THE government could force new housing developments in Somerset to be greener under new rules taking effect in the new year.

The principle of biodiversity net gain (BNG for short) entails that new development (whether residential or commercial) must leave nature better off than it was before.

New laws announced by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in late-September aim to deliver BNG on new developments, forcing developers to create new habitats and green spaces to compensate for the ones eliminated as part of the build.

Somerset Council is now asking for residents’ views on how best to implement the new laws when they come into force in January 2024.

The rules, introduced as part of the Environment Act, will only apply to planning applications submitted after this date – they cannot be applied retrospectively to ongoing developments.

Under the new BNG rules, developers will be encouraged to make nature improvements on the proposed development site first.

%image('17462758', type="article-full", alt="Plans For New Wetlands At Nailsbourne Road In Nailsbourne Near Taunton.")

If this is not possible, then improvements must be made in areas outside the site, in places that are strategically important to the local area – such as parks.

As a last resort, developers can buy statutory credits from the government to fund habitat creation elsewhere.

Whichever approach is taking, developers must deliver a net gain in biodiversity of at least ten per cent.

BNG will apply to major developments sites (i.e. those of at least ten homes or a significant amount of commercial space) from January 2024.

However, smaller sites will not be subject to the new laws until April 2024, and nationally significant infrastructure projects – such as the ongoing dualling of the A303 – won’t have to meet the new standards until 2025.

To assist with the implementation of the new laws, Somerset Council will receive a share of more than £15m, with the government publishing further guidance before Christmas.

Biodiversity minister Trudy Harrison MP said: “BNG will ensure new developments work for both wildlife and people.

“We will create nature-rich places whilst ensuring communities get the new homes and infrastructure they need.”

While the BNG legislation will apply to every local authority across the UK, each council can tailor the legislation to their own needs.

Around 18,000 homes across Somerset have been held up in the last few years as a result of the phosphates crisis, with developers having to agree additional mitigation to prevent any net increase in phosphates within the Somerset Levels and Moors catchment area.

%image('14311928', type="article-full", alt="The Somerset Levels And Moors Ramsar Site (Red) And The Affected Catchment Areas In Somerset (Blue).")

The mitigation has taken numerous forms to date – including the creation of new wetlands (to unlock the Staplegrove urban extension in Taunton), fallowing agricultural land (for instance, on the Orchard Grove site on the other side of Taunton) or enhancing waste water treatment facilities.

Somerset Council is asking local residents to give their views on how the new rules can most effectively be implemented.

Councillor Ros Wyke, portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets, said: “Local planners and developers are tackling two challenges that can sometimes be seen as competitive – building much-needed new homes, and protecting and restoring nature.

“Through BNG, they are in an ideal position to build not just sustainable houses, but new, sustainable communities, where people can thrive alongside nature.

“We encourage anyone with an interest in planning and new development to take part in the consultation.”

Councillor Dixie Darch, portfolio holder for the environment and climate change, added: “We welcome the BNG legislation as a key lever to a greener more sustainable Somerset, a priority set out in our council plan.

“The BNG requirement also sets out a legal agreement to commit and monitor any habitat gains for the long term (more than 30 years).

“New habitats take time to become established and this will ensure they are secured.”

Paper copies of the relevant BNG documentation are now available at the following locations:

  • Bridgwater House, King Square, Bridgwater (open weekdays 8.45am-5pm)
  • Bridgwater Library, Binford Place, Bridgwater
  • Frome Library, Justice Lane, Frome
  • Glastonbury Library, Orchard Court, Glastonbury
  • Minehead Library, Bancks Street, Minehead
  • Council offices, A371 Cannard’s Grave Road, Shepton Mallet (weekdays 8:30am-5pm)
  • Taunton Library, Paul Street, Taunton
  • County Hall, The Crescent, Taunton (weekdays 8am-6pm, Saturdays 9am-4pm)
  • Deane House, Belvedere Road, Taunton (weekdays 8:30am-5pm)
  • West Somerset House, Killick Way, Williton (weekdays 8:30am-5pm)
  • Yeovil Library, King George Street, Yeovil
  • Petters Way council offices, Petters Way, Yeovil (weekdays 9am-4pm – except first Wednesday of the month, which is 11am-4pm)

To take part in the consultation, undertake one of the following actions before midnight on December 4:

  • Visit
  • Email
  • Post your comments to BNG, Somerset Council, County Hall, Taunton, Somerset, TA1 4DY