Nature finally has a seat at the table

Duncan McKay, Senior Town Planner at BDP gives a planner’s perspective on biodiversity net gain in the development of homes and infrastructure in the UK.

“Without nature we have nothing.”
UN Chief at COP15

Nature finally has a seat at the table. Biodiversity Net Gain provisions will now apply to all new developments over XXX in the UK.

It’s a significant step forward for the industry, but it comes following a damning statistic about how we have protected our natural environment in the past. The UK has lost almost half its wildlife species since the industrial revolution; 13% of which has been lost since the 1970s. From today, the UK will become the first country in the world to ensure all new developments will require at least a 10% uplift of biodiversity.

The goal of this requirement is to ensure that every new development contributes positively to the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity, meaning if all goes to plan, we will leave places in a better state than when we found them.

 

 

We’re all now feeling the impact of climate change, and a Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) policy presents the most significant opportunity to do something that has a positive impact. By halting and reversing nature’s decline BNG can undo the damaging effects of climate change. But it can’t do the job alone.

When it comes to prioritising nature in development planning, it all boils down to engagement and optimisation of plans and the subsequent designs.

In many cases, a net biodiversity gain is not as hard to achieve as we initially might think. We advise on the most optimal use of land and space as well as steering developers towards supportive interventions. For example, we make sure that the inclusion of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) and other plant-friendly landscaping contributes to the overall biodiversity score. 


Of course, the process rewards greener developers and while it’s safe to assume that local authorities will favour biodiversity net gain (BNG) schemes within their jurisdiction, the identification, funding, and implementation of off-site schemes will also be important as we move forward.  For this to be successful, we must embrace innovative digital platforms that facilitate the seamless matchmaking of BNG-ready land with the intentions of developers. We must then bring forward the right solutions for developers and local communities and make spaces that truly enhance nature.  

Moreover, we know that the commitment to a 30-year timeframe on biodiverse developments surpasses the average career span of planning officers, not to mention the tenure of developers. So it is imperative that we establish robust metrics capable of demonstrating the tangible outcomes of BNG over a long period, assuaging concerns and instilling confidence in the process.

Fundamentally, implementing biodiversity net gain across all new projects is revolutionising the way we approach the design, construction, and maintenance of our urban spaces. The recent global pandemic has further highlighted the critical connection between nature and human well-being, prompting us to integrate the needs of local wildlife alongside those of people.

And we’ve come to understand that nature doesn’t exist in a silo. We must continue crafting more ambitious, diverse, and awe-inspiring natural networks within our towns, cities and neighbourhoods. The interconnection of new biodiverse landscapes with surrounding habitats is vital to create even more expansive, long lasting nature recovery networks. This interconnectedness ensures that wildlife not only has the space to roam but also thrives in optimal conditions.

Over time, these efforts, alongside a strong plan for offsite enhancements have the potential to reverse the decline in biodiversity that plagues our towns and cities, while simultaneously fortifying them against the challenges posed by climate change.

By embracing nature as an integral part of our planning processes, we pave the way for a brighter future, where thriving ecosystems coexist harmoniously with urban development. Let us seize this opportunity to reshape our communities, striking a balance that benefits both the natural world and the well-being of humanity.

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