Challenging New Standards
The Environment Bill was re-introduced to parliament this spring, and within it is a new requirement that will pose challenging new standards for developers and planning authorities.
Change to Planning Act
It proposes a change to the Town and Country Planning Act for new developments to deliver biodiversity net gain (BNG). In a nutshell, this means developers will have to leave habitats in a measurably better condition than when they found them.
“The key to success will be the early and collaborative involvement of ecologists in site selection and masterplanning”
The new biodiversity metric has been developed to interpret the quantity and quality of habitats before and after construction. If BNG can’t be accommodated within development sites themselves, the developers will need to fund offsite works to make up the difference.
If the bill becomes an Act of Parliament – which could take longer than previously expected due to COVID-19 – we’ll see a step change in project delivery for many developers and local planning authorities. For those new to BNG, a good starting point is the 2016 Biodiversity Net Gain Good Practice Principles. A subsequent good-practice guide also offers practical advice on how to achieve BNG across all types and scales of development.
20 Year Gains
However, for some, BNG won’t be completely unchartered territory, with good practice being followed across a number of projects. At Atkins, we first undertook offsite compensation for enhancement works in the Midlands over 20 years ago. And there have been plenty of other examples of biodiversity net gain since:
In 2017, housebuilder Redrow announced its commitment to instilling a net gain approach to biodiversity across its developments.
This involved retrospectively applying the diversity metric to three existing developments to explore how BNG could be seen as ‘business as usual’. Two of the three pilot communities both achieved a net positive score, working with the RSPB to improve broadleaf woodland areas at one site and coordinating with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to develop pollinator-friendly habitats at the other.
Further work is being conducted on the third pilot to ensure a net gain can be achieved at the development.
Oxfordshire County Council
In 2019, Oxfordshire Country Council commissioned an ecological assessment and biodiversity net-gain calculations for the demolition of an existing training and storage building, and the construction of a replacement modular office building. The council required a minimum of 10 per cent net gain on the project. To support the existing habitats, a creation plan was developed, which included the provision of a sustainable attenuation pond to support new trees and shrubs on site. According to results from a Defra biodiversity calculator, the results more than met the council’s target, with a biodiversity net gain of 191 per cent.
Keys to Success
Achieving BNG and integrating this new requirement into project design and programmes – while also being compliant with other legislation and policy – is undoubtedly going to be a challenge. The key to success will be the early and collaborative involvement of ecologists in site selection and masterplanning, to open up the wealth of opportunities for projects to deliver BNG for local wildlife.
Timber Buildings - Ecologically Biodiverse
Part of what we do is to create sustainable, energy efficient, sustainable environments. SIP & Timber Frame buildings for home, group and site use work with environmentalists to satisfy all types of design, so that we can help you, your buyers or tenants. ‘Volumetric’ and ‘flat pack’ modular building solutions can ‘tread lightly on the earth’ and we adapt our business innovations and developments to your environmental needs.
For example, standard designs from our ‘SolidLox’ brand enable us to provide buildings that do not require massive foundations and which can avoid harming tree roots while delivering on time and within budget. Such projects require a systematic, solution driven approach which brings discipline to the process, sharing information and communications. Applying DfMA (Design for Manufacture & Assembly) defines the process of taking these to the next level; a welcome change in the overall approach to project management and development – and to those who just ‘talk about it’!
Partnering for Modular Progress
All of this entails a shift in thinking to that already practiced by established ‘Off-Site’ MMC manufacturers. It can be quickly and easily incorporated into procedures and processes of building and development. Better still, you can make partnering arrangements with such manufacturers to gain all round benefits.
Greater Speed, Accuracy, Quality and Lower Costs
Greater collaborative ‘partnering’ between architects, builders and manufacturers will deliver these. The greater speed, accuracy and quality that can result from manufacturing components in a dry, controlled factory environment, together with the ability tom incorporate (yet to be invented) ‘Smart Ware’ gives home builders perhaps the only way of achieving this, together with improved on-site build quality AND controlling costs.
While resistance to the change to DfMA has been the norm, the wish of most UK Builders to deliver excellent customer service and top notch homes is now driving an increasing number to choose Off-Site for their developments. Also, as ‘OffSite Hub” note, architects and designers are moving toward DfMA, something we have been encouraging for over 20 years. The emergence of LA Developers will only speed up this process.
Easy Timber Frame
To assist them in doing so our “Easy Timber Frame “ now offers standard size modular timber frame elements for them to use as a design base, cutting down on technical design and engineering to produce win-win results. This virtually provides any housebuilder or architect with their own bespoke design factory facility.