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Biodiversity Net Gain Cheshire West and Chester

To improve the UK’s natural environment, biodiversity net gain became part of planning policy when the Environment Bill received royal assent and became the Environment Act 2021. The biodiversity net gain concept means that a development site must leave the environment in a measurably better state than it was before development started. The improvements must be maintained for the long term, at least 30 years.

Biodiversity net gain Cheshire is a priority for Cheshire West and Chester Council and it requires a biodiversity net gain plan completed by a licensed ecologist before determining planning applications.

The River Dee at Handbridge, Chester.

Biodiversity net gain legislation policy requirements

Biodiversity net gain refers to a principle whereby development leaves biodiversity in a measurably better state than was currently the situation pre development. A developer must prove that a scheme will create at least a 10% increase in biodiversity to obtain planning permission. Biodiversity net gain was introduced following a two year transition period to allow local planning authorities and developers across England to familiarise themselves with the new planning policy.

Biodiversity net gain became mandatory in November 2023 in England for major developments and applied to minor developments in April 2024. Planning authorities could impose biodiversity net gain before the mandatory date, and Cheshire West and Chester Council in north west England decided to adopt this approach. There are few exemptions and ignoring biodiversity net gain policy may result in fines and delays.

The Cheshire Plain viewed from Alderley Edge.

Biodiversity net gain Cheshire

Guidelines on the information that developers need to submit with planning applications to comply with biodiversity net gain are published by Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWAC) on its website. The council also provides a checklist and notes for applicants to ensure they are meeting biodiversity net gain requirements. The notes include information on general biodiversity net gain policy, local ecological networks, habitats with protected priority species, and how net gain can be achieved on a development site.

The Cheshire West and Chester Local Plan, which extends to 2030, stresses the importance of conserving and enhancing the natural environment, ecological networks, and geological sites across the Cheshire region. New housing and employment development must be located in sustainable locations, preferably on previously developed land within or on the edge of main urban areas. Development should not result in a net loss of natural assets; it should provide net gains, be adaptable to climate change, and address flood risk.

The Local Plan aims to maintain the North Cheshire Green Belt as development needs can be met without encroaching on it, except for around Chester, where exceptional circumstances exist for targeting Green Belt release around the city. Other strategies include improving the borough’s green infrastructure and waterway networks and seeking opportunities for habitat creation: the waterways and countryside around Northwich are the focus for recreation.

Protecting local wildlife sites

More designated local green spaces are being promoted, along with protection for the borough’s estuaries and undeveloped coastline and the creation and management of a multi-functional green infrastructure supported by tree planting in urban areas and boundaries. Biodiversity will be protected and enhanced through the identification of local wildlife sites of international, local and national importance, along with priority and protected species. Local and regional landscape designations include habitats and species within the Cheshire Biodiversity Action Plan and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Cheshire West and Chester, along with other local authorities and organisations including Cheshire Wildlife Trust, is monitoring the Mersey Estuary/Dee Estuary, where there are protected species and protected sites being covered by priority designations including Special Protection Area, Special Area of Conservation and Ramsar sites. These priority habitats were highlighted in the Habitats Regulation Assessment due to concerns about increased recreational use by a growing local population.

The Dee Estuary is one of many protected local wildlife sites across Cheshire.

The biodiversity net gain assessment

A site’s biodiversity will be assessed by an ecological surveyor using the Defra universal biodiversity metric 4.0. All ecological features such as European protected species and areas such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest currently present beforehand, will be considered and given a value.

The surveyor will then study the development plans to predict the biodiversity value of the development site post development. By comparing the biodiversity reading of the site prior to and after development using the measurement tool, net gain calculations can be made of the improvements needed to meet the minimum 10% increase in biodiversity value by reference to a mitigation hierarchy.

The biodiversity net gain consultant will recommend the necessary steps to take in the resulting biodiversity net gain plan. In some cases, further information will be needed, such as a protected priority species or habitat survey, and the consultant can advise on this. A biodiversity net gain plan should prove to the local planning authority that all features on the site have been properly considered and the scheme will provide the required 10% uplift, enabling it to grant planning permission. Failing to comply with biodiversity net gain legislation can delay an application’s progress through the planning system, and financial penalties.

Delivering net gain

National policy states that creating net gain on-site is the preferred option; this can often mean installing bird or bat boxes, habitat creation or mitigation measures for local wildlife species. Where it is not feasible to create net gain on site, alternative options include delivering net gain units off-site, or as a last resort, biodiversity credits could be purchased in the marketplace.

Do you need a biodiversity net gain Cheshire plan?

To obtain the best advice about biodiversity net gain in the Cheshire region, engage an ecological consultancy with experience in creating biodiversity net gain plans for the relevant local planning authority. The firm you choose should employ fully qualified ecological consultants, reassuring you that you will receive expert advice to help work out the best way to achieve the required amount of net gain on your site. Their ecological assessment will enable you to comply with legislation in the Environment Act, paving the way to a successful planning application.

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