How does The Environment Act 2021 shape BNG Legislation?

In 2006, Natural England was created by an Act of Parliament to manage sustainable development in conserving and improving our environment for the sake of current and future generations. 

A sole focus is their 25-year Environment Plan, which aims to give the country thriving wildlife, clean air, clean water, beautiful nature, manage chemical exposure, minimise waste and mitigate climate change. 

A prolific focus is biodiversity net gain (BNG), which secures meticulous habitat management across the country for over 30 years to enhance biosecurity and prevent us from being left with damaging ecosystems.

What is The Environment Act 2021

The 2021 Environment Act is a landmark legislative framework that seeks to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. It is an essential piece of environmental law to ensure that natural resources are conserved, waste is managed efficiently, and pollution is kept to a minimum.

The Environmental Act outlines the steps and changes the country will be adhering to in order to ensure we are positively affecting the world around us. 

It introduces the BNG framework and legally binding targets coming into play this year to maintain crucial environmental protection to focus on protecting wildlife, recycling and minimising waste, water and air quality. 

Where we are now in January 2023 is a critical time as the extensively planned Biodiversity Net Gain policy is soon coming into effect. This represents a quintessential time and redirection of our nation’s climate change efforts.

The Origins and Early Development of  the Environment Act

The origins of the Environment Act 2021 can be traced back to the increased public concern about environmental degradation and pollution in the mid-20th century. The United States was the first country to introduce federal environmental legislation with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. This set the stage for other countries worldwide to follow suit and develop their own environmental regulations.

As public awareness grew, so did the need for a centralized environmental agency to oversee and enforce environmental regulations. In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in the United States. Its success in regulating pollution served as an inspiration for other nations to establish their own environmental agencies and frameworks.

Over time, the Environment Act has become a cornerstone of environmental protection and sustainability and serves as a model for other countries to follow.

What is Biodiversity Net Gain?

A frog sat on a leaf in a pond

The simplest way to visualise BNG is to consider how construction invades natural spaces, for example, by knocking down trees. 

If this remains as an ongoing process we will be left with no biodiversity and an inhabitable environment that fails to maintain the population, having quite effectively built ourselves into extinction. 

The Department For Food, Environment & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) first conceptualised BNG in recognizing relentless construction as a one-way equation that needs amending for the sake of now and future generations. 

Biodiversity Net Gain is a brilliant solution that ensures that construction and development can continue to conquer natural spaces and habitats but must make this up either on the land itself or on land offsite to always end with a positive environmental impact. 

At the end of January, mandatory BNG comes into place across the country. The vast majority of areas in construction and development will be affected, unable to secure planning permission without being able to prove they can contribute 10 per cent towards the nation’s net biodiversity levels. 

While the changes in legislation are always initially stress-inducing, Gaia is here to aid you through this process and support buyers, sellers, land managers and anyone affected by this policy. 

Who It Applies To And Who Is Exempt

BNG is going to affect people across the country, from the general public who will benefit from flourishing habitats and cleaner ecosystems to land managers who can easily find investors to help improve their land; ecologists and surveyors who will be required to assess and calculate the biodiversity of various sites, and local planning authorities who will already be focusing on their BNG targets.

In terms of development, BNG is going to affect all new builds going forward, with some minor exceptions detailed below. 

From as quick as the end of January the policy comes into place for new builds and from April 2024 it will affect smaller development sites. There are various definitions of small sites:

Crucially, a development fails to take priority if it impacts less than 5 metres of linear site habitats or less than 25m—5m by 5m—of any habitat. 

For residential development, you have a small site if you have between 1 and 9 dwellings (a self-contained living accommodation) or it is smaller than 0.5 hectares in site area if the number of dwellings is unconfirmed. 

For commercial developments, less than 1,000 metres of floor space is deemed a small site, or if the total area is less than 1 hectare. 

Other key exemptions include developments that are going ahead to fulfil others’ BNG plans, advancements within high-speed rail and any householder applications such as small-project conversions and extensions. Custom, self-build applications are deemed small when less than 9 dwellings and 0.5 hectares.

To summarise, this policy has taken years to cultivate, perfect and finalise and is now soon coming into action. We will soon see the mass impacts across the majority of the country, and many different groups of people are affected. 

Gaia is here to support different people as they navigate this new legislation—our aim is to elucidate the policy legislation, disseminate the key useful information and provide intuitive software tailored perfectly to those with arising concerns following the new policies and their impact on your day to day life, such as the biodiversity unit marketplace which allows you to buy and sell site units with ease.

Planning Application Requirements

When the policy is implemented in late January, all planning applications will now have to include a biodiversity gain plan—an extensive document for the developer to clearly explain how they will be meeting the BNG requirements, which is aided by the metric assessment determining how much work is needed to meet the 10%. 

This can be done with the standard template form which ensures that local authorities can decide if they meet this objective, or if their plan needs amending. It will ultimately be published on the corresponding local planning authority register. 

Key Amendments and Updates

The Environment Act has undergone several significant amendments and updates since it was first established. Notable examples include the 1990 amendments that introduced a market-based approach to emissions control through a cap and trade system and the 2010 updates that increased regulation of greenhouse gases and tightened air pollution standards.

