Biodiversity gains, who loses?

23 Mar 22

Integrating the natural environment into development projects isn’t a new phenomenon. So what’s changing? And will it deliver better places?

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One of the 25 Year Environment Plan’s flagship policies will soon be realised. We expect that as of late 2023 almost all new developments will be required by law to contribute to demonstrably improve ecological value. These improvements must be guaranteed for 30 years minimum.

As we approach the closing date for DEFRA’s latest consultation on the implementation of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) we’ve produced a detailed briefing note which you can view at your own leisure here, and explore one of the potential trade-offs below.

Integrating the natural environment into development projects isn’t a new phenomenon. So what’s changing? And will it deliver better places?

In short, sort of.

The regulations are (quite rightly) designed to reverse decades of ecological degradation. As one commentator put it, ‘if our natural environment was a business it would be bankrupt by now’. This trend must be reversed, and the built environment must play a central role in doing so. The BNG regulations provide a measurable, replicable, and tangible way to demonstrate the environmental value created and delivered by development activity.

However, when we delve deeper into the specifics of delivering 10% net gain per project – with a deliberate emphasise on doing it on-site – we encounter some complexities with regard to placemaking and social value which are worth considering.

A core attribute of biodiversity gain is the distinctiveness and condition of habitats created. In other words, a large manicured open space will not deliver a high biodiversity score. Said space may however provide a significant level of amenity to users of a development, contributing to wellness, quality of life, and access to leisure. A recent study by researchers at the University of Kent emphasises this point, observing that in many cases the delivery of compliant levels of biodiversity net gain led to significant (as high as 34%) reductions in open green space.

With this in mind, the provision of both ecological uplift and critical amenity space across the UK will require strong public and private collaboration to ensure that where possible, both are delivered through sophisticated masterplanning, but where this proves difficult there is a plan and vision for how to balance these priorities through well-considered spatial planning.

If you’re confronted by these or similar issues, get in touch.

Alex Green Director,Iceni Futures