Cambridgeshire Ecology and Biodiversity
Ever since the planning policy was brought in under the umbrella of the Environment Act in November 2021, biodiversity net gain (BNG) has stood as an effective effort by the government to preserve the natural state of the country during a large percentage of development projects staged in England. It works by encouraging developers to maintain consideration for the natural environment during planning projects and planning applications by increasing the standard of biodiversity on the site by at least 10%
With an ongoing two-year transition period in place, both developers and local authorities are given time to adjust to the planning policy before it is mandatory throughout England. Despite that, a large selection of planning departments within local councils are already mandating BNG, and without any evidence that rules of the planning regulations surrounding biodiversity have been followed, applications for planning permission will not even reach the deliberation stage.
Among the many local councils already following the rules of biodiversity net gain is Cambridgeshire County Council, and the fact that they are insisting on evidence of adherence to the policy means that any developers in Greater Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire – and potentially other sections of the East of England region – will need to ensure that they are operating within the BNG requirement if it applies to their development.
References to Biodiversity in Cambridgeshire Policies
Published in 2021, the biodiversity supplementary planning document titled Doubling Nature Strategy gave South Cambridgeshire District Council an opportunity to explain how they intended to preserve and enhance environmental assets in the area. As well as numerous other incentives to improve the state of biodiversity in South Cambridgeshire and the Greater Cambridge area, the concept of biodiversity net gain is explained in detail. It also features up-to-date guidance and information in regards to how it will be implemented within certain environmental targets such as efforts to retain animal habitats within the local ecological network.
An interesting factor that developers should be made aware of is that the document states that, instead of the 10% net gain of biodiversity set by the government, South Cambridgeshire Council claim that all developers should ‘aspire to achieve 20% biodiversity net gain through development’. From there, Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridge City Council opted to follow suit, falling in line with the targets of Natural Cambridgeshire and feedback from a public consultation, as well as the measures contained in other supporting documents such as the 2018 South Cambridgeshire Local Plan and the 2018 Cambridge City Local Plan. In some circumstances, local authorities across England have requested a higher increase in biodiversity on land managed by the policy, particularly if the specific area is in greater need of ecological enhancement.
BNG’s Influence on New Developments
First announced in the 2019 spring statement, biodiversity net gain eventually formed part of relevant national legislation in the form of the Environment Act 2021. Aside from minimal exemptions, the BNG policy will be applicable to a wide number of new developments, with the potential consequences of disregarding it including inconvenient delays, costly penalties and a complete breakdown of the planning project.
A universal biodiversity metric developed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is utilised by an ecologist during a site visit as a method of indexing all present ecological features such as European protected species of animals and plants and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) before accurately measuring the ecological value of the site. Biodiversity value and the overall quantity of changes needed to increase the standard of the environment will be determined by the current state of the development site and the future state of the development based on the developer’s plans.
Measurements from pre-development and post-development will then be compared to gauge what is needed to reach the minimum 20% net gain of biodiversity. If the plans of the project will meet or exceed the 20% increase, the ecologist will either build on the increase to ensure that it doesn’t fall short by the finest of margins or leave the plans as they are due to meet the mandate. If, however, the plans are likely to fall short of the net gain increase, the ecologist will provide impactful next steps that will successfully achieve BNG or purchase biodiversity units to offset the damages off-site.
Inspecting Biodiversity on a Development Site
Even with the two-year transition period, developers and local planning authorities don’t have much time to adjust to the introduction of biodiversity net gain. Whether you grasp an understanding of BNG or not, however, you will still need advice and insight from a licensed ecological consultant in the form of a biodiversity net gain plan following a BNG assessment on your development site.
On the day of a biodiversity net gain assessment, the ecologist in charge of the survey will inspect all areas of the site to record all ecological features, contributing to the current overall biodiversity measurement. It will also be used as an opportunity to determine potential solutions to increase biodiversity value, both in terms of minor, cost-effective changes and major, significant alterations.
The completed BNG plan will contain all information from the survey, project and site including details about the plot of land, further information about changes caused by the proposed development, and recommended measures that will meet the BNG requirements of the planning policy. Local planning authorities trust the details included in a biodiversity net gain plan, and as a result, they will play a significant role in the planning permission process.
Book a BNG Plan for Your Project
As experts on biodiversity net gain, Arbtech stands as one of the few ecological consultancies that have been immensely knowledgeable about the policy ever since it was first announced in 2019. With ecologists located all over the country, developers would be best speaking to us about our biodiversity net gain plans so we can arrange for an assessment on their site in the Greater Cambridge area.
To arrange a BNG assessment and make the first step in creating a biodiversity net gain plan, fill out our quick quote form, call us using the number above, or look over our other contact options. At this point, we would advise providing as much detail about your project and site as possible to give us the best chance of giving you a completely accurate free quote. Assuming you are happy to proceed, send the quote form back and we can work out a time to visit your site and help you with meeting the BNG requirement and determine planning applications.