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Biodiversity net gain – Kent

Biodiversity net gain legislation means that the natural environment must be given priority in any development scheme.

The biodiversity net gain (BNG) concept was introduced to reduce the alarming decline in the UK’s wildlife. It means that any development site must retain its biodiversity value and increase it by a minimum of 10%, leaving the natural environment in a measurably better state than before the scheme started. The net gain improvements must be maintained for at least 30 years in accordance with a legal agreement.

To comply with biodiversity net gain requirements, Kent’s local authorities will need a biodiversity net gain plan to consider alongside planning applications.

Kent contains various habitat types such as this shoreline at Viking Bay, Broadstairs.

Background to biodiversity net gain

The Environment Act introduced biodiversity net gain into planning policy to protect the natural environment. The legislation requires all development schemes to provide a biodiversity net gain plan to clarify how the scheme will improve the site’s biodiversity value according to a biodiversity metric.

From the outset, once the Environment Bill became the Environment Act 2021 after receiving royal assent, Kent’s planning authorities adopted a county wide approach to biodiversity net gain to encourage planning applicants to create a higher level of 20% net gain rather than the statutory minimum of 10%.

There was a two-year transition period before Natural England announced that the policy would become mandatory in November 2023 in England for major developments. In April 2024 the legislation was extended to smaller developments – residential sites of nine units or less or smaller than 0.5 hectares and commercial developments of under 1,000 square metres.

Delivering Biodiversity Net Gain in Kent

Kent’s commitment to nature recovery was made clear in the Biodiversity Strategy, drawn up by the Kent Nature Partnership (KNP) in 2020. It demonstrated how natural habitats and green space would be protected and improved between 2020 and 2045: aims include providing people of all ages and backgrounds with access to the natural environment, fresh air, and water. Biodiversity net gain plays a vital role and provides an opportunity for investment from trading in biodiversity units on land outside development sites that need to offset their damage to the natural world. The KNP aims to identify where higher bng can be applied via a strategic viability assessment.

Kent County Council has launched a biodiversity net gain site register to ensure that environmental improvements stemming from development plans are carried out in the best places to facilitate nature recovery. The register, compiled by Kent County Council, the county’s local authorities and Medway Council, helps support local planning authorities in guiding developers’ approach to bng.

For instance, Kent County Council commissioned Kent Wildlife Trust to develop a register of potentially viable biodiversity net gain sites in Kent and Medway where biodiversity net gain credits are available to purchase and where opportunities exist for nature recovery. The register will assist local planning authorities, developers, and landowners dealing with delivering biodiversity net gain and ensure a potential supply of bng sites for habitat creation and nature enhancement.

Biodiversity Net Gain assessments

An ecological consultant will assess the site and record all ecological features present using the universal biodiversity metric developed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Features could include European-protected animal species, important habitats, and areas such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. This information will enable them to assess the site’s current ecological value, and after considering the development plans the consultant will be able to estimate the site’s post-development value taking into account the expected amount of ecological improvements on site.

These two measurements will be compared to calculate the level of improvement needed to meet the minimum 10% uplift in biodiversity. If further improvements are required to meet the biodiversity net gain target, these will be recommended in the report according to a mitigation hierarchy.

Habitat creation

National policy states that creating net gain on-site is the preferred option. This could involve introducing new habitats, initiatives to avoid disturbing wildlife, or making small changes to the development site plans. Where it proves impossible to create the required amount of net gain on-site, delivering off-site biodiversity units is the next best option. If this is also problematic, biodiversity units can be purchased as a last resort option.

The biodiversity net gain plan will provide evidence to the local planning authority that the site has minimised its impact on natural habitats and has met the required number of biodiversity net gain units. The planning authority will rely on the evidence in biodiversity net gain plans when deciding whether to grant planning applications.

Do you need a Kent Biodiversity Net Gain plan?

To ensure that you engage a firm whose expertise you can rely on, it’s important to identify an ecological consultancy that employs fully qualified consultants with experience in delivering biodiversity net gain surveys for the county’s planning authorities. Their expert advice will help you identify the best way to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state, enabling you to provide evidence of how your scheme will achieve biodiversity gain and pave the way to a successful planning application.

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