It’s not easy being green, as the old song by a children’s favourite goes. But sustainability and environmental responsibility are now high on the political agenda and have been even more in focus over the past year, following the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow between 31 October and 12 November 2021

A combination of political will, public pressure and international momentum on mitigating climate change mean that sustainability is now a driving factor for developers, landowners, planners and local authorities. The government recently (July 20, 2021) published a new version of its National Planning Policy Framework document (NPPF) which places even more emphasis on the green agenda in spelling out the grounds on which planning authorities should allow or refuse developments.

This document is, in effect, the blueprint for all planning decisions in England, and has been modified following consultations on previous versions made available earlier this year.

This latest iteration contains a key shift in the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” for plan-making. It results in a much larger responsibility on developers to demonstrate that they have considered the impacts of their activities on the environment, local infrastructure and climate change.

The new document says any new developments should seek to:

  • Meet the development needs of their area
  • Align growth and infrastructure
  • Improve the environment
  • Mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.

Separately the updated document also stresses the requirement for trees to be accommodated in development, and for developers to deliver “well-designed, beautiful and safe places”.

The requirements of this latest version of the NPPF echo and complement another key document – the Environment Act 2021. This legislation was given royal assent on 9 November 2021 and aims to protect and enhance our environment for future generations. Before receiving royal assent, the Draft Environment Bill arguably boosted the UK’s environmental credentials going into COP26 last year.

This legislation sets out how the government will maintain standards in line with its 25-year Environment Plan, which sets out goals for improving the environment “within a generation, leaving it in a better state than we found it”.

A key element of this is Biodiversity Net Gain – put simply, it’s a requirement for every new site to have a positive ecological impact. The Environment Act 2021 contains a new biodiversity net gain requirement for planning permissions. This will have huge ramifications for developers who will now be required to deliver a 10% biodiversity net gain for at least 30 years.

To meet this requirement, developers need to measure biodiversity gains using a biodiversity metric. This is used to assess an area’s value to wildlife, using habitat features to calculate a site’s biodiversity value.

The Government have recently (January 2022) opened a consultation focusing on the practical and legal implementation of the new biodiversity gain requirement. In particular, this consultation will look at the biodiversity metric before it is published for use in mandatory biodiversity net gain. In the meantime, Government guidance on how this metric can be calculated can be accessed here.

Following the introduction of the Environment Act 2021, meeting the new biodiversity requirements is now the responsibility of all developers . Developers should be taking appropriate advice to ensure their current and planned projects meet the required standards – failing to do so may lead to costly delays in months and years to come. Developers will need to ensure their professional advisors fully understand current and future requirements, and why the metric is important.

The Thrings team advises landowners and developers on a wide range of issues including complex and potentially contentious applications. Find out more and get in touch here.