The new custodians

The UK Government has announced its commitment to making Biodiversity Net Gain mandatory for new development. Rather than just try to minimise the damage of development on the natural environment, developers are obliged to leave habitats better off for wildlife than before any construction work.

LDA Design hosted a seminar on how biodiversity net gain could be a catalyst for new frameworks in which people and nature can thrive better. It brought together developers, consultants and the public sector.

Marie Southgate, Deputy Director at Defra, outlined the policy shift within the 25 Year Environmental Plan from the position of ‘no net loss’ and ‘biodiversity offsetting’ to ‘net gain’ – a positive approach with an ambition to be genuinely transformative for biodiversity. Government aspiration is for net gain to be delivered in tandem with housing growth; creating better places, reducing regulatory burden and simplifying the planning system. The principle of net gain is anticipated to be enshrined into legislation within the forthcoming Environment Bill.

So, this could be the most significant change for biodiversity since the introduction of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. However, Peter Shepherd at BSG Ecology warned that experiences with net gain to date are uneven. It relies on an adequate land supply and small or constrained sites may have to rely on offsite delivery, with costs and legal complications.  It could increase complexity, challenge viability and add delays.

Net gain nonetheless deserves a place in the wider placemaking agenda, responding to policies that link people with the environment. Frazer Osment pointed out that seen purely as ‘mitigation’ or as a single issue, net gain could be perceived as a negative constraint.

However, when designed from the outset and integrated with green infrastructure, it could deliver wider economic, social and environmental benefits as part of ‘landscape led’ placemaking. “Done right, this approach amounts to a manifesto for the creation of frameworks within which people and nature can thrive,” he said. “It can smooth the planning process and create distinctive, high-quality places for people and nature.”

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