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Biodiversity net gain rules have finally come into force in England

Hailed as one of the world’s most ‘ambitious’ decisions to support the environment, new developments in England must now consider natural habitats.

From the beginning of this week, a new law has been implemented in England which will ensure that all new housing and road projects benefit nature rather than destroy it. Under the new law, which has become a requirement under the Town and Country Planning Act, all new road and housing developments must achieve a 10% net gain in biodiversity or habitat.

white bird flying over the lake during daytime

This means that if a new development has plans to damage a particular green space, another needs to be recreated either on site or elsewhere.

The government have set a target to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid 2020s which, will not only inevitably contribute to carbon emissions, but also result in thousands of acres of land being torn up. At least with the new rules coming into play, net zero goals won’t be so obstructed.

Commenting on the news, Natalie Duffus, a biology and geographer researcher from the University of Oxford, said: ‘It’s one of the most ambitious schemes we’ve seen. Other places are watching us and seeing how it unfolds. If done well, I think it could inspire a lot of other markets to develop in different countries.’

Experts in Sweden, Singapore, Wales, and Scotland have already expressed an interest in copying the idea. This news makes a change in how the UK are often viewed in response to their climate goals, as in summer 2023 government advisors revealed the UK was missing climate targets on almost every front.

A report from the Climate Change Committee, which was published last year, revealed that various built environment targets had been missed such as the number of homes receiving energy efficiency improvements under the government’s Energy Company Obligation scheme more than halved, from 383,700 in 2021 to 159,600 in 2022.

However, industry experts have claimed that the new law, which came into force today for larger sites and will be implemented on 2nd April for smaller schemes, is a start in the right direction to ensuring England provides much needed housing but not at the cost of green space.

‘The biodiversity net gain requirements coming into force from [this week] will establish the UK as a world leader on natural capital regulation,’ Peter Bachmann, managing director of sustainable infrastructure at Gresham House, said. ‘The legislation, designed to protect and enhance nature, will not only lead to positive outcomes for our natural world but will also create protected environments for local communities and more consistent and transparent requirements for developers.’

Bachmann added: ‘Through formally recognising the value of nature, the government is playing a key role in establishing a novel market worth hundreds of millions annually and giving investors the confidence needed to fund the realisation of its potential. This is truly a game changer and represents a policy shift that serves people and the planet – supporting development to solve the UK’s housing crisis while also driving positive environmental impact.

‘We must support and scale the companies that offer fully funded solutions, providing long-term legal and financial certainty essential to properly avoid biodiversity loss while also offering a robust product for developers to manage this new planning requirement. For investors, this new market for companies delivering biodiversity net gain units now represents a unique opportunity to drive strong financial returns through positive impact.’

Image: Coralie Meurice

More on the built environment:

Egger UK: the key to lowering emissions from the construction sector

Egger UK: the key to lowering emissions from the construction sector

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