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.
Recommended actions beyond statutory requirements
Various actions are recommended below to enable delivery of BNG and to achieve wider benefits for the local authority. These will also support the enhanced biodiversity duty under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2000 and legislative biodiversity reporting requirements that the Environment Act brings in (the latter of will be detailed by Government in due course).
Further information on these actions and examples from local authorities is available on our Biodiversity Net Gain Journey pages.
- Developing and adopting biodiversity net gain planning policies, setting out local circumstances and requirements, for example, on delivery of offsite biodiversity net gain.
- A strategic approach to BNG, linking into the relevant Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS), once available; considering site allocations for development, as well as potential site allocations for nature recovery; and how BNG links to other plans, strategies and objectives.
- Establishing a biodiversity evidence base - a reasonably up-to-date understanding of the quality and quantity of habitats in their area – this will act as a baseline from which biodiversity gain can be measured.
- Pre-application advice service – BNG needs to be embedded early in planning for a development and this should speed up decision-making at application stage; plus providing pre-application advice is an income-generation opportunity for the local authority.
- Changes to the planning application validation process to factor in BNG information requirements.
- Monitoring of BNG delivery in the long-term.
- Enforcement of non-compliance*.
- Corporate embedding of BNG to deliver wider public benefits – Section 3.3 of the CIEEM, CIRIA and IEMA BNG Practical Guide highlights the benefits to this.
- Providing opportunities for BNG offset on the council estate, including parks – another income-generation opportunity.
- Setting up or facilitating a scheme for local offsite BNG delivery or habitat bank (see ‘Can local authorities set up their own schemes for local offsite delivery of BNG?’).
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.