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Potential threats to long-term effectiveness of biodiversity net gain identified

by | 17 May 24 | Nature & Biodiversity, News | 0 comments

A new report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has identified potential risks to biodiversity net gain (BNG), calling into question the legislation’s long-term effectiveness.

Under the BNG legislation, launched by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) earlier in the year, developers must improve upon the biodiversity of a site by a minimum of 10% compared to the baseline of when development began.

Defra and Natural England outlined three ways for developers to achieve the statutory 10% uplift; enhance and restore biodiversity on-site and or off-site, or through the purchase of biodiversity credits.

Prior to rollout, the government invested thousands into local authorities to aid in their preparation for the legislation. However, Defra acknowledged mixed readiness among local authorities at launch.

The NAO’s report also identifies potential risks to local authorities carrying out effective compliance and enforcement of BNG. While the authorities have discretion in how they enforce planning regulations, the government did not invest additional money specifically to monitor or enforce on-site gains.

Additionally, Defra does not intend to provide central monitoring into how well on-and-off site gains are being enforced by local authorities.

The independent public spending watchdog’s audit also reports that Natural England and Defra lack all the relevant information needed to evaluate the regime and determine whether it has been a success – at present the two do not have a comprehensive source of information on habitat enhancement taking place on site.

Defra is reportedly relying on a private sector market for biodiversity units emerging, but does not know how rapidly it can scale up or satisfy demand.

Where private markets fail to provide enough off-site credits, Defra will step in as a provider of last resort, with the money raised ring-fenced for government mandated improvements to UK biodiversity. Presently, Defra does not have a legally compliant mechanism to spend income from statutory credit sales to enhance biodiversity.

The NAO recommends that the government establish a mechanism for spending income from the sales of statutory biodiversity credits, as well as that local authorities should have sufficient and timely funding certainty to allow for longer-term planning regarding their role in local agreement and enforcing the scheme.

Oliver Lewis, Founder and CEO of Joe’s Blooms, which launched the world’s first digital tool to help SME property developers and landscapers comply with BNG, says: “Biodiversity net gain is a world-leading policy that gives developers and local planning authorities a critical role in preserving England’s natural habitats and wildlife. The National Audit Office rightly identifies the importance of the private sector in helping to deliver BNG and ensuring the policy is a long-term success.”

Additional information on the first of its kind legislation can be found in Pro Landscaper’s Insight Guide to Biodiversity Net Gain, available here.

 

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