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New Approach Needed to Delivering ‘Net Gain’ on England’s Foreshore

A new approach is needed to measure biodiversity in England’s foreshore in order to avoid a devastating impact on port development, the British Ports Association have said in a letter to the new Environment Secretary.

New rules requiring a biodiversity ‘net gain’ in planning rules coming into force in January have the support of industry and must go ahead, but the method of calculating the ‘gain’ is so disproportionate that a temporary approach is needed in order to avoid stalling port development. Ports have been supportive of the Government’s aim to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and of using planning to deliver mandatory ‘net gain’ of 10% in development.

In order to deliver the required 10% biodiversity gain, Defra and Natural England have developed an ‘intertidal metric’ designed to measure biodiversity loss and calculate the required habitats to be delivered to ensure the gain. Industry has been alarmed at the proposals however, as new research shows that environmental costs of new projects would be larger than the projects themselves and 10-15 times more than is currently required under the habitats regulations, which as designed to protect our most precious habitats.

The BPA is calling on Government to temporarily use one of a series of proposed alternatives that will all deliver more habitats than current rules whilst a new metric can be developed that aligns closely with tools being developed for marine habitats.

The ports industry, alongside other marine developer sectors, has been engaging with government for two years on the implementation of ‘net gain’, which will become mandatory in terrestrial development in England from November. Planning legislation defines the intertidal area – the area of shoreline between high and low tides – as part of the terrestrial area, despite habitats being more dynamic and more similar to marine habitats.

Defra have this week published biodiversity net gain secondary legislation and new guidance.

Biodiversity Credit Prices
The Government have chosen to set biodiversity credit prices at an extraordinarily high cost, to encourage them to become a “last resort” for developers. The BPA is keen to see a more strategic approach to net gain for intertidal habitats, which in many cases would benefit from off-site delivery due to their relative scarcity and the benefit from larger 

Ports support mandatory net gain in order to improve biodiversity and the industry has a wealth of experience in delivering new habitats as part of development.

If implemented as planned, the new rules will be a disaster for ports in England. It doesn’t have to be like this, the rest of the UK is taking a different approach that seeks to deliver biodiversity enhancements without permanently stunting development.

It’s clear that the UK will need more port capacity to deliver on our ambitious plans for offshore wind. If ‘net gain’ is bungled in such a way that it costs more than entire build costs of a port development then it means the economic and social benefits to be reaped from the offshore wind revolution will go elsewhere. The biodiversity benefits of building additional habitats are also lost.

Mark Simmonds, Director of Policy at British Ports Association

The Seabed User & Developer Group has worked tirelessly with Government to support the development of net gain in the coastal and marine environment, and marine industries remain keen to play their part in delivering meaningful nature recovery, whilst carrying out critical infrastructure developments.

The intertidal approach is an opportunity lost for the UK, with grossly disproportionate asks, its complexity will create excessive bureaucracy, without any connection to strategic and meaningful delivery. As things stand, the approach will stifle development, preventing the gains it aims to achieve and causing chaos in an already stretched planning regime.

Statement from the Seabed User & Developer Group (SUDG).

SUDG represents the UK’s key marine industries, including offshore energy, ports, subsea cables, and marine aggregates.

The letter can be read here.

TAGS: Environment