NAO flags risks in government’s biodiversity scheme

By Staff
4 Min Read

The National Audit Office (NAO) has raised concerns about the future viability of the biodiversity net gain (BNG) scheme introduced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The NAO’s latest report highlights several potential risks to the effectiveness of the scheme, which aims to ensure that developers in England protect or enhance biodiversity on land they are developing.

The BNG scheme, legislated as part of Defra’s 2021 Environment Act, requires developers to achieve a measurable positive impact on biodiversity compared to the pre-development state.

This marks the first time such a national legal requirement has been introduced in England.

Developers are required to enhance habitats they harm by a net 10%, either on-site or through off-site gains purchased via a private market for biodiversity units.

However, the NAO report points out several challenges and uncertainties surrounding the scheme’s implementation and long term success.

One major concern raised by the NAO is the uncertainty surrounding the emergence of a viable biodiversity market to satisfy developers’ demand for off-site credits.

Additionally, there are doubts about the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement measures by local authorities, as well as gaps in information needed to evaluate the scheme’s impact.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “The statutory biodiversity net gain scheme is the first national scheme of its kind to build requirements for enhancing biodiversity into planning approval.

“However, it was launched with risks to the long term effectiveness of the policy.

“These include uncertainty about whether the fledgling market for biodiversity units scales up to satisfy developers’ demand, risks to enforcement and gaps in its information.

“Defra must address these issues, including by plugging gaps in its information so that it can effectively evaluate the scheme’s success.”

Commenting on the NAO’s report on biodiversity net gain, commissioned by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), Chair Philip Dunne said: “In recent years, the UK has seen a marked decline in biodiversity.

“Rising to this challenge, in February the government became the first in the world to enshrine a national legal requirement for BNG – ensuring developers increase biodiversity by ten per cent compared to what existed before.

“Today’s report from the NAO, commissioned by the EAC, highlights the bold ambition of this biodiversity policy and notes areas for further work.

A Defra spokesperson told Energy Live News: “Biodiversity net gain will ensure that new developments work for both wildlife and people. A mandatory 10% gain is estimated to create or secure areas of habitat the size of Bromley borough every year; it will drive further action to reverse the decline in nature and help meet our target for everyone to live within a 15-minute walk of a green space or water.

“We have carefully considered the recommendations of the report and they will inform our approach as we continue to work with developers, land managers and local authorities to ensure the smooth implementation of Biodiversity net gain which strikes the right balance and delivers positive outcomes for nature.”

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