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Planning framework should include biodiversity obligation

Words: Laura Edgar

A new report has called for the public and private sector to do more to protect the UK’s wildlife and biodiversity.

Biodiversity net gain – A new role for infrastructure and development also states that a commitment that new developments should enhance rather endanger nature is necessary if the UK is to meet its goal of reversing long term biodiversity loss by 2020.

It focuses on the concept of biodiversity net gain, where any damages caused by human activity to wildlife can be balanced with an equivalent gain, report author WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff explained.

To achieve this, the report suggests developments can avoid, minimise or restore damage made to wildlife. Where these options are not possible, “offsite ‘offsetting’ can occur, where new biodiversity needs to be created in another location”.

ccording to a survey by the services consultancy, of 200 environmental professionals from various backgrounds, including local planning authorities, 40 per cent of respondents had used the biodiversity net gain approach. 29 per cent said they had used biodiversity offsetting.

The survey also suggests that although 73 per cent of respondents were aware of biodiversity net gain and biodiversity offsetting, half had mixed views or were unsure of their views, suggesting a lack of understanding of these approaches.

Mark Webb, technical director for ecology, WSP | Parson Brinckerhoff, said: “Developments including infrastructure projects absolutely can enhance rather than endanger biodiversity. Net gain is growing in the UK, which has committed to reverse biodiversity loss by 2020, but we are behind other nations, including Australia, Germany and the US.

"To catch up, biodiversity net gain could become an obligatory part of the National Planning Policy Framework and current guidance could be further tightened and simplified. The key challenge in the UK is to raise awareness, improve understanding of the approach across the public and private sector, and ensure a level playing field for regulation application locally.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • Biodiversity net gain and the use of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) metric could be an obligatory part of the National Planning Policy Framework.

  • Biodiversity net gain could be incorporated into Defra’s forthcoming 25 year environment plan.

  • Creating a consistent understanding of guidance at a local level could create a level playing field for developers.

  • Biodiversity net gain could be incorporated at a corporate level and in private sector developments.

Image credit | iStock