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New planning rules mean good news for nature recovery

This week new planning rules come in across the country which mean those looking to build a new development must include wildlife enhancements as part of their plans.

Developers in England will have to deliver at least ten per cent Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) when building new housing, industrial or commercial developments. This means that by law they must replace any biodiversity lost to the development plus an additional 10 per cent by creating new habitats.

BNG – which came into law nationally on 12 February – is not a new concept for South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils, whose officers have been working on similar approaches to enhancing the wildlife value of new developments since becoming the first authorities in the UK to successfully secure a BNG agreement in 2013.

What BNG means for developers of sites (large or small)

  • To achieve BNG developers must first survey their sites before work starts to measure its biodiversity value.
  • When submitting plans for a new development they must show they can replace the value of the habitats lost as well as provide a 10 per cent increase in wildlife value of the site (before work begins)
  • Where this is not possible on-site they must provide habitats offsite.

Where offsite habitat is required, this can be provided on other land owned by a developer, in agreement with third parties, or through the purchase of credits.

South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils have already been working with local nature organisations such as the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE) and Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) to create new habitats that can be made available to developers who require biodiversity offsets. This ensures any BNG requirements caused by development in our districts benefit our local wildlife.

One such site is on the Hendred Estate at Kilman Down, close to The Ridgeway National Trail. TOE worked with the landowner to repurpose around 7.5 hectares of unproductive farmland, creating new woodland and species-rich grassland habitats. The site helped offset losses from the nearby Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. 

BBOWT has been trialling the principles of BNG for the past year at its Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve on the banks of the River Thames in Oxfordshire. The Trust, with help from TOE, has established a habitat bank at the site – an area where local authorities, companies and charities can pay to help create and maintain floodplain meadow habitat of a type that was once common across the UK but is increasingly rare. This habitat can provide a home to rare wildflowers and wading birds such as the curlew.

Curlew bird standing in a meadow
Curlew – Photo by Richard Steel 2020Vision courtesy of BBOWT

Cllr Anne-Marie Simpson, South Oxfordshire District Council Cabinet Member for Planning, said: “Biodiversity Net Gain is the term used to describe an approach to development or land management which leaves biodiversity in a measurably better state than before. I am proud that our councils have been pioneering this approach to local wildlife for the past decade, way ahead of the new law.”

Cllr Bethia Thomas, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council and cabinet member for Climate Action and the Environment, said: “We recognise the necessity of development to benefit our communities, but this cannot be to the detriment of our natural world. BNG ensures that nature recovery and biodiversity is part of most new developments from the start. Our previous experience in using BNG shows it can and does work.” 

Ben Taylor, Chief Executive of Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment said: “”BNG is helping support nature recovery in Oxfordshire, restoring precious lost habitats and securing these for at least 30 years. Working in partnership with local environment bodies, developers and landowners can both play important roles in helping nature recover in our county.

“BNG has meant that it is viable for landowners, such as those at the Hendred Estate and others, to set aside land for the benefit of wildlife and therefore for us all.”

A spokesperson from the Hendred Estate said: “Biodiversity Net Gain felt like a good match to improve the biodiversity of this parcel of land while providing a good return for an area of the farm that was fairly unproductive.”

Matthew Stanton, BBOWT Head of Planning, Policy and Advocacy, said: “At BBOWT we have been working hard to ensure that BNG will truly deliver for nature. We have more than 60 years’ experience of creating, maintaining and protecting precious sites for nature across our three counties, so we are perfectly placed to deliver the highest-quality habitat banking that will help restore our local environment and benefit wildlife.” 

Notes to editors

From 12 February 2024, BNG is mandatory for new planning applications for major development made under the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) 1990, subject to the confirmed exemptions. Major development includes residential developments with 10 or more dwellings, or where the site area is greater than 0.5 hectares.

BNG for all other types of non-exempt proposals will have an extended transition period and will apply from 2 April 2024.

Biodiversity net gain does not change existing protections afforded to the natural environment under the planning system, but it makes sure that developers and local planning authorities work together to help drive nature’s recovery.

The government has introduced controls which will ensure that any development sites cleared of valuable habitats before the submission of a planning application will be assessed as if that clearance had not taken place. This will dissuade developers from trying to avoid playing their part in nature’s recovery.

More information is our on our websites South/Vale

More information on the land at Kilman Down is available on TOE website here

More information on the land at Duxford is available on the BBOWT website here

Main picture – Chimney Meadows by Colin Williams, courtesy of BBOWT.