Wednesday, 5 December 2018

‘Biodiversity offsetting scheme’ plans to allow developers to build on woodland and open countryside

The idea of 'offsetting' has been with us for some time:
Futures Forum: Biodiversity in East Devon

It's very controversial:
Futures Forum: Making space for wildlife > offsetting, rewilding or making half the planet a nature reserve

The most recent example locally is causing considerable alarm:
Futures Forum: East Budleigh objects to application to demolish habitat of 11 species of bat
Futures Forum: Demolishing the home of several species of rare bats - with the promise of providing a new building 'designed to provide conditions more suitable for breeding bats'

The government wants to make it easier:



New government plans reveal that developers will be allowed to build on woodland and open countryside areas if they pay a tariff to offset the damage and promote wildlife in other parts of the UK, according to The Times.

The wildlife offsetting scheme would see housebuilders paying a few hundred pounds per each new home to compensate for the damage caused. The value of the wildlife on the development site would be calculated using a government metric system to find the amount of ‘biodiversity units’ it was worth, the developers would then have to purchase 10 per cent more units than those that were destroyed to provide a biodiversity net gain.

Campaigners have complained because the new trees or improved wildlife areas do not have to be located anywhere near the destroyed site. Furthermore, the ‘compensatory habitat’ may not be permanent, with one option from the Government suggesting that it will be maintained for less than 25 years.

Developers allowed to build on countryside - Rural Services Network

With the Times reporting here: 

Damage levy lets builders use woodland

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

December 3 2018, 12:01am, The Times


The government wants 300,000 homes to be built each year in England by the mid-2020s ALAMY

Developers will be allowed to build on woodland and open countryside if they pay a tariff to promote wildlife hundreds of miles away under government plans published yesterday.

Cherished green spaces may be destroyed without alternative sites being created nearby, conservationists said.

Under the wildlife offsetting scheme, a developer could pay a few hundred pounds per home to a “land broker” or “habitat bank” to compensate for damage. The value of the wildlife on a proposed development site would be assessed using a government metric to calculate the number of “biodiversity units” it was worth. The developer would have to buy 10 per cent more units than were destroyed to provide a so-called biodiversity net gain.

Damage levy lets builders use woodland | News | The Times

With more from the Independent:

‘Biodiversity offsetting scheme’ plans to allow developers to build on woodland and open countryside

Controversial proposals aim to speed up house building

Harry Cockburn
1 day ago

Home under construction in the UK. Developers could be forced to create 10 per cent more 'biodiversity units' for every project they undertake in England under government proposals ( Getty )

Developers could be given the green light to build in woodland and open countryside, if they pay a charge towards improving the natural environment elsewhere, under new plans published by the government.

The biodiversity offsetting scheme will help the government meet targets to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, but would also apply to commercial projects.

The proposals, which are currently out for consultation, would legally require developers to deliver a “biodiversity net gain” when undertaking construction projects – meaning habitats for wildlife must be enhanced and left in “a measurably better state” than they were pre-development.

Such a scheme aims to make planning regulation less onerous, helping to speed up building projects, “improving the process for developers”, the government paper says.

While the consultation paper states the government would prefer biodiversity net gains to be seen in the immediate vicinity of new developments, it states a tariff could be paid “so that biodiversity net gain can be achieved without delaying development”.

“Biodiversity net gain will be assessed using a government metric to calculate how many “biodiversity units” a tract of land is worth. “The metric takes relative levels of habitat importance into account when assessing the value of habitats for biodiversity,” the document says.

The development of existing carparks and industrial sites would “usually come lower on this scale, while more natural grasslands and woodlands would be given a much higher ranking for their environmental importance”.

Developers would then be required to demonstrate they are improving biodiversity – such as through the creation of green corridors, planting more trees, or forming local “nature spaces”.

The government said: “Green improvements on site would be encouraged, but in the rare circumstances where they are not possible the consultation proposes to charge developers a levy to pay for habitat creation or improvement elsewhere.”

In this instance a developer could pay damage compensation into a “habitat bank”. The developer would have to buy 10 per cent more biodiversity units than were destroyed to provide the net gain.

The resultant “compensatory habitats” may not be permanent, with the proposals suggesting under one option developers could only be mandated to maintain them for less than 25 years.

The environment secretary, Michael Gove, said: “Our commitment to protecting and enhancing our natural world can go hand in hand with our ambition to build more high quality homes.

“Mandating biodiversity net gain puts the environment at the heart of planning and development. This will not only create better places for people to live and work, but ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations.”

Thérèse Coffey, the environment minister, told The Times: “The whole point of this is that we are in favour of building homes but we believe it can be done in an environmentally even more friendly way. Some councils already do this. We are trying to give an element of consistency and certainty to developers in how this gets done around the country.”

The National Trust has previously said biodiversity offsetting schemes “should not be seen as a way to fast-track development”.

In a statement on its website, the Trust said: “We believe biodiversity offsetting, done properly, could help avoid the net loss of biodiversity so often brought about by development, and should be designed to deliver net gains for wildlife.

It added: “An appropriate, transparent and carefully tested framework is needed to make sure any impacts of development on wildlife are taken properly into account and compensation is agreed in a consistent way.”

‘Biodiversity offsetting scheme’ plans to allow developers to build on woodland and open countryside | The Independent

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