BNG is to start in January 2024. At last we know!
Following on from Wednesday’s teaser from the BBC that BNG is to be delayed from November 2023 until next year, the Government has confirmed that the mandatory requirement for developers of new housing, industrial and commercial development to show Biodiversity Net Gain on their development site’s habitat baseline as part of their planning application will now come into force from January 2024.
There will be further guidance and advice released by the end of November for both landowners, developers and their Local Planning Authorities on how to implement these measures. And most importantly also the Statutory Instrument legislating for the imposition of the 10% gain.
What the Government will provide by November
This will also include templates for the developer’s Biodiversity gain plan, a site’s Habitat Management and Monitoring Plan along with further advice on how to use the Biodiversity metric. We expect to have clear information by the end of November on:
- Further advice on the statutory biodiversity metric and how to accurately calculate a site’s biodiversity gain.
- A draft Biodiversity Gain Plan template, for developers to complete during the planning application stages.
- The Habitat Management and Monitoring Plan template, showing how a site will be improved during the 30 year term, how often it will be checked and what will be required to show it is achieving the habitat aims.
- Further Biodiversity Net Gain guidance advising landowners, developers, and Local Planning Authorities as to their role and responsibilities in delivering mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain. This will add to the existing guidelines and requirements for agreements covering topics such as the approach to net gain via the mitigation hierarchy, the standards for those seeking to become responsible bodies and how to implement conservation covenants.
Car crash avoided
This is all as was expected, allowing for a smoother transition with the delay ensuring developers and LPAs time, funding and access to the tools that each respective party will need to complete these agreements. This represents good news for those looking to enter their land into BNG agreements as by the time BNG becomes mandatory there is likely to be a far more streamlined approach to sales and less chance of encountering LPAs that are unable to deal with the offset sales.
Further second stage rollout dates to be confirmed
Previously there was a two-stage rollout, with builders of smaller sites having a five-month grace period until April 2024 to comply with the BNG requirements. It is now unclear whether this period will extend as part of the overall delay or if it will remain as April 2024. Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects were initially planned as requiring BNG from 2025 and this likewise may change.
How prescriptive will the Government be to reduce costs of sales?
We await to see how prescriptive the Government will be with LPAs and what discretion LPAs will continue to have with what they are currently doing. For example will a conservation covenant be sufficient or will LPAs insist on a Section 106 over the offsetting land. It is good to see the Government still intends to provide templates for the Management and Monitoring Plan and the Biodiversity Gain Plan and hopefully they will still provide some guidance as to what should be included in a sale agreement. At the moment in the voluntary market place the costs of implementing an offset are understandably high and the more prescriptive the Government is with LPAs with more templates and standards the quicker the costs will come down and standardised paperwork will become the norm. We have seen this with previous emerging markets and whilst there is more involved with BNG trading compared with milk quota or BPS entitlements a considerable amount of the process could be streamlined and standardised.
Cost of Responsible Body
One important issue affecting the costs of sale will be what the Responsible Bodies are going to charge to monitor and enforce the habitat creation and maintenance for the 30-year term. (Do you go for the cheapest or those that are truly independent of the rest of the sale process which will stand up to future claims of conflict of interest that may put the whole project in jeopardy.) Some LPAs who are currently acting as the Responsible Body are asking for an upfront payment of £20,000 for any area of land up to10 ha.
Will the Government have checks and balances on LPAs dealing in BNG units themselves?
Also, will the Government outlaw LPAs being too closely involved in the trading of BNG units for example insisting that to enter into their Habitat Bank the units have to be sold by and at a price chosen by that LPA. If not will a landowner be able to then choose another LPA with whom they can set up a Habitat Bank bearing in mind that any BNG units within one LPA’s Habitat Bank can end up compensating development in another LPA. Obviously metropolitan LPAs will be keen to secure a ready supply of units for developments in their own area therefore it would be shortsighted if such LPAs did not wish to promote a system allowing an unrestricted flow of units across LPA boundaries as most units will be flowing into these metropolitan areas and not out.
For advice on how best to meet the 10% gain on your development site in the most efficient way and at least cost, contact us for a Biodiversity Gain Plan including a baseline metric on-site survey, advice on what onsite works you can do or prices of all types of offset habitat units available to top up your post development unit requirement wherever you are in England.
Landowners and farmers
This now is the most exciting, real and available Environment Credit opportunity there is to make up the loss of BPS payments.
Whilst we do not of course yet know exactly what supply and demand there will be next January, one of the biggest risks has just fallen away as we now know BNG will not go the same way as the NN market almost ended up prior to the House of Lords intervention.
This is the time to see if you can still carry out reliable BNG surveys of offsite land ready for the new market post January. This will not include certain types of species rich grassland/permanent pasture, as it is too late. However do check with us whether your grassland could still be inspected this season i.e. a short-term rye grass mixes or a recently ploughed and reseed pasture may still be possible. Most arable fields can still be inspected.
First National Informal Tender of Multiple BNG Offset Habitat Units
If you already have or will have your BNG metric report shortly, whether you are in a habitat bank or not contact us about entering your BNG units in this sale or if looking to buy units register with us now for details. We already have units entered in the sale from all over England of all different types of habitats.
If you are interested in buying units contact us for further details.