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Biodiversity Net Gain – Sheffield

Sheffield and the surrounding countryside include many natural habitats ranging from moorland to river valleys and woodland. The introduction of biodiversity net gain (BNG) legislation means that development schemes must give high priority to nature recovery and leave the environment in a measurably better state than they found it. To satisfy requirements for biodiversity net gain Sheffield, the city council requires a BNG plan to be submitted alongside a planning application. 

The River Don flows through Sheffield.

The aims of biodiversity net gain

The Environment Act 2021 initiated the biodiversity net gain concept, and it has now been introduced into the National Planning Policy Framework to reduce the decline in the UK’s wildlife. Biodiversity net gain will influence development in many ways, primarily by requiring schemes to protect and enhance nature. The legislation became enforceable following a two-year transition period to allow developers and local authorities time to adapt to the requirements. Natural England announced that biodiversity net gain would become mandatory in November 2023 in England for major sites and small sites of nine units or less, and from April 2024 it applied to smaller sites and commercial developments of less than 1,000 square metres.

Mandatory BNG requirements include evaluating a site’s biodiversity before and after a scheme’s completion, to ensure a resulting minimum increase in biodiversity value of 10%. As well as retaining its biodiversity value, a site must also increase biodiversity levels by evidencing nature recovery measures which must be maintained for the long term – at least 30 years. Measures to protect and enhance biodiversity could include creating new habitats or installing bat and bird boxes.

All development proposals must now provide a biodiversity net gain plan to demonstrate to local planning authorities that schemes will increase levels of biodiversity and aid nature recovery when completed, according to a biodiversity metric.

View from the top of Higger Tor, near Sheffield, in the Peak District National Park.

Sheffield and biodiversity net gain

Sheffield’s natural history is unusual in that it includes the foothills of the Peak District, low-lying land in the Don Valley and high moorland. Habitats range from neutral and acidic, to heather moorlands, blanket bog, dry heaths, green spaces and extensive wooded areas, some of which are ancient woodlands. Five major rivers have also shaped the growth of the city.

Sheffield City Council set out its approach to biodiversity net gain in a technical advice note in September 2023. This states that biodiversity net gain of over 10% may be required by the city council on areas of particular ecological need, where there is evidence of rare or protected species within or close to the development site, or where a site has a low or non-existent biodiversity value. A Strategic Significance Value must be applied to each relevant habitat as part of the baseline and post-intervention biodiversity metric assessment. Local knowledge provided by The South Yorkshire Local Nature Recovery Strategy forms the main evidence base for identifying habitat opportunity areas for nature recovery, along with the Sheffield Biodiversity Action Plan and the Humber River Basin Management Plan.

Where it is impossible to deliver the required number of biodiversity units on-site, they may be delivered off-site in areas identified in the Sheffield Local Nature Recovery Strategy as local wildlife sites with potential for habitat enhancement. In such cases, priority will be given to sites in the local area closest to the development site. Sheffield City Council will also require evidence of a fully funded management plan to cover a minimum of 30 years, which sets out the legal requirements for how biodiversity net gain improvements will be undertaken, managed and monitored.

A biodiversity gain statement must be submitted as part of a planning application to the local planning authority. Developers must provide evidence of compliance with BNG planning policy in the Sheffield Local Plan, the Biodiversity Action Plan from the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, or the Local Nature Recovery Strategy. Other local groups with an interest in the natural environment and protected species include the Sheffield Bird Study Group, the South Yorkshire Bat Group, and the South Yorkshire Badger Group.

The BNG assessment

An ecological consultant will record all the ecological features present in the red line site boundary, such as European-protected plant and animal species, and allocate them a biodiversity net gain value. The information will be logged into the universal biodiversity metric, developed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which will calculate the site’s current ecological value. Then, a second biodiversity measurement will be inputted into the metric, based on a prediction of the condition of the completed site according to developers’ plans.

The difference between these two figures must be eliminated before the best way of achieving a further 10% increase in biodiversity is worked out. As part of the bng assessment, the ecological consultant will refer to a mitigation hierarchy to assess the most effective approach. National policy states that the optimal solution is the creation of net gain on-site via methods such as new habitat creation or steps to ensure wildlife is not disturbed.

If the required number of biodiversity units cannot be achieved on-site, through habitat creation or tree planting for example, they may be acquired off-site, or a last resort option is to purchase biodiversity units.

The resulting biodiversity net gain plan will include results from the bng assessment and any supporting surveys required to achieve a successful planning application. This document can then be passed to the local planning authority to be assessed alongside a planning application. Ignoring the requirements of biodiversity net gain planning policy can result in delays to planning applications and unlimited fines.

Do you need a BNG plan in Sheffield?

A comprehensive biodiversity net gain plan completed by a reputable ecological consultancy will provide the best chance of obtaining planning permission.

The consultancy that you engage should employ fully qualified consultants with experience in undertaking biodiversity net gain plans for the relevant local planning authority. Their guidance will enable you to mitigate the adverse effects of your development scheme, increase the amount of biodiversity and help your application progress through the planning system.

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