Press Release

BNG delays hint at a wider political gambit

Richard Huteson

Richard Huteson

Partner – Planning

19th Oct 2023

Jason Mound

Jason Mound

Partner – Building Consultancy

Published by EG Radius (13.10.23)

The recent delay to the start date until at least January 2024 for developers to deliver at least 10% improved biodiversity associated with their sites has been received with mixed reactions by the industry.

For the most part, the common reaction was of dismay. This can be understood – after all many developer clients have indeed been working to the expectation that, come November, they will have their BNG plans pored over by their Local Authorities for approval, increasing their net gain against the draft information available to date.

Of course, the protection and improvement of our environment as part of new development is critical, not only to the planning system but to biodiversity, place making and wellbeing. So if developers were doing more to increase BNG then that can’t be a bad thing, even if they didn’t ‘have’ to until January. Draft information may have provided some guidance on this, but the reality is that there hasn’t been much tangible information on offer. Perhaps there is a reason for that.

It’s perfectly possible that the delay to the date is because there is still significant work to do to make the policy practical: with the biggest concerns being a lack of resource within LAs, information on the process and governance mechanisms, conflicting requirements (remediation of brownfield sites vs requirement to achieve 10% BNG) and questions over viability, exemptions, weighting and ratios for different sized sites and developers.

With so many questions, it’s almost inevitable that the start date is delayed. But all of this could equally be part of a bigger political gambit.

The follow up letter by the Chief Planning Officer provided a little more detail on BNG – major developments in England will be required to deliver 10% BNG from Jan 2024; smaller sites will be applicable from 2024 and Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects have a draft date of 2025 – most likely after any General Election…

In the same week as the delay was announced, we also were told of a major change to one such Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project with the announcement that phase II of HS2 was to be scrapped, effectively terminating the extension to Manchester and the Northern Powerhouse.

Levelling Up was noticeably ‘quiet’ in the Party Conferences, both of which lacked any real substance behind Local Plans, Housing and other Built Environment policies despite some broader statements and figures banded about. And that’s not including the much-delayed NPPF.

So what is going on? A cynic would say that some of these potentially vote winning policies will be (re)launched in a Conservative Manifesto, leading up to a General Election in Autumn 2024, while it’s clear that’s the direction Labour are already moving in, taking a firm view on housing albeit without any practical delivery information.

But in the meantime, and whatever party you support, who is this political posturing on all fronts actually helping? 

Certainly not the Built Environment which already faces a mammoth task to get development through planning with or without any number of consultations and policy hokey cokey.

What we want is simple – clarity. To know that we need to do ‘this’ to achieve ‘that’ and if we do this, how it will work, the likely timeframe and cost and viability implications. We can’t work all of that out from ‘maybes’.

So whether it’s political posturing, resource or other unknown factors, clear deliverable policy is sorely missing from planning and the built environment simply cannot work properly without it. If the last 12 months have been reflective of the mini Budget, let’s hope the next 12 months aren’t characterised by General Election speak, no action and still no NPPF.

Hold on tight.

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