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Unveiling Insights: Biodiversity Net Gain 3 Months On

Women in Planning London and Waterman Group partnered to host an engaging panel discussion on the hotly debated topic of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) on 1st May 2024. The discussion was followed by an opportunity to network in Waterman Group’s chic office next to Borough Market.

BNG became a legal requirement for major planning applications on 12th Feb 2024 and minor applications on 2nd April 2024.

The event was chaired by Polly Clifton, Technical Director and EIA London Team Lead, Waterman Group and included an experienced panel of industry professionals.

  • Diane Corfe, Technical Director, National Ecology Service Lead, Waterman Group

  • Grace Pinault, Planning Solicitor, Dentons 

  • Rachael Ferry-Jones, Principal Consultant, the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) 

  • Rachel Fisher, Deputy Director Land Use Policy, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

In the words of Diane Corfe, BNG brings with it the biggest paradigm shift that the development sector has seen in relation to ecology and planning matters since the Habitat Regulation came into force in 1994. At this crossroad, the industry is grappling with the huge volume of legislation, policy and guidance, and is likely to do so until best practice is established for BNG. In addition, nature recovery through the Local Nature Recovery Strategies and the re-enforcing of this in development BNG through nature-based solutions, ecosystem service and natural capital assessments and the concept of Environmental Net Gain is expected to be consolidated in the next 5 years.

The panel recognised the current embryonic stage of implementation and the degree of unknown practical implications. Such as, when the small sites metric (introduced a month ago) should be used rather than the standard Metric, and what the definition of an ‘Irreplaceable Habitat’ will include and whether new habitats will be added to the list.

In the significant shift from ‘no net loss’ to a minimum of 10% gain, DEFRA’s aspiration is for the poorest quality sites to be developed and balance on-site gains with off-site nature recovery in a “…radically Pragmatic, yet transformational BNG policy..”(Rachel Fisher).

Whilst there is a BNG hierarchy; with the top preference being to secure on-site net gain, we heard that there is no such hierarchy from a decision-making perspective, and that gains on-site or off-site are equal.

We heard from Rachel Ferry-Jones that whilst BNG is a post decision matter, PAS are starting to hear from LPAs about the validation requirements and what should go on the Decision Notice. PAS expects to continue to support the network of around 1,000 policy officers as policy is implemented and the practicalities and challenges become clearer.

Grace Pinault provided great insight on how BNG can be secured in the planning conditions and through the planning obligation. Grace advised securing as much detail in the conditions as possible and leaving the planning obligation for the detail on the 30-year monitoring and maintenance period. Also, keep in mind ‘when things could go wrong’ such a force majeure event.

The unveiling insights will be continued over the months to come; now is the time for all professional, disciplines and sectors to collaborate, and support our ecologists to navigate the way forward, to share best practice and creative solutions to ensure meaningful outcomes.

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