Agenda item

Biodiversity Net Gain - New Legislation

Report of the Director - Neighbourhoods



The Senior Ecology and Sustainability Officer delivered a presentation to the Group which provided information on the Environment Act 2021 and the new Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) requirements for planning under the Act and what this will mean for the Council.


The Group were given a brief explanation of what Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is as follows:


‘BNG is an approach to development, and/or land management, that aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than it was beforehand’


The Senior Ecology and Sustainability Officer advised the Group that the BNG aspects of the Environment Act 2021 does not come into force until the Secretary of State authorises it, this is expected to be from November 2023 and would mandate Biodiversity Net Gain into the planning process. The Group were advised that the Minimum mandatory gain will be set at 10%, however local authorities would be able to vary this upwards if desired. The mechanism for delivery is within on-site or off-site habitat secured for at least 30 years and as a last resort there will be statutory credits where units for delivery are not available for which revenue generated would only be used at the discretion of the Secretary of State and Natural England.


The Group were asked to note the developments baseline and post intervention biodiversity unit values which are calculated using a standardised Biodiversity Metric, (an extract of the spreadsheet was provided for information), a register for off-site net gain sites will also be mandated. It was also noted that BNG does not change the existing ecological legal protections.


The Senior Ecology and Sustainability Officer outlined the Council’s proposal for sites that the Council regards as strategically significant and formally identified in local strategies, these are development sites which are within or immediately adjacent to:


·       Designated Priority Sites for example, designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) or a Local wildlife Site (LWS).

·       Listed Green and Blue Infrastructure sites as identified in the Greater Nottingham Blue and Green Infrastructure Strategy (January 2022)

·       Focal areas identified within the Rushcliffe Biodiversity Opportunity Mapping report

·       Sites managed with nature conservation as a major priority as identified in the Rushcliffe Nature Conservation Strategy


The Group were asked to note that it is proposed that all Biodiversity Net Gain provided within Rushcliffe but outside areas listed above will be regarded as ‘Location Ecologically desirable but not within a local strategy’. Biodiversity Net Gain outside of Rushcliffe will be regarded as ‘Area/compensation not in local strategy’.


The Senior Ecology and Sustainability Officer explained the BNG procedure at Rushcliffe expressing the first part would be completed at the approval stage for a planning application prior to determination of the planning permission. The Ecologist Officer would check the BNG Metric and BNG initial plan, for all major developments and provide comments and recommendations to planning which would then be discharged by way of planning conditions. At post development ongoing site monitoring would continue.  Smaller sites (and where there are no protected species, habitats or sites) would be assessed by planning officers. If planning conditions are not met, then planning enforcement would take enforcement action.


The Chair expressed how much detail there was in the proposals for the Group to understand and the difficulty in endorsing the proposals without seeing sight of the Governments final legislation and guidance resulting in some members of the Group feeling compelled to reject the proposals until the Government provide the statutory information. The Senior Ecologist and Sustainability Officer explained the 10% Net Gain can already be directed by the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and to do nothing at this stage would leave the Council in a difficult position to meet its planning obligations once the Biodiversity Net Gain legislation is imposed on local authorities in November 2023.


Concerns were raised in respect of small sites where fewer checks that any BNG has been provided and in addition concerns were also raised in respect of the 30year management of BNG’s and who would be responsible for checking when the developers pass the development over to a management company. The Group were advised that Rushcliffe is a rural Borough and there is an element of risk with the loss of some ecology; with smaller sites officers rely on google earth to form a risk-based assessment, the more sensitive or bigger the site the higher the risk and importance to put conditions in place at the planning approval stage. With regards to checking the proposal, this would require an alert register to be established, monitoring reports from the site developer/managers, will be a planning condition and legal formulas will be used to make the proposals enforceable.


A member of the Group suggested that as the nature of the Borough is rural could Town and Parish Council’s act as agents to support the Borough with the management of the 30year monitoring. The Senior Ecologist and Sustainability Officer offered to feed this back to planning officers as a solution for some of the more remote rural developments going forward.


Members asked specific questions relating to the Statutory Credits and could the Council put forward locations within the Borough that might benefit from the mechanism of credits where BNG cannot be provided on-site or off-site. The Ecology and Sustainability Officer explained that the details of the Statutory Credits are still unclear, however to date there have been three companies seeking sites within the Borough to provide off-site BNG, which would allow the Council to sign post developers.


Members expressed their concerns in respect of the lack of detail being provided by Government and the proposals being subject to change. Members asked if there were comparisons or experiences from other authorities that officers at Rushcliffe could adapt. The Ecologist and Sustainability Officer advised that he was not aware of any detailed proposals in Nottinghamshire but had taken best ideas from some of the work offered by Warwickshire and Cambridge Council’s. In addition, the Group were advised that the proposals used methodology set out by others for example, sites of special scientific Interest, Local Nature Reserves, Local Wildlife Sites and the Blue and Green Infrastructure Sites identified in the Greater Nottingham Strategy. 


The Group agreed the policy was needed but were concerned at the limited resources available and the lack of detail about the statutory requirements in the proposals they were being asked to approve for recommendation to Cabinet. The Chair requested that consideration be given to officer resources and that this be reflected in the recommendation.


It was RESOLVED that Growth and Development Scrutiny Group


a)    acquaint themselves with the new Biodiversity Net Gain in Planning rules and the proposals on how this will be implemented in Rushcliffe


b)    approve the proposals for assessing strategic significance


c)     endorse the proposals on the; consideration, assessment, delivery and monitoring of BNG in Rushcliffe


d)    recommend to Cabinet that the proposals require careful consideration for officer resources before being adopted by Council.



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