The government will use the forthcoming Environment Bill to mandate biodiversity net gain for housing development in England.
Answering a written Commons question, housing minister Kit Malthouse said such a mandate would ensure that housing delivery would not come at the expense of vital biodiversity.
Labour’s Paul Farrelly asked what plans MHCLG had to encourage more environmentally conscious house-building that took into account the likes of established trees and local bird populations.
In December, as reported by 24housing, the 300,000-new-homes-a-year-by-the-mid-2020s target pitched by government was seen as having to meet proposed new eco-rules to demonstrate environmental enhancement.
Going out to consultation, the rules obliged housing developers to enhance wildlife habitats in outlining a mandatory ‘biodiversity net gain’ requirement.
In his answer to Farrelly, Malthouse referenced the revised National Planning Policy Framework – published in July last year – that asked councils to support development whose primary objective is to conserve or enhance biodiversity.
“Opportunities to incorporate biodiversity improvements in and around developments should also be encouraged, especially where this can secure measurable net gains for biodiversity,” said Malthouse.
“These gains could include the safeguarding of established trees or bird populations, access to new green space, and provision of green infrastructure such as swift bricks or hedgehog highways.
“The government will use the forthcoming Environment Bill to mandate biodiversity net gain for development in England, ensuring that the delivery of much-needed infrastructure and housing is not at the expense of vital biodiversity,” he said.
As proposed, the new rules put to consultation make biodiversity net gain central to planning and development and would apply to developments covered by the Town and Country Planning Act in England.
In circumstances where green improvements were not possible, developers could be charged a levy to pay for habitat creation or improvement elsewhere.
Government proposes an onus be put on developers leaving sites in a measurably better environmental state than they were pre-development – with a requirement to assess habitat type and condition before submitting plans.
While some developers have already been following a biodiversity net gain approach voluntarily, the proposed standardised, mandatory approach is pitched as offering clarity and certainty on how to improve the environment through development, while also considering whether any sites – such as small and brownfield sites – should be exempt from the rules.