Striking the balance between business and biodiversity...
Improving biodiversity alongside supporting business and enabling planning development where appropriate can be a complex and tricky business. But Warwickshire County Council is at the forefront of the quest to protect the environment as one of six pioneer Local Planning Authorities which operates its own biodiversity net gain programme. David Lowe, Team Leader, Ecology, Historic Environment & Landscape at Warwickshire County Council, explains.
Planning and development are essential to the strength of Warwickshire's economy. Safeguarding and improving biodiversity throughout the county is essential to all our futures.
Marrying up these two great objectives, so that both are achieved, can be a complicated business, but it is a high priority for us at Warwickshire County Council.
Warwickshire County Council, with support from Districts and Boroughs plus Solihull and Coventry, operates its own biodiversity net gain programme on all major and minor planning applications, unless otherwise agreed by the Local Planning Authority. Warwickshire was one of six pioneer LPAs to trial this approach.
It is a policy requirement for all LPAs to use a Defra metric to ensure that all developments result in a biodiversity net gain. This means that all developments must use the Warwickshire Biodiversity Impact Assessment (BIA) tool, which helps ensure that all development applications are treated in a fair, equal and transparent manner.
The BIA is completed by the applicant's ecologist and details the value of the habitat before and after development. Importantly, it records habitat that is to be retained and enhanced, mitigated for and compensated for onsite. It will then show if the development will result in a biodiversity net gain or loss.
The assessment also has a similar process for hedgerows based on the Natural England assessment criteria.
The BIA is submitted to the LPA ecological advisor who reviews the assessment. The advisor can then recommend changes to further enhance a development or, if necessary, flag up where a development conflicts with core strategy policies such as the mitigation hierarchy.
If the development shows a residual biodiversity loss, then the biodiversity gain approach is triggered. This is resolved either by the developer securing an agreement with a third party to achieve a net gain outcome through an offset agreement, or by making a financial contribution to Warwickshire County Council or Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council who will find an appropriate offset scheme.
The current Warwickshire BIA provides an indicative financial sum enabling the applicant to account for the impacts of their development at the very early stages of the project. This provides a level of certainty rarely available in any other aspect of the planning process. It also clearly identifies habitat that is of higher value for biodiversity where development should or could be avoided.
Conversely, if the developable land is of low biodiversity value, it enables the developer to consider less onsite habitat provision. This may mean the developer has to give a higher a higher financial contribution but achieve greater overall financial benefit to them.
A good example of what can be achieved is the Alscot Biodiversity Project which has seen the Alscot Estate, in Stratford, offer biodiversity offsetting units to developers. Developers, including AC Lloyd, has secured several biodiversity offsetting units from the Alscot Estate. As the Alscot scheme is regulated by Warwickshire County Council the result is a development which has seen all parties - landowner, developer and local authority - work together to achieve biodiversity benefits for all.
The Biodiversity Impact Assessment is an effective planning tool that brings ecological considerations to the fore. In the context of the national planning policy framework’s aim of achieving
sustainable development, it can demonstrate a win-win-win in its three social, economic and environmental objectives.
For more information and details on how to apply, please visit: https://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/biodiversityoffsetting