These updates reflect the changing priorities and technologies of the modern world and continue to emphasize the importance of environmental protection and sustainability.

One of the most significant updates to the Environment Act was the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. These amendments established a cap and trade system for sulfur dioxide emissions, which significantly reduced acid rain. The cap and trade system has since been used as a model for other environmental regulations around the world.

International Influence and Adoption

The Environment Act has had a significant influence on environmental legislation worldwide. Many countries have adopted similar frameworks, such as the European Union’s Environmental Liability Directive, which seeks to ensure that businesses are held accountable for the damage they cause to the environment.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 was a major milestone in global environmental cooperation. It aimed to create a global response to climate change and has been ratified by nearly every country in the world. The Environment Act played a key role in inspiring the UNFCCC and continues to serve as a valuable template for environmental legislation in other countries.

International cooperation is essential in tackling global environmental challenges, and the Environment Act provides a valuable template for legislation in other countries. As the world continues to face new environmental challenges, the Environment Act will likely continue to evolve and adapt to meet them.

Purpose and Goals of the Environment Act

The Environment Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation that seeks to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. The act establishes regulations and standards for a wide range of activities that have the potential to impact the environment, from industrial processes to transportation to waste management. The act has several goals that guide its provisions, including protecting natural resources, regulating pollution and waste management, promoting sustainable development, species conservation strategies, conservation covenants and ensuring environmental justice.

Protecting Natural Resources

A nature reserve with trees and flowers

One of the primary goals of the Environment Act is to protect and conserve natural resources via Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS). This includes the conservation of wildlife, plant species, water bodies, and forests. The act seeks to ensure that these resources are managed sustainably and that their integrity is preserved for future generations.

The act contains several provisions that play a significant role in protecting natural resources. The Endangered Species Act, for example, protects endangered and threatened species by prohibiting actions that harm them. The Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters, ensuring that the quality of water bodies is maintained. The National Forest Management Act establishes standards for the management of national forests, ensuring that they are managed in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner.

Regulating Pollution and Waste Management

Pollution being pumped into the atmosphere

The Environment Act seeks to regulate pollution and waste management to minimize the negative impact of human activities on the environment. It does this through measures such as air and water quality standards, hazardous waste management, and regulations for the transport and disposal of toxic substances.

The act contains several provisions that intend to regulate pollution and improve waste and resource efficiency. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, for example, regulates solid and hazardous waste management. The act requires the safe disposal of hazardous waste and promotes waste reduction and recycling. The Clean Air Act regulates emissions from industrial and transportation sources, ensuring that air quality is maintained.

Promoting Sustainable Development

A building with plants growing on it

The Environment Act emphasizes the importance of promoting sustainable development, which balances economic growth with environmental protection and conservation. It encourages the use of clean and renewable energy sources while minimizing the negative impact of natural resource extraction and energy production.

The act contains several provisions that promote sustainable development. The Renewable Fuel Standard, for example, requires transportation fuels to contain a certain percentage of renewable fuel, reducing dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels. The Energy Policy Act promotes the development of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, and encourages energy efficiency.

Ensuring Environmental Justice

The Environment Act recognizes the importance of environmental justice, ensuring that low-income and minority communities are not disproportionately affected by environmental pollution. It seeks to provide disadvantaged communities with the same level of environmental protection as more affluent communities.

The act contains several provisions that promote environmental justice. The Environmental Justice Act, for example, requires federal agencies to address any disproportionately high and adverse effects of their activities on low-income and minority communities. The act also establishes the Office of Environmental Justice, which is responsible for ensuring that environmental justice issues are addressed in federal decision-making processes.

In conclusion, the Environment Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation that seeks to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. Its provisions are designed to protect natural resources, regulate pollution and waste management, promote sustainable development, and ensure environmental justice. By doing so, the act helps to ensure that we leave a healthy and sustainable environment for future generations.

Key Provisions and Requirements

The Environment Act is a comprehensive legislation that sets out key provisions and requirements for protecting the environment. It aims to ensure that activities that may harm the environment are subject to regulatory oversight and that they comply with established environmental standards. The Act covers a wide range of activities and industries, including construction, manufacturing, transportation, and waste management.

Environmental Impact Assessments

One of the key provisions of the Environment Act is the requirement for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for certain projects that may have a significant impact on the environment. This process involves evaluating the potential environmental impact of a proposed project and identifying measures to minimize any negative effects.

EIAs are essential in ensuring that projects are designed and implemented with the environment in mind and that their impact is minimized as much as possible. The assessment process involves a thorough review of the project’s potential impact on air, water, soil, and wildlife, as well as its potential impact on human health and safety.

Environmental Impact Assessments also provide an opportunity for public input and feedback, ensuring that the concerns of local communities and stakeholders are taken into account.

Permitting and Licensing

Another key provision of the Environment Act is the requirement for permits and licenses for many activities that may harm the environment. Permits and licenses are required to ensure that activities comply with environmental regulations and standards.

