Councils unprepared for biodiversity net gain

BNG agreement templates
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Just five local authorities in England have landowner section 106 agreement (s106) templates for biodiversity net gain (BNG) sites.

The data was obtained by law firm BDB Pitmans after freedom of information (FOI) requests to all 317 local and 10 national park authorities in England.

Of the 315 local and national park authorities that responded to the FOI, only Buckinghamshire Council, Devon County Council, Dorset Council, Warwickshire County Council and the Broads National Park had landowner s106 agreement templates in place.

A further 25 local authorities told BDB Pitmans that they are currently in the process of preparing templates.

Section 106 agreements are legal agreements between a planning authority and a developer that ensure certain extra works related to a development are undertaken.

Templates for BNG sites include s106 as an option to secure offsite habitat enhancements as part of the new BNG regulations, which require all planning applications for development that affect over 25 sq m of habitat to demonstrate a BNG of at least 10%.

Where that gain cannot be achieved onsite, developers must look elsewhere, either buying BNG credits from the government (to offset one unit costs between £84,000 and £1.3m) or contracting with a third-party landowner to provide that gain over the required 30-year period.

Worrying lack of preparedness

BDB Pitmans said that a worrying lack of preparedness among many local authorities could put a brake on residential development.

Angus Walker, a partner and planning law specialist at the firm, said: “Worryingly, at least 30 local authorities appear not to understand that a landowner s106 agreement does not relate to planning permission, believing such agreements are part of a planning application.

“We recognise that the BNG regime is still in its infancy, but the results of this FOI request do suggest that local authorities are at best not fully prepared or, worse, that they do not understand the regime at all.”

This story was amended on 24 April

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