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Biodiversity Net Gain – Bristol

Biodiversity Net Gain is now a planning requirement as legislation is in force to ensure that development does not have an adverse effect on nature. Biodiversity Net Gain was introduced to counteract the decline in biodiversity in the UK. Bristol City Council will require a Biodiversity Net Gain plan to demonstrate that development plans in this part of south west England comply with the planning policy before planning applications are granted.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge spans the River Avon, linking Clifton and Leigh Woods which have high biodiversity value.

Biodiversity Net Gain legislation

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is a policy within the Environment Act 2021, introduced to ensure that new development projects in England will enhance the existing condition of the natural environment to a measurably better state on completion. Through careful design, biodiversity value will be retained and improved by at least 10%, and the enhanced area must be maintained for 30 years. Delivery of the net gain on-site is preferred or through the private market for diversity units. As there are few exemptions, Biodiversity Net Gain applies to most planning projects overseen by local councils in England; refusal to comply with the law could result in penalties and delays.

Biodiversity Net Gain and development

A Biodiversity Net Gain plan must be conducted by a licensed ecological consultant. The process involves the consultant making a physical inspection of the proposed development site to assess all ecological features such as European-protected species of animals and plants and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. This information will be entered into the universal biodiversity metric developed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs enabling the site’s biodiversity units to be assessed.

This metric will then be compared with the expected changes to the site post development, to calculate the change in the site’s ecological value following completion of the project. The gap between the two measurements will need to be met to ensure the site has the same environmental calculation as pre-development, and then this figure must be expanded on by a 10% gain in biodiversity. With this data, the ecological consultant will be able to create a BNG plan.

A local planning authority will recognise that the Biodiversity Net Gain plan contains credible information about the site and that its recommendations will deliver the required net gain, enabling it to support a planning application. The expert advice in the plan may include information about new habitat creation to meet the 10% requirement, which may involve minor or more significant interventions to ensure the site can achieve Biodiversity Net Gain requirements. If it proves impossible to deliver the net gain on-site, the plan will explain the process of purchasing the off-site Biodiversity Net Gain units or biodiversity credits required to secure a successful planning application.

Bristol City Council and Biodiversity Net Gain

In response to the introduction of Biodiversity Net Gain, the Bristol City Council Ecological Emergency Action Plan 2021-2025 was created to explain the legislation and other relevant policy areas. It provides information on how local nature recovery strategies enable the delivery of Biodiversity Net Gain through mapping existing desirable habitats and calculating ways of enhancing the natural world by upgrading relevant features.

Bristol’s One City Ecological Emergence Strategy involves partners across Bristol. Its vision is that 30% of the land in Bristol is managed for the benefit of wildlife; it also wants to reduce pesticide use by 50% and improve water quality. The initiative is identifying opportunities to enhance Bristol’s ecological networks and listing species to monitor to assess the progress made.

The next steps

If you need a Biodiversity Net Gain assessment, it’s important to engage an ecological consultancy with experience of working on Biodiversity Net Gain plans that satisfy the requirements of local planning authorities. The ecological consultants will explain how to enhance biodiversity on your site and the expert advice in their report should enable you to make the best case for your scheme and achieve planning permission.

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