BNG implementation was rushed with no long-term strategy

BNG implementation
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The public spending watchdog says the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched the biodiversity net gain (BNG) scheme without having all elements in place to ensure its long-term success.

A new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) highlights risks to the new policy’s future effectiveness, including concerns about local authorities being able to successfully enforce statutory BNG.

NAO’s report highlights that Defra and Natural England (the non-departmental public body responsible for important elements of the policy) lack all the relevant information they need to effectively evaluate the regime and determine whether it is a success.

It also says Defra does not intend to provide central monitoring of how well onsite and offsite biodiversity gains are being enforced by local authorities.

Delayed implementation

After a series of delays that caused uncertainty in the built environment sector, the government introduced BNG in February

The new rules require housing, commercial and infrastructure developments to be ‘nature positive’. This means developers in England must now deliver 10% BNG, for example by creating new habitats and green spaces, on residential projects with 10 or more dwellings, or where the site area is 0.5ha or more.

The government provided either £26,807 or £43,467 to each local authority to help them prepare for each of the two years preceding the BNG launch. Local authorities had discretion on how to spend the money: for instance, on recruiting and training new ecologists, procuring new software and processing legal work.

However, Defra acknowledged readiness among local authorities was mixed at launch.

Data obtained by law firm BDB Pitmans through freedom of information requests showed that, as of April, just five local authorities in England had landowner section 106 agreement templates for BNG sites.

‘Report is no great surprise’

Although the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) welcomed the new legislation when it launched, it also raised concerns about the implementation delay, which left the construction industry unprepared.

Amanda Williams, head of environmental sustainability at CIOB, said: “The NAO report sadly comes as no great surprise as the concerns in it were raised by stakeholders, including us at CIOB, prior to the implementation of the policy.

“We continue to be supportive of BNG in principle, but the introduction of a complex requirement like this requires clear timelines, with adequate funding and support, and these have been lacking throughout.

She added: “The low level of confidence held by local authorities, planners, and the construction industry about their respective roles in delivering biodiversity net gain is understandable given the limited government investment in ensuring the success of the scheme. 

“Key to success is the right investment for preparation and monitoring and enforcing onsite gains. The skills shortage in the industry is a longstanding issue and increasing the supply of competent experts to factor biodiversity net gain into project plans, deliver it and monitor success must be a priority.”

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