- Biodiversity net gain is an approach which aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than before.
- Oxfordshire has a diverse and distinctive landscape which supports a variety of habitats. The Oxfordshire State of Nature report (2017) found that there continues to be long-term declines in farmland and woodland biodiversity and that there is continued fragmentation and loss of connectivity across the county's landscape, affecting the future viability of habitats and species.
- Such issues of fragmentation and ecological connectivity can be addressed to a significant extent through the establishment of a Nature Recovery Network.
- In order to account for past losses and degradation of the natural environment however, achieving significant biodiversity net gains through planning are likely to be desirable.
- Preparation of the Oxfordshire Plan provides an opportunity to set high level ambitions for biodiversity and wider environmental net gains in the county and to set a consistent approach and framework for plan-making and decision taking across the county.
- Approaches to biodiversity net gain have already been developed in parts of Oxfordshire with local plans setting requirements and targets for biodiversity net gain through new development as well as varying targets set at individual site level for planned garden communities. The use of biodiversity metrics is recognised as an important mechanism through which the biodiversity value of land pre- and post-development is measured.
- The Oxfordshire Plan has the potential to add value and perform a key role in achieving biodiversity net gain through new developments through to 2050, which is key to reducing harmful impacts on wildlife, supporting recovery of nature, reversing long-term declines in biodiversity and addressing climate change.
- The Oxfordshire Plan aims to protect and enhance Oxfordshire's distinct landscape character, recreational and biodiversity value. Achieving net gain for biodiversity is one way the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 can help to achieve this. This Plan will provide an opportunity to be ambitious and align the views of key stakeholders across the county, providing a county-wide framework for all the local authorities to work within. National policy is clear that the natural and local environment should be enhanced through minimising impacts on and providing net gains for biodiversity.
- Nationally, biodiversity net gain is proposed to be set at 10% for all new development. Planning to 2050 provides an opportunity to set clear ambitions for environmental improvement and it is not considered unreasonable to have targets in the Oxfordshire Plan which go beyond existing and proposed national and local targets.
- A key challenge in securing biodiversity net gains through development will be the effect on viability but this is a challenge that must be addressed if the Oxfordshire Plan is to meet objectives for net zero carbon and to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
- A Natural England biodiversity net gain study showed there is little or no effect on the viability of housing developments with up to 20% biodiversity net gain, and that there is a strong case for more.
- The preference should be for biodiversity net gains to be delivered on site, following the mitigation hierarchy and, where this is not possible, it should be delivered as close to the loss as possible. The Nature Recovery Network would provide a focus for off-site biodiversity net gains, with the Core Zone and Recovery Zone providing opportunities to deliver the greatest benefits for biodiversity and ecological connectivity.
The mitigation hierarchy
Rehabilitation / restoration,
- Securing biodiversity net gains will have knock-on positive effects, delivering direct and indirect benefits to environmental enhancement, nature resilience and the provision of ecosystem services to support health and wellbeing of communities.
- The protection and enhancement of Oxfordshire's wildlife, habitats and ecological networks is central to the Oxfordshire Plan.
- All development proposals in Oxfordshire should have regard to impacts on priority habitats, designated sites, Conservation Target Areas and the Nature Recovery Network for Oxfordshire.
Preferred Policy Option
- The preferred option is to set an ambitious target for biodiversity net gain as a standalone policy as one of the primary mechanisms through which nature's recovery can be delivered through the Oxfordshire Plan. Setting an ambitious target above national requirements emphasises the importance of supporting nature's recovery and improving environmental quality through the Oxfordshire Plan.
- It is recognised that there could be viability implications for achieving higher biodiversity net gain targets in parts of Oxfordshire, but it is also noted that higher targets are being sought within individual developments and strategic developments in other parts of the county.
Policy Option 08: Biodiversity Gain
The Oxfordshire Plan proposes to set minimum target for biodiversity net gain across Oxfordshire to protect, enhance, restore, increase and connect the natural environment and secure measurable net gains in biodiversity.
20% biodiversity net gain - Standard benchmark for the whole of the county.
Biodiversity net gain will be measured using the DEFRA Biodiversity Metric.
The delivery of biodiversity net gain should follow the mitigation hierarchy with a preference to deliver gains on site. Where on site delivery is not possible, gains should be delivered within the administrative boundary of the Local Authority and wherever possible within a Conservation Target Area.