Proper stewardship of our natural world is at the heart of responsible government. Clean air and water, healthy trees, rivers and biodiversity are not just vital for our health – they are fundamental to the prosperity of future generations and to civilisation as we know it. Nowhere do the state of the natural world and the actions of government meet more regularly and more critically than in the planning system. At a time when we want to build more homes for growing populations, and at a time when our natural resources are under pressure, it is more important than ever that we create the right frameworks to promote sustainable growth.
By making natural assets such as clean water, biodiverse habitats and healthy soils more investable alongside investment in built capital, our prosperity will be secured, and future generations will have access to the same resources that we enjoy. Used positively the planning system can bring together developers and environmentalists to conserve key natural and heritage assets. By working collaboratively with water companies, tourism services, energy providers and waste experts profitable development could transform itself into a driving force of biodiversity enhancement. Reassured by a robust biodiversity net gain policy, local communities could be more confident in accepting development that delivers growth, jobs and amenities, while having a positive impact on local wildlife.
When preparing local plans, local authorities would be able to identify opportunities for habitat improvement that would benefit local people and support nature recovery. When developers and local planning authorities are consulting with the local community prior to submitting a planning application, it will be possible to use biodiversity net gain figures and habitat enhancement measures to explain the benefits and costs of a development proposal more transparently. With clearer expectations, developers will be able to submit planning applications with greater confidence that proposals can be supported on biodiversity grounds.
As part of the planning permission, developers would sign up to predictable conditions, obligations or a tariff payment to secure biodiversity net gain. Biodiversity net gain, in combination with future Green Infrastructure Standards, has the potential to ensure that an increasing proportion of new homes have access to natural spaces and wildlife within walking distance. This brings health and wellbeing benefits, particularly to urban and suburban areas where high-quality and accessible green infrastructure can be scarce, contributing to poor mental and physical health; access to public green space is an important factor in connecting people with nature and tackling obesity.