New research from The Land Trust reveals challenges of delivering big

Ahead of the introduction of mandatory biodiversity net gain (BNG) on Monday 12 February, new research from national green space management charity, the Land Trust, in partnership with the Land Promoters & Developer Federation (LPDF) and the Home Builders Federation (HBF) has found that despite the challenges it presents, 95% of respondents support the launch of BNG regulations, with only 5% in opposition. 

However, just 7% of land promoters and developers believe the fulfilment of mandatory biodiversity net gain (BNG) requirements are “comfortably achievable”. Close to half (45%) felt the principles are “somewhat achievable”, and 43% said fulfilment would be “very challenging”. 

Building on research carried out in August 2022, this most recent research conducted in November 2023* again asked respondents what they consider are the biggest challenges around implementation and delivery of BNG. 

Of the 42 land promoters and developers surveyed, for the second year running, the availability of land onsite to deliver BNG was the most popular response with 88% of respondents calling out the concern. This compares to a very similar figure of 89% who gave the same answer in 2022. 

The second most common concern was the impact BNG would have on the overall viability of a site (69%), followed by the provision of “appropriate administration resource and skillset within the Local Planning Authority” (62%).  

Other challenges high on the agenda for land promoters and developers were the availability of land to deliver offsite BNG (52%), the cost to the developer (48%), the availability of appropriate management bodies to deliver BNG (43%), the availability of third-party credits (40%), delivering BNG alongside other legal requirements (36%), and the 30 years’ delivery of BNG (31%). 

However, of those surveyed, 37% said their organisation has already started rolling out a biodiversity policy or strategy on site.  

Whilst 42% of respondents said their organisation has incorporated BNG into its ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) strategy. 

Onsite vs offsite 

83% of respondents said it was either very likely (33%) or likely (50%) that their organisation would need to go offsite to fulfil BNG obligations. This compares to a similar result in the 2022 survey which found 79% of respondents felt the same. 

The availability of biodiversity units is a hot topic of conversation and a concern within the development industry. 

When asked if they foresee a shortage in supply of biodiversity units either as BNG regulations come into place, or if they are already experiencing a shortage of supply, more than one in five (21%) land promoters and developers said they are already experiencing a shortage, while almost half (48%) said they expect there to be a shortage in the future. 12% said they are not currently experiencing a shortage in biodiversity units , however only one in 10 (10%) said they were confident there wouldn’t be a shortage in the future.

However, potentially foreseeing a shortage, almost a third, 31% of respondents stated their organisation has either already started to, or intends to, deliver its own “habitat bank” for the delivery of offsite BNG. This compares to one in six respondents (16%) at the time of the 2022 survey. 

Long-term management 

Once delivered, as per the other amenities provided on the development as part of the planning permission requirements, the BNG being required by government will need to be managed in the long term after the developer has completed the site and no longer has responsibility for its management. 

When asked how their organisation planned to manage and fund onsite BNG long-term, more than half (56%) said their organisation would look to ‘transfer the land into a third-party management company that funds the onsite BNG via a service charge, paid for by residents’. 

One in 10 (10%) of respondents said their organisation planned to ‘Transfer the land to a charitable trust that funds the onsite BNG by capital payments paid by the developer’, while 5% plan to ‘Transfer the land to the Local Authority/Town Council/Parish Council that funds the onsite BNG by capital payments paid by the developer’.

However, the research also found that over two thirds (69%) would favour an offset provider that delivers social and environmental value through their offset sites.  

30 years and beyond

The legal requirement for BNG will be for habitat enhancement to be maintained for at least 30 years after the development is completed. However, 60% of respondents said their organisation would favour a delivery body which can provide BNG in perpetuity for a comparable price of one that can only commit to delivering for 30 years. 

What’s got to give? 

The survey asked respondents what they thought would be compromised as a result of BNG regulations. By far the most popular response was a concern for the overall viability of a development (81%). This was followed by open green space for public access (45%) and affordable housing delivery (43%). 

Alan Carter, Chief Executive at the Land Trust said:

“As the wider industry gets to grips with the practicalities of the regulations and begins to understand their impact on housing delivery, it seems clear there will need to be flexibility in approach with a tailored, partnership solution for each development, whether BNG fulfilment is on or offsite. The respondents are keen to work with trusted partners like the Land Trust which will assist them in delivering high quality and sustainable stewardship solutions for their BNG requirements.

“We are very much open for business and have a number of differing products which provide a secure and tailored delivery model for your BNG needs, whilst also delivering longer term social value for the communities who live and work around our sites.”

Phill Bamford, Policy Director at the LPDF said:

“The Land Trust has undertaken another piece of valuable research on BNG which has clearly proven that the industry is facing a challenge when it comes to the implementation of the legislation. Whether the issue is the ability to provide BNG onsite, the availability of offsite solutions, the availability and cost of credits, or the resources and skills set of local planning authorities, all have the potential to lead to increased costs and further delays in an already over-stretched and over-burdened planning system. The impact on SME housebuilders is going to particularly significant, especially as the delivery of BNG for smaller sites is far more likely to involve off-site solutions. 

“However, the sector has positively embraced the principles of BNG and will continue to strive towards delivering high quality and well-designed places which both protect and benefit biodiversity. We encourage the government to continue its engagement with the sector, to monitor and review the implementation of BNG whilst remaining open to making improvements to the process where and when they are needed.” 

Sam Stafford, Planning Director at the HBF said:

“Home builders have embraced the principle of biodiversity net gain and are committed to creating places that protect and enhance the natural environment.  

“BNG is already being achieved on developments across the country, delivering significant benefits to residents and the environment. However, operational challenges must not be underestimated. Ensuring there are viable options available – particular for small sites – is vital and expectations must be managed as this new way of working beds in.

“Whilst the developers of larger sites have been increasingly including BNG on their developments, for smaller sites, where it is not possible to deliver onsite solutions, there is a reliance on offsite credits, the availability of which is a challenge in some areas, with the market still in its infancy. 

“We also need to ensure there is sufficient capacity in local authority planning departments to manage BNG. Delays in the planning process are already a major constraint on development. BNG adds further complexity to the process and without adequate resourcing, further delays are inevitable.”    

To see a full copy of the report please see here: Delivering mandatory biodiversity net gain – The Land Trust