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Biodiversity net gain Leicestershire

Leicestershire in the east midlands is a lowland county covering 832 square miles and bisected by the River Soar. Leicestershire County Council’s concerns about the shortage of local wildlife sites with high biodiversity value make biodiversity a material consideration when determining planning applications.

Local planning policy prioritises the provision of accessible natural greenspace near local communities to provide wide-ranging benefits. To satisfy requirements for biodiversity net gain Leicestershire, local councils will require a biodiversity net gain bng plan to be submitted alongside a planning application. Development projects must demonstrate a biodiversity strategy that prioritises nature recovery and leaves the natural environment in a measurably better state than pre-development.

Precious natural environment: Beacon Hill, Leicestershire, in the east midlands.

What is biodiversity net gain?

The Environment Bill contained a range of policies to bring nature conservation to the forefront of planning projects in England. On gaining royal assent, the Bill became the Environment Act 2021, which introduced the concept of bng into the National Planning Policy Framework.

A two year transition period gave local planning authorities and developers time to adjust to the new requirements before mandatory bng was brought in. Natural England announced that biodiversity net gain would become mandatory in November 2023 in England for major development projects and small sites of nine units or less, and from April 2024 it applied to smaller sites. There are now few biodiversity net gain exemptions when it comes to planning applications. Deciding to ignore bng policy can mean delays in a planning application and fines.

Biodiversity net gain and Leicestershire County Council

Leicestershire County Council’s website clarifies its biodiversity strategy, including its Biodiversity Action Plan, and schemes for local wildlife sites throughout the county to ensure that the biodiversity net gain metric has been applied correctly.

The Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) 2016-2026 notes that Leicestershire and Rutland are among the poorest UK counties for nature conservation value: just 1.3% of Leicestershire’s land area contains valuable habitat.

Biodiversity value

One of the best habitat areas is found in Charnwood Forest, which extends from East Rutland, while large parts of the two counties contain little or no priority habitat. However, successful local habitats have been created, such as reserves in the Soar Valley at Cossington Meadows and Wanlip Meadows.

Leicestershire County Council’s Space for Wildlife initiative aims to halt any loss of biodiversity value and promote the restoration, creation and management of BAP priority habitats and new local wildlife sites.

Nature conservation: black hairstreak butterflies are found in Leicestershire and the east midlands.

The Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Biodiversity Action Plan includes 16 species’ action plans, to protect wildlife such as barn owls, black hairstreak butterflies, black poplars, dingy and grizzled skipper butterflies. The BAP aims to provide accessible natural greenspace close to local communities; currently, this is offered by Local Nature Reserves, county parks, Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves and Woodland Trust sites. While resources are sparse, the plan aims to identify spaces for new local wildlife sites.

Local wildlife sites

Five areas are recognised as having high wildlife value due to existing habitats and opportunities for improvements: Charnwood Forest and the adjoining National Forest, Soar and Wreake Floodplain, Leighfield Forest, Rutland Water and the Oolitic limestone of north east Leicestershire and east Rutland, which all form part of the Wildlife Trusts Living Landscapes Initiative.

North west Leicestershire

The River Mease is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation, and the council is working with Natural England, the Environment Agency and other bodies to improve water quality due to high phosphorus levels.

Two local Biodiversity Action Plans are relevant: Leicester & Rutland BAP and The National Forest BAP, consisting of 18 Habitat Action Plans and nine Species Action Plans. The North West Leicestershire local plan prioritises the retention of hedges, new hedgerows and habitat with connectivity beyond the site and links to other important habitats for foraging wildlife.

Conserving natural areas such as the River Soar valley in Leicestershire is a priority for local authorities.

The biodiversity net gain assessment

A biodiversity net gain consultant will assess all the ecological features in the red line site boundary and allocate a biodiversity net gain value to each. Inputting this information into the Defra biodiversity net gain metric will enable a calculation of the site’s ecological value. The consultant will then study the development plans to predict the biodiversity value of the site on completion. This second biodiversity measurement will be logged into the biodiversity net gain metric, and the difference between these two figures must be made to tally before the consultant can establish the best way of achieving a further 10% increase in biodiversity on the site.

During the bng assessment, the ecological consultant will refer to a mitigation hierarchy to identify the best strategy; this could include altering the original plan or installing benefits to nature such as bird or bat boxes, or planting new hedgerows. Creating net gain on site is the preferred option according to national policy. Measures may include new habitat creation and tree planting. As well as retaining biodiversity value, development projects must demonstrate how improvement measures will be maintained for the long term – at least 30 years.

Achieve planning permission

A biodiversity strategy should outline the best ways to achieve bng to satisfy the local council and allow it to grant a planning application. If a site has limited opportunities for increasing net gain, the required number of biodiversity units may be delivered off site. A last resort option is to purchase biodiversity units: consultants can offer further information about these options.

Recommendation of nature conservation measures in the bng plan will allow the local planning authority to grant planning permission when it’s examined alongside a planning application.

BNG plans in Leicestershire in the east midlands

Following bng regulations precisely will give you the best chance of success with a planning application. It’s important to engage an environmental consultancy with experience in completing bng surveys for the relevant local planning authority.

The consultancy should employ fully qualified bng consultants, who may be members of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM). They can offer expert advice on mitigating the adverse effects of your proposed development and provide any further information needed to increase the amount of biodiversity, helping you to fulfil the bng requirements of the Environment Act and achieve success with your planning application.

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