Securing Biodiversity Net Gain on logistics sites

With sustainable development high on the agenda, the impact of the built environment on our natural world is a key consideration in the planning process. With legislation appearing imminent, Hannah Knight, Principal Ecologist looks at the challenges of securing Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) on logistics sites, and why early engagement is essential.

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is not a new concept, but factoring it in to project planning from the outset is a relatively new approach in the logistics sector. Accounting for BNG from the outset can make the difference between planning success or, potentially, a costly project failure.

Green infrastructure isn't usually associated with logistics developments as space is often at a premium. Therefore, unless prioritised by the local authority BNG can often fall off the agenda entirely. 

But with BNG on track to gain royal assent later this year, its becoming increasingly important for developers to plan ahead and consider how their scheme can deliver the required improvements to biodiversity. Considering this at acquisition stage is increasingly becoming critical; as it can determine whether a site is proceedable to buy or build.

 

Breaking down Biodiversity Net Gain

In its simplest terms, BNG is an approach to development that leaves biodiversity in a better state than it was found. It’s a method where developers work with local governments, wildlife groups, landowners and other stakeholders in order to support nature conservation. Minimising the losses of biodiversity and helping to restore ecological networks is of paramount importance.

In theory, upon completion, a development will have a positive ecological impact, delivering improvements through habitat creation or enhancement after avoiding or mitigating harm.

But are the right BNG questions being asked during site acquisition and due diligence? 

Old wild flower hay meadow  - shutterstock_369970208.jpg

The legislation behind BNG

The Environment Bill will introduce mandatory BNG provisions as part of the planning application. What this means for new developments is that they must measurably increase biodiversity; either as part of the development, or within the local area.

But a 5% or 10% gain isn’t a current legal requirement. And if or when the Bill does pass, requirements are not expected to come into full force for another two years – which will be 2023 at the earliest. This does mean that biodiversity net gain is often not given as much weight or importance as it should.

Act early for a longer-term gain

"BNG can potentially impact the financial performance of a site for the better – if introduced earlier as part of the due diligence process and assessment."

Hannah Knight

Principal Ecologist

Testimonial

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that ‘planning policies and decisions should identify and pursue opportunities for securing measurable net gains for biodiversity’. This leaves room for interpretation. And so until the Bill passes we can expect variation between the approaches of different local authorities. However, what we can see is that many are already requesting biodiversity net gain - and are looking to establish clear expectations from the start.

The BNG solutions for your logistical space

With such limited space on sites, thinking vertically in urban logistics is sometimes the only way a developer can achieve the BNG credits needed. Green spaces – creating green or brown roofs on top of buildings is a very popular and achievable option, as well as green walls.

Blue infrastructure, such as ponds, wetlands and water treatment facilities, can work well to create a green-blue network. Combining both can drastically improve current environmental conditions on site, enhance biodiversity, and support the green economy.

It's important to note that with the introduction of BNG, clients may end up paying a premium for sites that are mostly hardstanding or existing buildings. These sorts of sites won’t have any existing ‘habitat’ on location; meaning it will be much easier to achieve BNG and avoid costly offsetting payments. Based on how valuable these site may become to the developer, we can expect prices to increase.

Why put Biodiversity Net Gain first?

Planning advantage

BNG helps local authorities to deliver high-quality, sustainable developments within their administrative area. So adopting an early, thought out approach gives developers a planning advantage. If developers present a streamlined BNG proposal as part of the spatial planning and development management process, local planning authorities can facilitate collaboration between planning officers, developers and stakeholders. 

Winning work

Many contracting agencies require their projects to improve the environment, or projects where LPAs stipulate BNG. Companies could crucially differentiate themselves from competition if they’re tendering for work and adopting good environmental principles.

Improving site selection and acquisition

Having good practice principles in place will help companies improve site selection by avoiding costly consent processes. And a clear commitment to BNG can help with land acquisition, as the benefit to local communities through enhancing biodiversity is demonstrated.

Demonstrating sustainability leadership and boosting your reputation

It might sound obvious, but leading by example will only boost a company’s reputation, secure a competitive advantage and provide evidence of expertise when tendering for work.

Better financing for the future?

A return on investment is the end goal for any development or project. Creating high-quality spaces which improve people’s wellbeing and quality of life will attract investment into an area, and increase the financial value of assets.

Wider benefits

Urban logistics schemes that achieve BNG can secure additional environmental benefits, such as improved air quality, soil stability, flood management and adaption to climate change. This is vital for companies seeking to demonstrate the wider value of their projects, and for landowners wanting to maximise the benefits from investing in BNG.

Looking ahead for logistics

There is a common misconception that integrating ecology into a development automatically adds to your BNG contribution – but this is not the case. Ecology and BNG need to be thought through together, prepared in coordination, and a solution established that works for both.

The Government has set out its 25-year plan for the environment, with BNG playing a huge part. It’s committed to leaving the environment in ‘a better state than how we found it’, in response to a landmark review of the economic importance of nature.

The logistics sector will soon enough have to adopt BNG methods as a legal requirement. Working more efficiently and placing greater emphasis on thinking about BNG early is only going to aid a smooth transition and be financially beneficial in the long-term. 

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