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Developers, are you ready for BNG?

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is on the verge of becoming mandatory for nearly all new developments, and the question on everyone's mind is, "Are developers ready?".

As the regulatory landscape shifts, BNG will soon be a non-negotiable requirement for all development projects in England. The clock is ticking, and the time to act is now. Are you equipped with the right tools to navigate this new ecological frontier and meet the government's stringent requirements?

BNG demands more than just a checkbox on your development plan; it calls for a paradigm shift in how we approach planning of new linear infrastructure.

3 months

That’s how much time is left before Mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain will legally apply to all development projects in England. From November 2023, developers will be required to assess the biodiversity baseline on a development site and set a target to achieve a 10% gain on the baseline post completion.

With Scotland, Norway and the European Union expected to follow soon, this marks a significant shift towards embedding biodiversity conservation into the core of development practices. The move reflects a growing global recognition of the urgent need to protect and enhance biodiversity, not only for the well-being of our ecosystems but also to address pressing environmental challenges such as climate change and habitat loss. As more regions adopt Biodiversity Net Gain principles, developers will face a growing imperative to embrace sustainable, nature-friendly design, setting a new standard for responsible development worldwide.

The early bird catches the worm

Picture this: you are looking at possible routes for the development of a new transmission line. The route you select seems logical from all angles considered.

But you missed out on some important data: the chosen option will have a big impact on high distinctiveness biodiversity habitats. You are unable to compensate for this loss anywhere else and your only solution is to resort to purchasing biodiversity credits as outlined under the new policy released by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The added cost? Up to an eye watering £650,000 per single biodiversity unit.

Extract from DEFRA's Statutory biodiversity credit price

With the current methodology, Biodiversity Net Gain is not usually calculated for new linear assets until the final alignment has been agreed upon and iterations are no longer possible. Therefore, route options that minimise biodiversity loss will likely be missed. And just like in our example above, it might even lead to a situation where onsite compensation is not possible and offsite compensation not feasible, leading to a need to purchase biodiversity credits with the additional financial burden that places on developers.

Considering Biodiversity Net Gain at the routing stage of infrastructure developments offers a multitude of advantages. By addressing biodiversity concerns at the routing stage, developers can reduce costs and save time in the long run. Making informed decisions from the outset streamlines the development process and eliminates the need for costly modifications, retrofits and credit purchases later in the project due to ecological conflicts.

One of the other primary benefits is the ability to make optimal site selections. Early evaluation of biodiversity considerations allows developers to identify routes or locations that have lower ecological impact, minimising disruption to important habitats and species and reducing the chances of having to purchase biodiversity credits.

Integrating BNG planning at the routing stage also allows for enhanced ecological design. Developers can explore opportunities to incorporate wildlife corridors, green spaces, and habitat enhancements along the route, promoting overall ecological connectivity and supporting wildlife populations.

Look before you leap

Buying statutory biodiversity credits is considered a last resort option for developers when they are unable to achieve biodiversity net gain through either on-site or off-site measures. However, committing to a development site without early consideration of the potential costs of not meeting BNG requirements could lead to substantial financial consequences.

If developers fail to meet BNG requirements, they will face the need to purchase statutory biodiversity credits to compensate for the shortfall in biodiversity gain. These credits, essentially units bought from the Secretary of State, act as a financial mechanism to offset the negative impact on biodiversity caused by the development. The purchase of these credits should only be pursued when no other viable options for on-site or off-site BNG are available.

The cost of statutory credits deliberately adopts a non-competitive pricing strategy, set at a much higher price than the expected average. Moreover, these credits are subject to a 'spatial' multiplier, further increasing the financial burden when they are located far from the development site. This means that developers opting for statutory credits may need to purchase two 'credits' for each BNG unit required, amplifying the financial implications of not achieving net gain through other means.

As a result, failing to assess the potential costs of not meeting BNG requirements early on can lead to unforeseen and significant financial burdens for developers. By not incorporating biodiversity considerations from the outset, developers risk the possibility of incurring a hefty bill to compensate for the lack of biodiversity enhancement on their site.

What counts towards a project’s BNG?

Any measurable increase in biodiversity resulting from the development compared to the pre-development state of the site counts towards BNG. The goal is to ensure that the development contributes positively to biodiversity conservation, and various elements can be considered when calculating the net gain. Here are some components that typically count towards a project's BNG:

Habitat Creation and Enhancement: Creating new habitats or enhancing existing ones on or around the development site. This may include meadows, woodlands, wetlands, ponds, hedgerows, and green roofs.

Species Protection and Enhancement: Measures to protect and enhance populations of native plant and animal species, including rare or threatened species. This can involve creating suitable nesting sites, planting native species for pollinators, and providing refuge areas.

Green Infrastructure: Incorporating green infrastructure features like green spaces, wildlife corridors, and sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) that support biodiversity and promote ecological connectivity.

Biodiversity Offsetting: In cases where on-site net gain is not achievable, developers may invest in off-site biodiversity offset projects. These projects should deliver an equivalent or higher level of biodiversity gain.

Restoration of Degraded Habitats: Restoring degraded or disturbed habitats to their natural state, which can significantly contribute to biodiversity net gain.

Protection of Priority Habitats and Species: Ensuring that priority habitats and species identified in national or local conservation strategies are conserved and managed appropriately.

Can Continuum Industries help?

We’ve purpose-built Optioneer to address the main challenges developers are facing when planning new infrastructure projects. As a result, Optioneer can now automatically calculate baseline biodiversity units for hundreds of potential route options. The software combines industry-standard datasets, official calculation frameworks and cutting-edge AI to analyse and suggest routes that highlight biodiversity value from the outset.

Optioneer includes biodiversity impacts earlier in route development to unlock the following benefits for both infrastructure developers and the environments in which they work:

  • Minimising impact on biodiversity while balancing with other routing pressures
  • Improved route selection decisions in the long term
  • Time-saving without compromising quality
  • More robust evidence towards eventual planning application and EIA
  • Minimised biodiversity loss and therefore minimised costs of compensatory measures

Our unique methodology can be configured so that areas with the highest biodiversity are weighted appropriately against other factors and avoided where practicable.

Together, we can create developments that not only meet the government's requirements but also leave a lasting positive impact on biodiversity and our communities.

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