BNG Plans in Cumbria

All areas are affected by biodiversity net gain. Cumbria is no different, but with the help of a BNG plan, we can make sure that the natural environment is catered for and your application for planning permission isn’t hindered.

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Application of the Biodiversity Net Gain Policy

Following several delays and a two-year transition period, biodiversity net gain (BNG) became a mandatory policy within the planning system in February 2023 as part of the Environment Act. With the universal rollout, developers were then required to protect wildlife-rich places on their development sites, invest in habitat creation and improve biodiversity to a measurably better state long-term and for future generations.

Acquiring measurable net gains for a development project is perfectly doable by referring to a professional ecologist to evaluate current and predicted biodiversity value before and after the proposed development. Comparing the two readings, the ecological surveyor can then gauge any gap between them until it is possible to initiate changes to reach the required increase.

During the prior transition period, local authorities were able to enforce BNG at their own discretion, but since then, it has been mandatory with only a few exemptions. In Cumbria specifically, that includes all of the local councils of Cumberland Council, Cumbria County Council and Westmorland and Furness Council. Each local authority plays a role in enforcing the policy and helping developers to bypass penalties and delays.

Extensive Countryside Throughout Cumbria

Famously the home of the Lake District – a listed UNESCO World Heritage site – Cumbria is mostly rural, equating to around 74% of the land area. In addition to the renowned national park, the county also contains other countryside attractions including England’s highest mountain in Scafell Pike, England’s longest body of water in Windermere, and sections of Howgill Fells, Orton Fells, the Vale of Eden and the Yorkshire Dales.

Across Cumbria are 1,634 wildlife sites and 278 sites of special scientific interest (SSSI), with 170 listed for biological reasons and 70 for geological reasons. As a result of the numerous green spaces, the county is home to a large selection of protected species, including barn owls, bats, great crested newts, hen harriers, natterjack toads and otters, all protected by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

A combination of local and national parameters are in place to guide developments in the Cumbria area. For instance, nationwide regulations come from UK law, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the nature recovery network and instructions to help fight climate change, whereas local constraints come from the local nature recovery strategies (LNRS), spatial strategies, planning policy guidance and the local planning authorities. In order to navigate through all of them and achieve BNG, a biodiversity net gain plan will be a necessity.

Executing a BNG Assessment

For a BNG plan to be created, an ecological consultant would first need to complete a biodiversity net gain assessment of the development site. All current wildlife habitats will be analysed at length, noting the presence and value of each species of flora and fauna. Any further information about current land management measures, linear habitats, clean air, water quality and land use by carrying out a research exercise and speaking to local communities and nature conservation groups.

With all of the natural assets converted into binary figures and combined using the latest biodiversity metric, the results will unearth a pre-development reading. By looking over the development plans and having detailed conversations with the developer, the ecologist can work out an anticipated post-development reading. The two values will be compared at length, gauging any gap between them that needs to be filled and the broad range of changes needed to meet the legal requirement.

Utilising the mitigation hierarchy, suitable steps will be taken towards enhancing biodiversity and retaining irreplaceable habitat, such as protecting the most valuable existing habitat on the site. It is to be expected that certain natural habitats will be lost in the development project, but as a last resort, a compensation strategy will ensure that the biodiversity loss is balanced by improving habitat or creating new habitats on the site.

Even in sustainable development projects, it isn’t always possible to retain all ecological features, enhance biodiversity to the necessary level and satisfy the biodiversity net gain requirements. When this happens, if there is no other option, BNG consultants are left with no choice but to attempt to meet the national policy elsewhere by investing in the same quantity of biodiversity units as biodiversity credits away from the affected area.

Once all considerations have been addressed and specific proposals are in place for achieving the BNG requirement, a biodiversity gain plan will be assembled. It will offer advice, refer back to any local or national network of habitats and contain knowledge of the wider planning process, all with a view to providing the local planning authority with all of the required information. Biodiversity net gain plans can then be handed across to the planning officer to help with determining planning applications.

Speak to Us About Your Development

Ranging from small custom housebuilding projects to large scale commercial or residential developments, our team has seen it all and helped numerous clients with BNG provisions. Our extensive knowledge of the natural environment and targeting the correct measures to meet the mandate makes us ideally suited for attending your site and achieving biodiversity net gain. Cumbria isn’t outside of our coverage either, with consultants all over England to assist with any and all planning projects.

If any additional components are needed to obtain the biodiversity gain value to a better state post-development – such as a mitigation licence from Natural England, for example – we possess all of the tools to support you. Visit our contact page, call us, email us or complete a quick quote form, and we can plan a date and time to conduct a BNG assessment and help you with your planning application. Providing you follow our advice, you should see no issue with your efforts to obtain planning permission.