The Environment Bill is now an Act of Parliament (law), providing legislation to protect and enhance the environment for the future.
The Act aims to clean up the country's air, restore natural habitats, reduce waste, make better use of our resources, and, of vital relevance to the planning system, increase biodiversity, including within proposals for development. The Act also introduces a new system of spatial strategies for nature, known as Local Natural Recovery Strategies (LNRS). These changes will all be driven by new legally binding environmental targets, to be enforced by a new independent Office for Environmental Protection.
What does this mean for developers?
The changes of most relevance to the planning system and hence to developers will be the requirement for development to deliver a significant increase in biodiversity (known as biodiversity net gain, BNG), alongside the requirement for Local Authorities to tackle air quality (which may be passed on to developers in the form of more onerous targets for AQ on development proposals).
Key factors of the compulsory BNG are set out in the Bill:
- A minimum of 10 net gain to be provided, which is to be calculated using the Biodiversity Metric, alongside the approval of a net gain plan
- Planning obligations or a conservation covenant to secure habitats for at least 30 years
- On-site, off-site or statutory biodiversity credits to deliver habitats
- Net gain delivery sites to be added to a national register
- Continued application of the mitigation hierarchy, comprising avoidance, mitigation and compensation for loss of biodiversity
- Not applicable to marine development
- Existing legal environmental and wildlife protections remain
- Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects must also comply.
A number of matters will affect the timelines for introduction of BNG. The below timescales are taken from the Local Government Association's Planning Advisory Service website:
9 Nov - Environment Bill gets Royal Assent - now the Environment Act
- Government consultation on BNG statutory instruments and regulations
- Government response to consultation
- BNG site register and statutory credits sales platform go live
- Biodiversity net gain expected to become mandatory for all TCPA developments”
The Government claims that “The Environment Act will deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth…we are setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.”
It should be noted that mandatory biodiversity net gain as set out in the Environment Act applies in England only through amending the Town and Country Planning Act, the timeline for which is likely to take us until Autumn 2023.
For more details on BNG, please see CarneySweeney's Insight from January 2021, here
Link to the Government's press release on the Bill becoming law