that has been flying under the radar is BNG – a major opportunity for the built environment industry to champion the UK’s nature recovery journey and enhance green spaces around the country.
What is Biodiversity Net Gain?
BNG is a new statutory requirement, set to start becoming mandatory this November, which will require property developers to invest in measures that increase the biodiversity score of plants and wildlife in the local area by 10% after development. Ideally, they will be required to do this on-site, whether through creating new, high-quality habitats such as hedges or green roofs, by enhancing existing habitats by transforming, for example, grasslands into wildflower meadows, or through maintaining biodiverse habitats already on-site – the impact of which will be seen in the development’s immediate surroundings. In case that is not possible, developers then also have the option of accessing off-site solutions – which will generate nature recovery in other parts of the country.
This new requirement means that nearly all new developments will play an important role in reversing habitat loss in the UK. For industries serving the built environment, this is an opportunity to make UK towns and villages greener and help to support nature recovery.
The environmental impact of these regulations will be a big win for communities across the country. Once implemented, research by Joe’s Blooms – whose independent Advisory Board I chair – shows that the policy will save up to 30,000 football pitches worth of habitat, and create an additional 17,000 football pitches of new habitat each year. The green spaces it creates in our communities will both improve health and well-being and boost long-term income opportunities by creating more green jobs.
Its benefits for people and the environment
The nature recovery fuelled by BNG, whether it is restoring wildlife-rich habitats or creating green corridors to bridge together fragmented habitats, will also have a wider impact on climate change. For example, additional woodland creation will help take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
The creation of more green and blue spaces in communities will also help our environment become more resilient to the effects of climate change and extreme weather conditions, such as heat waves and flooding. More woodlands, parks, and rivers will inevitably keep local ecosystems cooler during heat waves.
Creating the right habitats can even help mitigate flood risks in cities and towns. The positive effects will also, of course, become apparent in biodiversity gain itself. Habitat losses have had a devastating impact on UK biodiversity, so conscious efforts to reverse habitat loss and fragmentation through the implementation of BNG represent an important step towards recovery.
This ambitious new target not only promotes high-quality, sustainable house-building but also has strong backing in local communities. Polling shows that almost two-thirds (62%) of all voters who are concerned about developments in their local area would be more likely to support building targets if developers are forced to enhance the natural environment. The same research also found that nearly half (47%) of those opposed to planning laws being relaxed to boost housebuilding would be more open to such developments if builders had to meet biodiversity requirements.
How will it impact construction companies?
With BNG, property developers and all those involved in the built environment industry are more likely to win community backing to create greener neighbourhoods that are more pleasant places to live, work, and do business.
As the Government prepares to begin implementing BNG in a few months, the built environment industry must simultaneously prepare to support more biodiverse outcomes. Once it comes into play, the new BNG process will require property developers to fill in a biodiversity metric and create a ‘Biodiversity Gain Plan’ before development can begin.
Applicable to sites of all sizes, BNG will require particular attention from small developers who might not always have the in-house expertise to assess biodiversity or financial assets to hire expert metric specialists – easy-to-use and affordable resources will be key in guiding them through the process. For these developers more than others, the right advice from the right people can make or break the policy. They must begin to assess their options early on to find the best methods of compliance and avoid potential delays.
Specialists like me have been raising concerns about the importance of tackling biodiversity loss for the better part of this century. In the UK alone, the 2019 State of Nature report found that since the 1970s, 41% of all UK species surveyed have declined, with 155 under threat of extinction.
Now, with BNG, this issue becomes a central part of development, enabling those working in the built environment to deliver high-quality sustainable homes at speed and scale. It is a positive innovation that for the first time brings together nature targets, planning reform, and housebuilding goals on the same side.
For developers, the beauty of BNG is its financial viability – it allows the built environment industry to elevate its contribution to nature while minimising the financial trade-offs that often limit our climate and nature restoration targets. A key part of getting this right will be to ensure that developers of all sizes are supported in the implementation of BNG.
Policymakers, ecology and biodiversity experts, academia, and businesses must come together to ensure that developers have the guidance they need to guarantee BNG’s success. The easier we can make it for our developers to understand, prepare for, and comply with BNG, the sooner communities across the country will be able to see its impact.
The opinions of guest authors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of SG Voice.