- the 25 Year Environment Plan: particularly commitments to restore biodiversity losses, develop a ‘Nature Recovery Network’ providing 500,000 hectares of additional wildlife habitat, and strengthen requirements for developments to provide biodiversity net gains;
- the government’s promotion of a ‘natural capital approach’ – a framework for accounting for and systematically valuing natural assets (habitats, rivers, minerals, etc.), and internalising impacts on those assets (so valued) into decision-making where previously they have been ignored or undervalued.
This blog explores the way that the Bill envisages that authorities will need to use Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) to provide a framework for wider biodiversity planning.
Local Nature Recovery Strategies
The Bill proposes a duty on public authorities to prepare LNRSs for areas, together, covering the whole of England (clause 95). A LNRS must include a local habitat map of the strategy area showing nature conservation sites, nature reserves and other areas which the authority considers:
- are / could become of particular importance for biodiversity; or
- where biodiversity enhancement or recovery “could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits” (clause 97).
Some authorities have already been mapping biodiversity in their areas to inform local policy (see for example Oxfordshire and Lichfield), recognising this as an essential part of a natural capital approach.
The new LNRS duty takes this further, requiring a statement of biodiversity priorities for the strategy area comprising:
- a description of the strategy area and its biodiversity and the opportunities for recovering or enhancing biodiversity in the strategy area;
- habitats/ species recovery and biodiversity enhancing priorities;
- specific proposed measures (clause 97).
Larger than local strategies have been missing from planning since 2010. The 25 Year Plan aims to establish a National Nature Recovery Network which “…require[s] more habitat … in bigger patches that are more closely connected.”
The Bill would require the Secretary of State to prepare a national habitat map to “assist” in the preparation of LNRSs (clauses 98(1) and (2)) and to inform responsible authorities of any areas which could be of greater importance for biodiversity and which “could contribute to the establishment of a network of areas across England for biodiversity recovery and enhancement in England as a whole”.
To ensure that the local strategies are complemented by local action, the Bill would also significantly beef up the duty in s.40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to further the ‘general biodiversity objective’, through
- expanding the ‘general biodiversity objective’ to cover biodiversity enhancement, in addition to conservation;
- adding requirements for public authorities to determine such policies and objectives and, accordingly, to take such actions as they consider appropriate to further the general biodiversity objective (s.93(3)).
LNRSs should therefore become a route for discharging the s.40 duty and in turn support 25 Year Plan objectives.
- will provide an evidence base / framework that is a material consideration in decision making. Although they will not form part of development plans, LNRSs will influence the direction of policy and development in the interests of biodiversity –Local Plans will need to evolve with their input;
- may effectively include soft site designations for biodiversity protection/enhancement;
- are likely to play a key role in determining the location of habitat enhancement works carried out for the purpose of securing biodiversity net gain (more details in the next blog in this series).
It remains to be seen how ambitiously the Secretary of State will pursue the Nature Recovery Network objective in the absence of any other form of larger than local planning. The fourth blog in this series returns to this theme.
In any event, LNRSs will be a key part of adopting a natural capital approach in planning. They should vastly improve quality of environmental information and planning authorities’ ability to assess the benefits and impacts of development proposals. All stakeholders will have a vested interest in allowing and providing meaningful collaboration.