Biodiversity Net Gain – Buckinghamshire Council

Ever since it was brought into UK legislation, biodiversity net gain has been a consideration for all developments, with a particular focus on rural areas such as Buckinghamshire. Ensure that you are operating within the rules of the planning policy with a BNG plan designed for your development site and project.

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Buckinghamshire Compliance to BNG

2021 saw the introduction of the Environment Act into UK law, and with it came a handful of core policies, including biodiversity net gain (BNG). Specifically affecting development projects, the planning requirement revolves around the concept of retaining the standard of the natural environment before building on it to a better state by a further 10% once all development works have been completed.

Up until November 2023, developers and local councils were given an opportunity to choose whether or not BNG would apply in the form of a two-year transition period. Then, after November 2023, the policy became a mandatory requirement in all planning projects, barring a handful of exceptions. Buckinghamshire Council were one of many local authorities that opted to enforce biodiversity net gain as early as possible, contributing to nature recovery and enhancement, but creating an additional headache for developers.

Enhancing Buckinghamshire Biodiversity

The Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Natural Environment Partnership published the latest version of the Biodiversity Action Plan that demonstrates how the county will work towards a stronger sense of biodiversity by the year 2030. Within the plan, all matters are covered, including the current state of the county, specific ecosystems that are under pressure, the objectives of the Biodiversity Action Plan, and details of how and where changes will be initiated, with references to Biodiversity Opportunity Areas (BOAs), National Policy, National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the Natural Environment Partnership (NEP), and the Nature Recovery Working Group.

As well as the importance of biodiversity as a whole, biodiversity net gain (BNG) is mentioned directly countless times throughout the supplementary planning document. The local plan features as a method of enhancement in priority areas that are currently lacking in biodiversity value, as a last resort in creating habitats outside BOAs, as a funding opportunity from selling patches of land for meeting net gain requirements at offset sites, as a component in the works of the NEP, and as a general process that will appear frequently in planning going forwards.

Through publishing local plans such as the BAP for Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, it is easy to see not only that BNG will be a policy that the local authorities will promote accordingly, but also how it will be implemented across the county. Although the introduction of biodiversity net gain is far from ideal for developers as it has become a mandatory consideration, explaining it with relevance to Buckinghamshire and holding a public consultation with the local community as the local council have done can at least make it easier to follow and put into action.

Connection Between BNG and Planning

All policies within the Environment Act became law in 2021, following the Act’s transformation from the Environment Bill as a result of royal assent. While a minimal number of circumstances will be exempt from the planning policy, biodiversity net gain (BNG) will be applicable to the majority of development projects, with the local planning authority insisting on evidence of adherence to it before any applications for planning permission will be put under consideration.

Bearing in mind the correlation between efforts to secure planning consent and compliance with BNG, developers are under pressure to apply the policy to their planning project and ensure that it is applied correctly or face issues late into the development process. It is possible for developers to guarantee strict cohesion with BNG in their development by referring to an ecologist for support and advice on meeting the mandate.

More specifically, an ecological consultant will be able to establish the current biodiversity value on the development site and predict the biodiversity value after the project, factoring in biodiversity losses as a result of the development works. Ecological features and the development site itself will be quantified using a universal metric, and the same metric will then be used for the expected state of the site after the development. Using the figures to distinguish any deficit between the two stages of the project, the ecological surveyor can then put forward changes that will reverse net loss, retain valuable assets, add on the minimum 10% increase, and achieve net gains of biodiversity.

Biodiversity Net Gain Plan and Assessment

Due to the influence biodiversity net gain (BNG) will have on planning in the future, it can help developers to formulate an understanding of the concept, just as they would for any other variable that could impact their project. It is important, however, to emphasise that even the most researched knowledge of the planning policy will not match the need for a biodiversity net gain plan from a qualified and licensed ecologist.

An assessment on the development site will be needed in order for an ecological consultant to assemble a BNG plan. At this point, the entirety of the site and all ecological features present will be accounted for, combining to form the basis for an estimation of the current biodiversity value. A second measurement will then be taken using information from the developer and development plans to predict the biodiversity value of the site after the project has finished.

Comparisons will be made between the two figures, taking biodiversity loss and any other factors that could impact natural quality into consideration. The metric will then confirm any deficit between the two figures, which can then be fulfilled before being built on by a further 10%. If any ecological assets such as protected species of animals and plants need to be moved elsewhere, the mitigation hierarchy will determine the most suitable next steps, and any additional changes to enhance biodiversity will also be provided by the ecological surveyor.

Every detail from the assessment, conclusions from the ecologist’s findings, calculations from biodiversity measurements, and changes that will meet the mandate will all be displayed within the BNG plan. In last resort situations, it will also include information about biodiversity offsets if the requirements cannot be made on-site and biodiversity units need to be applied off-site. Once completed, the plan can be passed on to the local planning authority, and as it will contain all of the necessary information to achieve biodiversity net gain, the planning department of the local council should see no issue in granting the planning application.

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By standing by strict entry requirements, we ensure that all of our staff fit certain criteria, including possessing the necessary qualifications, training and licensing, as well as holding personal qualities that make them effective in their role, hard-working and approachable to clients. The ecologists at Arbtech are also fully aware of the ins and outs of the planning system and any factors that could impact planning conditions, making them ideally suited to assisting your development.

If you would like to receive a free quote for a BNG plan based on your development site and planning project, reach out to us by calling directly, emailing us, filling out a quote form or via our contact page. You can then decide whether or not to move forwards with us after receiving your quote, and if you would like to choose us as your provider of BNG solutions, send the form back and we can work out a suitable date to attend your site and begin the process of reversing biodiversity losses, meeting biodiversity net gain requirements, and gaining planning permission from Buckinghamshire Council.

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