Government Reportedly Hits Pause on Biodiversity Net Gain at 'eleventh hour'
Reports have emerged that the anticipated UK Biodiversity Net Gain regulations will likely be postponed. Initially set to become a compulsory component of England's planning system this November, the policy change now faces uncertainty.
In a news break earlier today, BBC cited anonymous government insiders who intimated that the Ministry would not proceed with the Biodiversity Net Gain legislation as previously scheduled. A new date for its rollout is expected to be revealed shortly.
The Biodiversity Net Gain framework—ratified initially as part of the 2021 Environment Act—aims to obligate developers to invest in habitat enhancement legally. The policy would ostensibly result in a net positive impact on biodiversity compared to the environmental footprint of new projects. Experts have suggested that successful implementation could preserve and establish 15,000 hectares for biodiversity annually. That's equivalent to creating habitats the size of approximately 23,500 soccer fields every year.
Critics are raising their voices. Organizations like The Wildlife Trusts have described the potential delay as "another sledgehammer to environmental preservation." This comes on the heels of other contentious governmental moves, including the scrapping of nutrient neutrality regulations and toning down commitments to carbon reduction.
This hesitation is one of many recent roadblocks in the government's environmental agenda. Just last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared a five-year extension to phase out new internal combustion engine vehicles and scrapped energy efficiency requirements for rental properties.
Additionally, Sunak disclosed the government's intent to waive some households from the 2035 fossil gas boiler phase-out and completely nullify the ban on new gas boilers for homes off the grid, beginning in 2026.
The wavering commitment also follows weeks of ambiguity surrounding abolishing "nutrient neutrality" rules, essential in controlling pollution from housing developments. Although these proposals met with legislative roadblocks in the House of Lords, Number 10 is strategizing new legislation to give a fillip to housing projects.
Simon McWhirter, deputy chief executive and director of external affairs at the UK Green Building Council, described the news that the Biodiversity Net Gain scheme could be delayed as "yet another blow to sustainable development", adding that the move that risks undermining efforts to deliver on the government's goal to reverse the decline of nature by 2030.
"Responsible developers large and small have been gearing up for this change for years, with many of our members creating dedicated jobs to deliver net gain from in-house consultants to designers, landscape architects and creative project leads," he said. "This will be exceptionally damaging for their projected work pipelines, investment, supply chains, and related job roles.
"As for the rollback on carbon policy last week, the industry needs certainty, clarity and commitment in order to facilitate green investment and continue to make progress," McWhirter added. "Biodiversity net gain is no exception. The policy is essential for delivering our sector's role in reversing nature's decline and should not be delayed any further."
Moreover, Dr Samuel Sinclair, director of conservation consultancy Biodiversity, said the delay had moved the goalposts at the eleventh hour, undermining those businesses that had put time and money into getting ready for BNG.
"This is a major setback for nature and for business, which has been told to prepare for these regulations coming in," he added. "The private sector has woken up to the importance of the biodiversity crisis and has been moving at speed to take action. The government should support them in this and provide leadership, not sowing uncertainty.
"This not only disadvantages those whose innovations and investments will be critical for the success of BNG, it disincentives them from future action. More than that, it is once again assuming that the environmental and nature crises our country is suffering can be put in the 'too difficult' pile and left to another day.
"Ministers need to announce straightaway the revised date for the introduction of these regulations, for the sake both of our natural environment and those firms committed to supporting it."
Martin Baxter, deputy CEO at the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, similarly warned that any delay to the Biodiversity Net Gain scheme risked compromising the government's ability to deliver on the interim targets included in its recently announced Environmental Improvement Plan, as well as longer-term biodiversity targets set through the Environment Act.
"Delays to key environmental and climate policy initiatives undermine confidence for businesses to invest for a sustainable future and undermine key environmental protections that are intended to reverse the decline in nature," he said. "We have been working with businesses first-hand to help prepare them for the introduction of new BNG requirements and know very well how much further delay and uncertainty will impact negatively on their ability to do what is right for our natural environment."
Neil Jefferson, the federation's managing director, said the current guidance would "not only prohibit local authorities' abilities to manage this new requirement effectively but inevitably lead to further delays in the planning process".
"We need the government to deliver on its requirements so that industry can provide these huge environmental benefits alongside desperately needed new homes," he said.