Examples of activities that require permits or licenses include the emission of pollutants, the disposal of hazardous waste, and the operation of certain industries. The regulatory oversight provided by permits and licenses helps to ensure that activities that may harm the environment are subject to appropriate scrutiny and that they comply with established environmental standards.

Monitoring and Enforcement

Monitoring and enforcement are essential components of the Environment Act. They ensure that regulations and standards are being complied with and that any violations are punished accordingly.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other environmental agencies are responsible for monitoring activities that may harm the environment and taking appropriate enforcement action in cases where regulations are not being followed. This may involve issuing fines, revoking permits or licenses, or taking legal action against violators.

Public Participation and Transparency

The Environment Act recognizes the importance of public participation and transparency in environmental decision-making. It provides opportunities for public involvement in the environmental impact assessment process, allowing for public input and feedback.

Transparency is also essential, as it allows for public scrutiny of environmental decision-making and ensures that decision-makers are accountable for their actions. Public access to environmental information is an essential component of transparency. This includes access to information about environmental permits and licenses, as well as information about the potential environmental impact of proposed projects.

Overall, the Environment Act is a critical piece of legislation that helps to ensure that activities that may harm the environment are subject to appropriate regulatory oversight and that they comply with established environmental standards. By requiring Environmental Impact Assessments, permits and licenses, and providing for monitoring, enforcement, public participation, and transparency, the Act helps to protect the environment and promote sustainable development.

Roles and Responsibilities of Stakeholders

Government Agencies and Authorities

Government agencies and local authorities are responsible for implementing and enforcing the Environment Act. These agencies include the EPA, state environmental agencies, and local governments.

Government agencies are responsible for monitoring and enforcing environmental regulations, issuing permits and licenses, and conducting environmental impact assessments. They are also responsible for informing the public about environmental issues and providing them with opportunities for input and feedback.

Businesses and Industries

Businesses and industries have a significant role to play in ensuring that they comply with environmental regulations and standards. They are responsible for minimizing the negative impact of their activities on the environment, including managing waste and emissions.

Businesses and industries can also play a proactive role in promoting sustainability and reducing their environmental impact by adopting sustainable practices and technologies.

Non-Governmental Organizations and Advocacy Groups

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups play an essential role in advocating for environmental protection and holding decision-makers accountable. They work to raise public awareness about environmental issues and provide expert input and feedback on environmental decision-making.

NGOs and advocacy groups also provide a platform for public participation in environmental decision-making, ensuring that the voices of the public are heard and considered.

Individual Citizens and Communities

Individual citizens and communities have a vital role to play in protecting the environment. They can do so by adopting sustainable practices in their daily lives and advocating for environmental protection in their communities.

Citizens can also play an essential role in holding decision-makers accountable by participating in public hearings and commenting on proposed environmental regulations and policies.

1990 Act Development

Section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 introduced new complex definitions of development; detailing policies of building, mining, engineering or work that took place over, under, in, or on land. Here, the concept of BNG was beginning to come into play as the concerns of the damaging effects of mass construction were falling into common discourse.

They further outlined the roles and responsibilities of planning authorities, and focused on planning permission and applications, a heightened focus on tree preservation, and carving out the beginnings of BNG’s integration into legislation and the impacts of this on all areas involved. This introduced what we now know as the BNG plan, for developers to outline how they will meet the new objectives. 

This act determined that after 30th Jan 2020, any on-site activity unauthorised by planning permission that worsens the site biodiversity will mean that the biodiversity value of the land returns to its original state before any progress. 

2008 Act Development

The 2008 Act maintained a similar nature towards the handling of BNG among developers and planning authorities. To further concrete this legislation, a Biodiversity Gain Statement was deemed essential—a document to share with the public the definitive outlines, requirements and steps taken to fulfil the new objective. The public can work off this to see how they will manage their area and determine appropriate routes they can take to meet the objective and continue to obtain planning permissions and progress in developments.

A prevalent change to the 2008 Act was its spotlight on Naturally Significant Infrastructure Projects (or NSIPs) which will fall under energy, water, waste, transport or water and waste. 

By taking up larger areas, these developments can prove detrimental actors to the local environment and present a potential risk of mass habitat loss. In the updated Act, it was determined that the Secretary of State can fail to grant an application for a DCO (Development Consent Order) for the development of NSIPs unless satisfied that a BNG objective is met. 

Furthermore, it explained that impending BNG statements could bring in additional requirements within DCOs to mitigate the risk of adverse effects for onsite areas, and require specific evidence within the DCO when the needs of BNG have failed to be met.

It also clarified that the government’s published BNG statement will introduce the statutory biodiversity metric which will likely be utilised by professional ecologists and land surveyors. This metric calculates all types of BNG by measuring habitats and determining their ‘biodiversity value’. 

Following the metric uncovers the number of units a habitat has before the development, how much it will lose during it, and how many are required to bring it back in surplus and meet the objective, ensuring the site habitat is left in a better state than before with post-development biodiversity value.

In Conclusion

The Environment Act is a vital regulatory framework for protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development. It has a long and rich history, and its provisions and requirements reflect the changing priorities and needs of the modern world. Everyone has a role to play in protecting the environment, and the Environment Act provides a valuable template for action.