Biodiversity Offsetting – an Effective Mitigation Technique?

Posted by Sara King BSc (Hons) AIEEM on 1/05/2012

Biodiversity Offsetting includes activities that are designed to enhance ecological opportunities and biodiversity, and is usually used to compensate and mitigate for development. Defra state that biodiversity offsetting has the potential to deliver planning policy requirements, which can compensate for habitat loss in a more effective way. As a result, Defra has recently launched biodiversity offsetting pilot schemes which will run for two years until April 2014. These schemes aim to establish how successful offsetting is as a mitigation technique, and has the potential to encourage its use within development schemes. There are six pilot areas, located in Doncaster, Devon, Essex, Greater Norwich, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire with Coventry and Solihull.

Local Planning Authorities are increasingly using biodiversity offsetting within their planning decisions. Taunton Dean Council have developed a quantitative approach to establish the requirement for offsetting impacts to bat population associated with Hestercombe House Special Area of Conservation (SAC). This is linked to the Habitat Regulations, and aims to establish that there will be no significant impact on the SAC. Brighton and Hove Council have also developed a quantitative assessment of biodiversity loss associated with a development, and consequently the offsetting required to ensure that an ecological enhancement is implemented within the scheme.

National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)includes principles related to offsetting, including the following:

“The planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by .... minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity where possible, contributing to Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures”.  (Para 109)

“When determining planning applications, .. if significant harm resulting from a development cannot be avoided (through locating on an alternate site with less harmful impacts), adequately mitigated or, as a last resort, compensated for, then  planning permission should be refused.” (para 118)

Developments should always consider retaining and enhancing ecological features on site wherever possible. However, this is not always pragmatic for a scheme, and compensation may be required through offsetting. This should be assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine if it is a viable and pragmatic alternative. Offsetting can be a way of providing higher quality habitat and opportunities for protected and notable species, and is sometimes a far more effective way of providing opportunities than small scale mitigation incorporated within the development. Some development schemes do not have enough available land or opportunities to develop suitable mitigation measures, and offsetting can provide opportunities to enhance biodiversity and compensate for any loss associated with a scheme.

Other articles of interest

Summary of Biodiversity Strategy for England

Biodiversity Planning Toolkit Launches

Biodiversity Enhancements for New Builds