Celebrating the good in BNG


England’s new, compulsory Biodiversity Net Gain regime is a leading, positive development, with global implications. 2MPy’s Tony Marshall considers why.

In the same week of an economic downturn, with the UK officially entering a ‘technical’ recession, a brighter development saw England introduce ground-breaking legislation, providing impetus for environmental upturn.

After significant delay, Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) became law in England last week.  As part of the development planning process this new, innovative regime went live on 12 February 2024, initially applying to major developments. The rules will also apply to all minor developments from 4 April 2024.

According to the UK government, “BNG makes sure development has a measurably positive impact (‘net gain’) on biodiversity, compared to what was there before development.”

Legislation to help protect and preserve our planet and its ecosystems (unfortunately) continues to be essential and England’s leadership on this critical issue is to be applauded. Nevertheless, enthusiasm towards the new policy will likely be mixed from a broad range of stakeholders.

  • Planning authorities at the heart of many BNG initiatives, need to allocate (and train) appropriate resource to implement the new processes, measurement tools and monitoring regimes – undoubtedly a challenge against already tight budgets.
  • Developers will need to balance a requirement to produce a solid Biodiversity Gain Plan once planning consent has been granted, with the long-term maintenance schedules necessary to conform with the 10% net gain for the (at least) 30-year rule – the obligations do not end with the planning application/approval.
  • Landowners may have cause to celebrate with farmers and estate managers now having greater incentive to quantify their natural, agricultural assets – demand from developers for healthy on and off-site habitats is set to increase.
  • Built environment consultants should seize the opportunity for upskilling and greater collaboration in the effort to help achieve BNG objectives.

A signpost to positive outcomes for major infrastructure, globally

The BNG model provides a launch pad for innovation around biodiversity. For nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs), its reach will broaden further in England come March 2025 when BNG extends to this category of development.

There will no doubt be some work involved in setting clear and specific requirements as they apply to NSIPs. Pursuing biodiversity objectives on major infrastructure projects (to date following non-mandatory objectives) has been readily achievable. Fundamental is not only a collective desire and collaborative effort to protect and improve biodiversity at a project level, but also to carefully identify and design positive outcomes, achieved through measurable actions. Biodiversity by design.

So, there can be no good reason why major infrastructure should be excluded from BNG. And, what of other countries and an ambition for global consistency and alignment? At a strategic level, the global community has collectively committed to tackling biodiversity loss through various initiatives and commitments.

The UN’s SDGs – in particular numbers 14 and 15 (life below water and life on land respectively) – bring focus to biodiversity and see huge take-up across the globe and the built environment sector. The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, ratified in December 2022 and incorporating four core global biodiversity goals against 23 targets, brings further impetus.

And the Leaders Pledge 4 Nature in 2023 announced new initiatives to combat the world’s biodiversity crisis, funded through a Global Biodiversity Framework Fund endorsed by 186 countries and formally agreed in August 2023 at the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Seventh Assembly. On its launch, the fund saw initial contributions including $200m from Canada and £10m from the UK.

These global platforms showcase innovative practices and open the door to tailored actions, such as England’s BNG.

With the right financial backing, collaborative efforts and through well managed, measurable frameworks, biodiversity protection and renewal can be achieved at scale. As Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, CEO and chair of the GEF says: “We can move forward to build a more biodiverse planet for everyone’s benefit.”

Whilst often a fragile resource, nature shows us daily how it can also be a very powerful and resilient thing. Nature, working together with competent, enthusiastic and innovative policy makers and built environment professionals all around the world, can only be positive – an upward trajectory for both the natural and built environment.

Tony Marshall is co-partner of the business consultancy 2MPy specialising in global business strategy.