Biodiversity Net Gain: The Benefits for Science and Business Parks

By Veronica Flemming, Senior Landscape Architect

The introduction of Biodiversity Net Gain into the planning process will have enormous implications for development on science and business parks and is something that must be considered from the outset of any development.

We envision that the involvement of Landscape Architects and Ecologists at feasibility and master-planning stages will become the norm, to ensure the viability of future projects.

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is a term which is becoming more widely used by all involved in the world of commercial development and management. Put simply; it’s an approach to development which leaves biodiversity in a better state than it was found. This is achieved through:

First avoiding and then minimising biodiversity loss as far as possible, and achieving measurable net gains that contribute towards local and strategic biodiversity priorities.

Extract from the ‘Biodiversity Net Gain. Good Practice Principles for Development – A Practical Guide; Executive Summary, by CIEEM.

Biodiversity is already part of of the National Planning Policy Framework, but currently without an agreed target. However, the clear decline in biodiversity shows that this approach is not working.

Quite simply, a policy of no net loss has not worked and we need to do something different if we are to make any progress towards reaching our biodiversity targets.

From Biodiversity Net Gain – Principles and Guidance for UK Construction and Developments by CIEEM.

Environment Bill

The Environment Bill, currently making its way through parliament; is being considered by a Public Bill Committee which has reported the bill with amendments to the House. Royal Assent is anticipated in early 2021 with roll out from 2022/2023.

The forthcoming Environment Bill contains a number of targets, plans and policies, including Biodiversity Net Gain. This will introduce a requirement that (with certain exceptions) every planning permission granted for development in England, will be deemed subject to a pre-commencement condition. This condition will require approval by the local planning authority of the ‘Biodiversity Net Gain Plan’ for the site. The local planning authorities will only be able to approve the biodiversity gain plan, when they believe it has achieved the ‘biodiversity gain objective’.

The forthcoming Environment Bill contains a number of targets, plans and policies, including Biodiversity Net Gain. This will introduce a requirement that (with certain exceptions) every planning permission granted for development in England, will be deemed subject to a pre-commencement condition. This condition will require approval by the local planning authority of the ‘Biodiversity Net Gain Plan’ for the site. The local planning authorities will only be able to approve the biodiversity gain plan, when they believe it has achieved the ‘biodiversity gain objective’.

The Biodiversity Gain Objective.

The biodiversity gain objective will be met if the biodiversity value attributable to the development exceeds the ‘pre-development biodiversity value’ of the onsite habitat by at least 10%. Gains will be mandatory and maintained for at least 30 years. They will be measured using a biodiversity metric that has been developed by DEFRA, which is yet to be finalised and should be published in December 2020. Broadly speaking, BNG is calculated by deducting ‘pre-development biodiversity value’ from the estimated ‘post-development biodiversity value’.

The ‘post-development biodiversity value’ can also comprise of off-site options including; the enhancement of a habitat registered on the Government’s proposed ‘biodiversity gain register’, or by purchasing ‘biodiversity credits’ from the government. The cost of these credits will not be cheap; thus ensuring it remains attractive for developers to organise their own qualifying biodiversity enhancements.

Exemptions

The following are excluded from the new requirements:

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Proposed Sports Hub, with integrated green roof at Winnersh Triangle business park

ASA sketch of attenuation basins with occupier access, for a science park client.

How can we help?

By using Landscape Architects and Ecologists from the outset, biodiversity can be baked into a development, in an innovative, cost-efficient way. This will not only improve biodiversity gains, but will also ensure a successful journey through planning, implementation and ongoing maintenance.

To achieve this, there will have to be a shift in public and developers’ aesthetic preferences, as there is a move away from expanses of highly clipped lawns and monocultural planting. Moreover, over time and with deeper understanding, occupiers and developers will learn to appreciate a highly layered planting aesthetic, required to achieve maximum biodiversity.

Designing with biodiversity in mind brings a host of benefits that would not otherwise be realised, many of which we have previously looked at in detail, referenced below.

Wellbeing Benefits

An improvement in occupier and employee wellbeing is an important benefit of a commercial site rich in biodiversity. We’ve reported on this frequently in recent months; highlighting the benefits that access to green space and green views provide to people’s working lives.

Read our full article on this subject https://bit.ly/2OccupierWellbeing

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Recently installed retro-fitted green wall at Chineham Business Park

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Grey to Green Project, planted swale system in central Sheffield, images courtesy of Sheffield University Landscape Department.

Financial Benefits

Enhancing biodiversity by investing in your site landscape can provide multiple benefits to a commercial development. Last month we looked in detail at the financial benefits; from standing out from the competition, attracting and retaining occupiers, to reducing running costs of buildings and landscape maintenance.

Read our full article here https://bit.ly/3financialbenefitslandscape

Whilst we wait for the final Environment Bill to be passed, it’s clear from the points outlined above, that it’s never too early to start thinking about ways to increase biodiversity in commercial sites.

It is clear that the Environment Bill will involve a huge shake up of development and planning and it is likely that extra costs will be incurred by developers. However, a fundamental shift in planning and development has to occur in order to avoid further biodiversity losses. I believe that the UK’s construction industry has the knowledge and professional capabilities to overcome these challenges. Ensuring that we build a sustainable future our children can be proud of.