Resourcing biodiversity net gain for local authorities


Webpage updated 18 May 2023

This short guide is intended to help local authorities understand the skills and expertise they are likely to need to meet the requirements of mandatory BNG. It also provides examples of how local authorities can best secure natural environment skills and expertise. It has been developed with our BNG local authority officer advisory group and the Association of Local Government Ecologists (ALGE).

This guide is part of a wider web-based resource centre to support the local authority’s journey to delivering BNG: Biodiversity Net Gain for local authorities, which includes further guidance and examples of what LPAs are doing now. PAS is currently working on a BNG readiness checklist to help local authorities understand what they need to do to get ready for mandatory BNG. 

What will the new statutory requirements be for local authorities?

Further information on the overarching requirements of the Environment Act in relation to biodiversity net gain is available on our introductory page on biodiversity net gain for local authorities. Defra’s guidance collection sets further details of implementation. CIEEM, CIRIA and IEMA Biodiversity Net Gain Good Practice Principles for Development Practical Guide provides additional context on how net gain should be implemented, including targeted guidance for local authorities.

Further information on these actions and examples from local authorities is available on our Biodiversity Net Gain Journey pages.

As a summary, the requirements of local authorities will be to:

  • Process and determine planning applications to ensure they meet the legislative requirements;
  • Assess and approve biodiversity gain plans^ to ensure they meet legislative requirements;
  • Secure obligations through legal agreements linked to the grant of planning permission for offsite BNG delivery;
  • Monitor compliance with planning conditions and legal agreements in relation to BNG; and
  • Report on BNG delivery and plans in their authority area.

^The purpose of the biodiversity gain plan is to provide a clear and consistent document with which a developer can demonstrate their biodiversity net gain and a planning authority can check whether the proposals meet the biodiversity gain objective. The Environment Act applies a pre-commencement condition to all planning permissions granted under the TCPA for a biodiversity gain plan to be submitted and approved by the LPA.

What skills and expertise are needed to meet these requirements?

We’ve highlighted below the key skills and expertise likely to be needed to deliver mandatory BNG requirements, based on conversations with local authorities and building on work developed by Mike Oxford of ALGE.

These skills and the tasks identified are not mutually exclusive, so you may find an individual that can cover more than one or that multiple individuals can cover a small subset of each. For example, the role of an ‘environmental planner’ could pick up a number of these and developing this role alongside the new requirements may be a useful direction for local authorities to consider going forward.

BNG tasks that require natural environment and ecology skills and expertise

  • Helping inform planning policy to reflect biodiversity net gain requirements and locally specific circumstances (such as local ecological networks, LNRS), ensuring join-up with other policies in the Local Plan and advising on a relevant evidence base and monitoring.
  • Advising on and inputting to other relevant planning documents, such as Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs), guidance for developers and local validation checklists.
  • Assessment of Biodiversity Metric calculations, BNG statements and biodiversity gain plans submitted by developers to ensure they meet national and local requirements, including whether on and off-site provision of BNG is acceptable and appropriate – looking beyond the numbers to check that plans make sense ecologically. Providing pre-application advice on these and other elements relating to BNG; negotiating with developers.
  • Providing advice to councillors, including at Planning Committee.
  • Assessing offsite biodiversity provision to ensure it meets requirements.
  • Checking monitoring reports to ensure compliance and where necessary, assisting enforcement officers.
  • Collating biodiversity information, data management and reporting as required under the Environment Act.
  • Survey and assessment of biodiversity gain sites for any local authority led BNG scheme.
  • Advice on embedding BNG and natural environment aspects more generally into wider Council strategies and objectives.

Examples of sourcing natural environment expertise

We have collated examples of how local authorities currently source natural environment and ecological expertise to inform planning policy and decision-making. A few general points have come up in our conversations:

  • Having a group or team providing natural environment expertise rather than one individual can help address peaks and troughs in workloads and ensure better job satisfaction by allowing individuals to cover multiple work areas, e.g. planning application advice alongside environmental project work, as well as providing resilience. It can also help with embedding a BNG approach across Council services.
  • In-house natural environment staff are often already unable to meet all the calls on their time, and mandatory BNG will only add to their workloads. This issue obviously does not come up where the service is out-sourced or provided via a Service Level Agreement (SLA), but SLAs will need additional resourcing if they do not already cover BNG.
  • Individuals rarely come into roles with both ecological and planning skills. Experience is needed to develop a solutions-focused approach and ensure that advice is defendable, so natural environment specialists often need on-the-job training before they are fully capable of delivering advice to planning colleagues. This is where the role of a professionalised environmental planner covering BNG, alongside SUDS, climate, flood management and people could be beneficial.

Out-sourced and county/combined authority natural environment teams

In-house natural environment teams/individuals