Restoration Economy News: UK goes beyond conservation, requiring biodiversity net gain for all new development planning permission

In my keynotes and workshops, I’ve long said that the turning point in the world’s transition from destructive development to restorative development will come when regenerative values are ensconced in national-level policies and legislation.

The latest news on that front comes from the UK, where their new Environment Bill goes beyond merely demanding “sustainability”, “conservation” or “good stewardship”, actually requiring a net increase in biodiversity in order for any new planning permission (such as for sprawl development) to be approved. This is huge.

Here’s the key passage from the legislation:

Part 1 of new Schedule 7A applies a new general condition to all planning permissions granted in England, subject to exceptions. The condition requires a biodiversity gain plan to be submitted and approved by the planning authority before development can lawfully commence. The biodiversity gain plan should contain an assessment of the value of natural habitats before development and after development, and ensure that at least a 10% net gain is achieved between the earlier and later values. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 already allows for planning permission to be granted subject to condition(s). This “general condition” for biodiversity gain, which is mandatory for all planning permissions, is novel. Because the condition is deemed to have been granted, it exists in statute prior to the grant of planning permission. It may therefore be met at the time of granting planning permission where the planning authority also approve a biodiversity gain plan. This could be used for straightforward planning applications where the relevant information is available upfront. The general condition will not apply to all development in all scenarios. Part 1 includes a power to detail these exceptions in secondary legislation.

Strangely, there’s this bit of nonsense a bit later in the text:

In recognition of the fact that some habitat is irreplaceable, and therefore impossible to achieve a net gain on, paragraph 7 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations that modify or exclude the application of the general condition to irreplaceable habitat.

I call it nonsense because it’s precisely in the most degraded habitats that a net gain should be easiest. It’s like a startup company being able to boast of a 1000% annual gain in income: that’s a lot easier to achieve when you’re starting from $10 than it is from $10 billion.

That being said, I’m very happy to see restoration economy-style principles finally being embedded in policy and legislation.

Photo of bluebell forest in England by Greg Krycinski from Pixabay.

Read the full text of the explanatory notes to the Environment Bill.

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