By Matthew Grogan, Associate. Contact Thomson Snell and Passmore 01892 510000.
The consultation Green Paper on Biodiversity Offsetting in England was issuedon the 5 September. The proposed scheme aims to balance the sustainability of biodiversity and the UK’s growing need for new housing.
The Government has stated it will only introduce Biodiversity Offsetting if it is satisfied that it will improve the efficiency of the planning system whilst achieving a net gain for biodiversity without additional costs to developers.
How will it work?
A metric calculation will be used to quantify the value of a habitat based on a set of agreed criteria. The agreed value will then be used to calculate the total number of standard biodiversity units a developer would need to provide or procure as a condition of any planning approval for development. Trading of these units would be permitted.
Is it a good idea?
Biodiversity Offsetting is:
- potentially quick, despite the need for additional negotiation;
- governed by planning permission and so easily regulated;
- ‘success’ will depend on personal views of the environment. Can you recreate habitats that have evolved over many years?
- potentially detrimental to development as it may lead to the creation of land banks (i.e. locking up of land which may have biodiversity value to trade).
Who would Biodiversity Offsetting benefit?
The introduction of Biodiversity Offsetting is unlikely to have an impact on the majority of development schemes. This is because:
- Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are already required where protected species are identified;
- other than allowing developers to disregard the environment completely there will always be a need for investigations;
- Biodiversity Offsetting will be dealt with by specialist providers and so costs are likely to increase; and
- Biodiversity Offsetting creates additional steps, and costs, in the planning process. Small and medium sized developments will therefore encounter even greater barriers to development.
Although the intention of the proposed scheme is to free up land for development whilst preventing a further decline in biodiversity, it is likely to create a further step in the planning process and increase costs. It may not have the desired impact and may, at best, only assist in large scale developments.
Some might say the concept of Biodiversity Offsetting is another example of the Government tinkering with peripheral planning issues without addressing the fundamental problems with the planning system. The consultation continues.