The Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) was launched in February 2023 which represents a refresh of the government’s 25 Year Plan to help the natural world regain and retain good health.
10 goals are set out with the apex goal being ‘improving nature’ to halt the decline in our biodiversity. We highlight below a number of the points which flow from this goal which are relevant to ecological planning in respect of development projects:
- Protected sites – The EIP sets out that the government “will restore 75% of protected sites to a favourable condition by 2042. This is critical to our biodiversity commitments”. From an ecological planning perspective, this means degraded sites may be less frequently encountered in the future and hence the planning gains, that can currently be delivered on these sites, may be less easily achieved.
- Ancient woodland – There is a commitment in the EIP to “Implement our Keepers of Time Policy to protect and improve our ancient and native woodlands and ancient and veteran trees and the valuable habitats they provide for future generations”. For example this will be achieved in part by supporting “work on the ground to improve the condition of ancient semi-natural woodland and to restore plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS) while making sure they continue to provide owners with income. In support of this, Forestry England will continue to deliver its commitment to restore all 42,814 hectares of its PAWS”. So similarly, From an ecological planning perspective, fewer degraded ancient woodlands (typically through lack of management) may be encountered, with a knock on reduced ability of developers to deliver a biodiversity net gain (BNG) through such ancient woodland restoration.
- The EIP also references ‘providing the strongest possible protection to ancient woodland’ as well as introducing ‘protection for long established woodland’ (a new category recently introduced with Keepers of Time – government policy on ancient woodlands). This may be achieved by an NPPF review in due course. This would be achieved alongside “Introducing a new duty on local planning authorities to consult the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities before granting permission for development proposals that will affect our ancient woodlands”.
- Habitat banking for biodiversity net gain – The government wants to ‘Develop private markets for nature’. In this regard the government will “Publish a policy framework, in spring 2023 as part of an updated Green Finance Strategy, to provide clear principles for the development of high-integrity nature markets that enable farmers and land managers to attract investment into nature’s recovery”. This may be a route to market to make available credits for biodiversity net gain.
- Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) – In this regard the government is helping LPAs prepare for net gain. £4.18 million was made available in 2021 to 2022 to help local planning authorities and strategic authorities such as County Councils and combined authorities prepare for biodiversity net gain. The government intends to provide further funding for the remainder of the two-year transition period. We hope this funding will be sufficient as it is essential that local authorities have appropriate resourcing in place to address the new BNG requirement to be placed upon all development sites.
More details on the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 can be found here.
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