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Gloucestershire Business News

Delayed to 2024: Defra's green planning pledge

The new boss of the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has stepped in to a simmering national planning row on a delayed pledge to insist developers improve the environment as part of their planning permission.

Late last month, in the wake of a leaked report, the government said it was delaying the Biodiverity Net Gain (BNG) measure which was due to kick in in November – a move that appears to be drawing criticism both from environmental quarters and the construction industry.

Stating that it remains committed to BNG and will soon announce a new implementation date for the policy, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has now indicated that the rule will take force in January 2024.

Defra confirmed the leaked reports and said that the introduction of the mandate, to deliver 10% Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) on all sites, as contained in the 2021 Environment Act, was subject to an "updated timetable".

The new timeline for the legislation over-rides the stipulation from the Environment Act which mandated for the rule to be brought in from November 2023. 

Defra minister Trudy Harrison has now stated that the policy will apply to small sites from next April and to National Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) from 2025.

In a statement on the delay, Ms Harrison said: "To support the implementation of Biodiversity Net Gain, the government has already committed over £15 million to assist Local Planning Authorities to prepare. Many housing developers are also already successfully creating Biodiversity Net Gain through their developments. By the end of November, we will publish all guidance and the regulations."

Voicing disappoinment at the delay, the Home Builders Federation (HBF) said that developers "have embraced the principle of biodiversity net gain" but that there were "significant gaps" in the guidance provided by the government.

Neil Jefferson, the HBF's MD, said: "We need the government to deliver on its requirements so that industry can provide these huge environmental benefits alongside desperately needed new homes."

Here in Gloucestershire, the new boss of the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust said the "eleventh-hour" delay was a worrying sign.

Based at Robinswood Hill Country Park near Gloucester, the GWT has more than 45 reserves throughout Gloucestershire and looks after more than 700 hectares of natural habitat, with a membership of more than 26000 people.

Andrew McLaughlin, GWT CEO, said: "Biodiversity Net Gain was intended to pave the way for developers to play their part in enhancing the natural environment, a vital step considering the UK's position as one of the most nature-depleted countries on earth."

He added: "Many developers, local authorities and conservationists have embraced this opportunity and spent the last two years getting ready for the introduction of BNG this November."

Appointed this June, Mr McLaughlin stated: "Through the Gloucestershire Nature and Climate Fund, we have a local approach that is waiting to go. We have every reason and a great opportunity to get on with the delivery of Biodiversity Net Gain and shouldn't let central government's cold feet get in the way in of nature's recovery in Gloucestershire.

"This 11th hour delay sends a worrying signal about the government's ambitions for nature; muddying the waters and creating a hesitancy that the natural world can't afford."

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