Smaller housebuilders are hoping the government’s decision to delay biodiversity net gain, BNG, rules until next year will lead to more practical requirements.
Although the housebuilding industry has supported the concept of a ten per cent BNG, on or off-site, they were worried the new rules would put SMEs out of business.
National Federation of Builders, NFB, chief executive Richard Beresford said: “We have worked incredibly hard on strategies to ensure BNG can work in practice and the announced delay gives us a chance to work more closely with the government to implement onsite solutions.
“By building in biodiversity, we can ensure development acts to grow habitats and stimulate species recovery, rather than acting as a block on wildlife corridors via offsetting credits.”
The trade body feared that SMEs would struggle to set aside enough land for BNG rules and wrote to the government last month with alternative options.
They were keen to see onsite solutions such as bat boxes and bee bricks included in the habitats’ metric for smaller developments. They have proposed the government adopt a two-year trial to see if this works for sites of up to 50 homes and that BNG be set at five per cent.
“The evidence is clear, if you build in biodiversity, you improve biodiversity outcomes and our proposal achieves this in practice, rather than going down the offsetting route,” said Mr Beresford.
The House of Lords built environment committee said it was aware that developers on smaller sites would find it difficult to deliver on-site mitigation.
“Large, and growing, up-front costs disincentivise developers of all sizes from entering the housing market. For smaller developers with limited access to finance they are a greater burden,” it said in its The Impact of Environmental Regulations on Development report published last week.
Guidance needs tightening up to prevent planning delays
The committee recommended the government review the range of ecological assessments required and issue guidance on which can be discretionary for smaller sites.
The Homebuilders Federation, HBF, said while the industry was committed to creating places that protect and enhance the natural environment the BNG rules could be improved.
HBF managing director Neil Jefferson said: “There are significant gaps in the government’s guidance which will not only prohibit local authorities’ abilities to effectively manage this new requirement but inevitably lead to further delays in the planning process.
“We need the government to deliver on its requirements such that industry can provide these huge environmental benefits alongside desperately needed new homes.”
Brokers Hank Zarihs Associates said development finance lenders would be keen to see BNG rules that adopted a more flexible approach for small sites.