Amy Paraskeva, Vikki Patton
May 24, 2021
Biodiversity Net Gain – How greening developments can benefit us all
Historically, a lack of robust consideration of biodiversity within the planning system has led to a cumulative loss and degradation of habitats over many decades. With land availability at a premium and developers looking to maximise yield from their investment, dedicating areas of potentially developable land for biodiversity improvements represents a commercial and logistical challenge.
Understanding the real value of biodiversity
Biodiversity is the variety of species, habitats and ecosystems on our planet. In the past biodiversity has often been regarded as having only intrinsic value, in that it has value in and of itself, with no immediate value to humans. The conservation of biodiversity has therefore been considered as an ethical obligation due to humanity’s role in its decline.
However, these views are quickly changing with The World Economic Forum this year listing biodiversity loss as one of the top five threats to humanity in the coming decade. This is due to the fact that biodiversity provides us with many quantifiable benefits. The ecosystem services provided by the plants, animals and varied ecological features within our environment are invaluable, such as the cooling effect of trees in areas otherwise affected by the urban heat island effect, the improved flood resilience provided by rain gardens and wetlands, and the clean, breathable air provided by habitats.
Perhaps even more compelling than these benefits is the simple fact that humans enjoy nature. It is well understood that natural and green spaces, as well as developments following biophilic design principles (including water features, natural materials, sights and sounds of wildlife, foliage and natural light etc) provide a stress-busting effect for the people who inhabit and interact with these spaces.
Some people believe that access to green space goes beyond stress relief - the Japanese practice of Shirin-yoku (literally translated to ‘Forest bathing’) is a practice of relaxation, observing nature whilst disconnecting from the demands of every-day life, which is said to boost health and wellbeing. Perhaps more than ever during the current Covid-19 crisis many people have turned to their gardens and local natural green spaces as a resource for exercise and relaxation. Unfortunately, for a large number of people living in urban areas, there is a lack of easily accessible green spaces, such as communal gardens, parks and river walkways.
As of March 2021 the Land Registry’s UK House Price Index was showing that the average price of a property in the UK had risen by 10.2% to reach £256,405. This is in part driven by a shift in desirability for properties with access to the outdoors. According to the RICS UK Residential Survey, 83% of respondents anticipate demand increasing for homes with gardens, 79% for being near green space and 68% for more private outside space over the next two years. In combination with the sharp rise in house prices, house buyers seem to be prioritising the outdoors over being centrally located in more built up areas.
Cultural shifts and legislation change
The mandatory 10% biodiversity net gain requirement, as measured by biodiversity metrics published by DEFRA, will formalise the best practice approach taken by those developers already committed to environmental and sustainability objectives. The forthcoming Environment Bill will place these at the heart of the planning process, by inserting Section 90A into the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 with Schedule 7A ‘Biodiversity gain in England’ and mandating developers produce ‘biodiversity gain plans’ for all new developments.. Although the committee phase of the Environment Bill has been delayed significantly by the Covid-19 crisis – it is currently in the Report stage in the House of Commons – some elements of the bill came into effect from the 1st of January 2021 to coincide with the end of the UK’s European Union exit transition period.
Developers will face a number of challenges in implementing biodiversity net gain, primarily in balancing available developable land to be used for biodiversity compensation whilst delivering sufficient value to make the development viable. In the early stages of net gain becoming a legal requirement this balance may lead to some developers having to source and pay for a level of off-site compensation to meet the net gain target.
Under the Environment Bill, net gain will no longer be the preserve of the most environmentally conscious developers; all projects will need to understand their impacts on biodiversity, maximise nature-based solutions and balance design, commercial and environmental priorities. Ultimately, by prioritising biodiversity, multi-functional green spaces will become a focal point for an emerging form of development serving both communities and the environment.
Want to know more?
Biodiversity Technical Specialist, Associate
IPCC’s Code Red for Humanity: Finding your Business’ Pathway to Climate Action
On the back of the IPCC’s alarming new report, Ramboll’s Blythe Chorn reflects on what business can do to illuminate their own pathway in a proper response to help stall global warming.