1 Background |
1. Biodiversity offsetting allows damage to the
environment and ecosystems arising from a development to be compensated
for by providing biodiversity resources elsewhere.
It could allow development which local environmental damage might
otherwise rule out. On the other hand, as the Lawton review, Making
Space for Nature, concluded in 2010, there are risks that
biodiversity offsetting could undermine 'ecological networks'
if they lead to any reduction in the levels of protection afforded
to wildlife sites and habitats, and that any system of biodiversity
offsetting needs to be "underpinned by a clear set of principles".
2. The Government's subsequent Natural Environment
White Paper, The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature,
contemplated "managed locally" offsetting being tested
in pilot areas. In March
2013, the Ecosystems Markets Task Force concluded that:
There are weaknesses and inefficiencies in the
current system which slow down necessary development, yet still
lead to deterioration and fragmentation of nature. We need a system
in which unavoidable net impacts on biodiversity of new development
are more than compensated by restored and created habitats elsewhere
through an efficient market.
In April 2013, the Natural Capital Committee's first
annual report, The State of Natural Capital, recommended that
"offsetting and other forms of compensation are explored
after a clear set of principles and a policy framework have been
developed". In his evidence to our separate inquiry into
Well-being, Dieter Helm, chair of the Natural Capital Committee,
told us "Yes, you should pay for damage you caused, but offsetting
is special. Can you find an environmental asset that is at least
as good as what you have had before?"
Arguably, offsetting is an admission of failure in that it should
only arise after alternative development sites or means of mitigating
the environmental loss from development have been considered.
3. Against that background, the Government set
out proposals for biodiversity offsetting in a Green Paper consultation,
Biodiversity Offsetting in England, published in September
2013, including a prospective means of calculating biodiversity
gains and losses for such a system.
At the same time, Defra, Natural England and local councils continued
with six offsetting pilots begun in 2012.
4. This short inquiry into the Government's proposals
takes forward our previous scrutiny of how sustainable development
is accommodated in the National Planning Policy Framework
and our ongoing inquiry into Well-being.
We heard from a range of witnesses on 23 October, including developers
and environmental groups who had been involved in the pilots,
as well as the Secretary of State for Food, Environment and Rural
5. As we discuss below, we consider it too soon
to reach a decision on offsetting while the pilots have yet to
be completed and independently evaluated (Part 4). Because the
Government is currently consulting on its proposals, however,
we are publishing our conclusions now on the detail of those proposals
(Parts 2 and 3), at the same time as the Government considers
the inputs to its consultation exercise.