The secondary legislation on Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) has finally been unveiled, providing a detailed framework for the implementation of the Environment Act 2021. With 6 Statutory Instruments in play, all awaiting formal Parliamentary approval, the landscape for new planning applications post 1st February 2024, is set to change.
The BNG Register –
The Draft Biodiversity Gain Site Register Regulations 2024 form the core of the BNG scheme, requiring BNG sites to be registered in the Biodiversity Gain Site Register (BNG Register) to be eligible. The government aims to consolidate onsite and offsite BNG information in the BNG Register, ensuring accessibility in one centralised location.
How to Register Land –
Registration mechanisms include section 106 agreements or conservation covenants for registration to avoid counting things twice and to create habitats in stages. You can first register a big area and then add smaller parts later, making a habitat banking system. This process also helps transition from section 106 to conservation covenants.
Eligibility Criteria and Monitoring –
Regulation 6 outlines eligibility criteria for land registration, emphasising the necessity of a section 106 agreement or conservation covenant for habitat enhancement and maintenance over a 30-year period. Notably, the agreement or covenant must include a provision for monitoring habitat enhancement, shifting the responsibility from negotiation to contractual obligations.
Application Procedures and Fees –
Regulation 7 places the responsibility for applying to register land under a conservation covenant on the landowner. The application details the works of habitat enhancement, including timelines, habitat conditions, and projected performance. A fee structure is introduced, ensuring a monetary commitment to the BNG process.
Exemptions and Special Considerations –
The Draft Biodiversity Gain Requirements (Exemptions) Regulations 2024 carve out exceptions for small developments, householder applications, and projects linked to the HS2 initiative. Notably, self-building communities are exempt for developments of 9 or fewer dwellings on sites 0.5 hectares or less.
Irreplaceable Habitat and Town Planning Amendments –
The Draft Biodiversity Gain Requirements (Irreplaceable Habitat) Regulations 2024 focus on ancient trees, woodland, saltmarsh, blanket bog, lowland fens, limestone pavements, and coastal sand dunes. Modifications to the Town and Country Planning regime and consequential amendments ensure a holistic integration of biodiversity principles.
Financial Implications and Penalties –
The Biodiversity Gain Site Register (Financial Penalties and Fees) Regulations 2024 introduce fines for false information and a fee structure for registering, amending, or removing entries from the BNG Register.
In conclusion, the new BNG regulations provide a comprehensive framework for achieving biodiversity goals in the development landscape. As these regulations move towards formal approval, stakeholders must prepare for a paradigm shift in how biodiversity is integrated into the planning and development process.