Environment Act 2021
On 9 November 2021, the Environment Act 2021 was passed into law. This contains legislation on a whole host of environmental issues. One particular topic of interest to the planning world is biodiversity net gain and a requirement for all new developments to provide or demonstrate a net gain in biodiversity of at least 10%. In addition, there is a requirement to manage and maintain that gain for a period proposed to be 30 years, but which could change in the future.
These requirements are to be secured through the planning process, with all new planning permissions (save for some exemptions, including permitted development) to be granted subject to a planning condition requiring submission and approval of a biodiversity gain plan prior to commencement of the development. Such plan should set out the pre- and post-development biodiversity values of the site (which can be calculated in line with the legislation) and proposed steps to secure a net gain.
The type of measures that one may be looking at could include the creation of a new habitat, improvement of an existing habitat, green roofs, green walkways, street trees, hedgehog highways and wildlife / bat boxes. Management of these is to be secured under a Section 106 agreement (despite the Government’s Planning For the Future White Paper August 2020 suggesting scrapping these) or through a new conservation covenant.
Whilst the preference would be to provide on- or off-site measures, developers will be able to purchase credits from the Secretary of State but we wait to see more detail on the proposals surrounding this.
There will also be a public biodiversity gain site register for transparency as to what measures are being provided for each development, and presumably to avoid double counting.
Whilst the legislation is unlikely to become law until 2023, developers and local authorities will need time to become familiar with and prepare for these changes. We expect to receive draft secondary legislation and consultations next year (2022).
Electric vehicle charging points
The Government has recently announced an intention for all new developments to provide electric vehicle charging points through changes to building regulations. We wait to hear more on that in 2022 and any resultant changes in the planning world – such as planning conditions or restrictions on securing the use or parking of electric vehicles in a particular area.
This is an issue those in Sussex will be aware of as it affects a lot of the South Down National Park, Chichester, Crawley and Horsham. Natural England recently issued a position statement setting out their concern that the supply of water from the North Sussex Water Resource Zone cannot, with certainty, be said to not be having an adverse effect on the Arun Valley, which is a special area and has an impact on a particular species of snail.
Such concerns are currently holding up the grant of planning permissions in affected areas where the applicant cannot demonstrate that the development will be water neutral. We should see some smaller scale developments (such as simple extensions) being released in the near future where the authority can be confident that the water impact will not be great. The local authorities and developers are working hard to try find a solution. Hopefully in 2022 we will see an acceptable policy put in place to allow off-site mitigation to be provided through financial contribution.
Planning For the Future White Paper
In August 2020 the Government released its Planning For The Future White Paper which suggested wide ranging reforms, including zoning (and principle for particular zones) and huge changes to developer contributions (such as scrapping S106 agreements and CIL in favour of a new national levy).
This has been put on pause, presumably due to its poor reception within the Conservative Party, but the new minister, Michael Gove MP, has made some interesting comments of note. He has suggested that the digitisation of planning would be welcome, as well as changing developer contributions to collect more from the increase in land value.
He has stated that the Government is still considering all responses to last year’s consultation on the White Paper and “will make an announcement on next steps in due course”. Whilst we do expect some changes to be suggested next year (2022) alongside an updated National Planning Policy Framework, we do not consider these to be as significant as initially proposed.
Read our other predictions for 2022