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As the Environment Bill continues to progress through Parliament, Fisher German’s Tom Beeley discusses the Bill and how our innovative new platform, The Green Offset, can support in achieving Biodiversity Net Gain requirements. The Environment Bill is currently progressing through the parliamentary process, with proposals aiming to deliver several aspects of the Government’s 25-year environmental strategy.

The Bill includes amongst other things binding targets for delivering improvement in key environmental indicators; the establishment of an Office for Environmental Protection; and requirements for local authorities to establish Local Nature Recovery Strategies. Perhaps most significantly, the Bill includes introduction of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) as a planning requirement. BNG requirements aim to address the decline in biodiversity seen in the UK, by requiring that any development leaves biodiversity in a measurably better condition than before the development took place.#

Whilst biodiversity is currently a material consideration in the planning system, the Environment Bill proposes introducing a mandatory requirement for development to show a net gain in biodiversity of at least 10 per cent as part of any planning consent. Biodiversity loss and gain will be measured through assessment of the impact a development has on any existing habitat, and provision of new areas of similar habitat.

For example, if a hectare of grassland is lost as part of a housing development, the developer will need to show that they are compensating for this and delivering a 10 per cent net gain by providing at least 1.1 Ha of similar grassland elsewhere.

BNG will impact directly on developers who will need to demonstrate how a net gain will be delivered as a result of development. Indeed several local authorities have already implemented net gain requirements and some developers, including utilities, are already voluntarily providing BNG.

There is an expectation that developers should work though a mitigation hierarchy first, looking at how habitat losses can be avoided or minimised and then how habitat creation can be incorporated into site design. The NHBC Foundation has recently published a guide for housebuilders looking at how environmental outcomes can be integrated into housing developments. Where a development cannot achieve a 10 per cent net gain within the development site, this will need to be delivered off site through provision of a like-for-like or better habitat locally – this is known as biodiversity offsetting.

The need for biodiversity offsetting to achieve net gain requirements is expected to create demand for land surrounding development areas to deliver long-term habitat creation. This creates opportunity for landowners to derive new income through private sector markets for provision of land for habitat creation by entering into long term management agreements.

Biodiversity net gain is not the only market for ecosystem services. Carbon offsetting is an area of fervent interest in agriculture as a potential new income source for landowners. There are also a number of nutrient management schemes in development, with particular focus on reducing the amount of nitrates and phosphates entering sensitive water courses.

With these new markets for ecosystem services in mind, Fisher German has developed an innovative new platform, The Green Offset, which aims to help develop provision of land to these emerging markets. The Green Offset web platform provides a simple means of linking landowners willing to provide land for offsetting - be that habitat creation, carbon or nutrient management - with developers who need a site to deliver environmental outcomes. Landowners simply register the land that they would be willing to consider utilised for offsetting purposes on the mapping system free of charge. This is then visible anonymously to anyone seeking an offset site who can then make an enquiry through the platform.

The platform has been designed to be as simple as possible for landowners to register their land with no binding commitment once registered. If a developer makes an enquiry about the land, the landowner will be notified and has the choice of whether to make an introduction to discuss the potential further, so they remain fully in control.

For developers, the platform will provide visibility of land potentially available for offsetting and help take the legwork out of identifying land for habitat delivery– something which might otherwise be a timely process. It provides a simple route to make an introduction in order to enter into further negotiations.

The aim of The Green Offset is to provide a simple platform to enable useful conversations around delivery of ecosystem services for the private market to take place. It is hoped that it will help drive these new markets forward, help landowners to begin accessing and exploring these markets and over time deliver some clarity to what is a complex new area for land management.

To find out more, visit www.thegreenoffset.co.uk