3 Locating offsets |
20. The Green Paper proposes that offsetting
could be provided locally or further afield. Allowing offsets
further away might be less expensive or more efficient environmentally.
The Green Paper suggests that one advantage of offsetting is that
"compensatory habitat can be provided away from the development
site by specialists on less-expensive land."
But it also acknowledges that distant offsets could have adverse
effects on local communities.
21. The Green Paper sees simplicity as a key
criteria for the success of an offsetting system, which the Government
believe could be undermined if it were not applied consistently
across the country and if there were local variations that could
result in "additional costs and delays to development".
The Environment Bank, similarly, saw advantages of a uniform approach
applied consistently across the country, including for long-term
planning. The Wildlife
Trusts, on the other hand, believed that:
Offsetting must provide scope for local variation
and flexibility which should be set out within local plans. Local
variation is important because habitat which is valuable or distinctive
in one area may not be considered valuable or distinctive elsewhere...
This is an integral part of the planning officer's role when considering
and applying local and national planning policy and should, as
with other planning issues, be informed by local ecological expertise.
RSPB also emphasised a need to reflect local habitat
priorities (paragraph 14).
22. Whether offsetting is provided locally or
further afield, a potential benefit of offsetting would be its
ability to provide habitats aligned with or connected to ecosystem
networks. The Green
Paper envisages creating an "overall net gain for biodiversity
through locating the right offsets in the right place to improve
Friends of the Earth told us that "if you place your offsetting
in strategic locations ... you can improve ecological connectivity".
The Environment Bank saw a need for habitat maps to be further
developed to help create that opportunity.
Friends of the Earth, similarly, told us that "better spatial
planning would increase certainty for developers, meaning stronger
local plans that identify where biodiversity needs to be protected
and better connected, and where new habitat creation is required".
23. So far in this report we have discussed the
pros and cons of offsetting in terms of the potential impact on
wildlife and habitats. But there it is also important to consider
the implications for people's well-being. Access to nature is
vital. A recent RSPB study calculated that just one in five children
is 'connected to nature'.
The National Trust told us that any offsetting system should "safeguard
people's ability to enjoy wildlife".
Friends of the Earth emphasised that people get "real benefits
from having access to nature", which cannot be replaced simply
with more 'amenity space'.
The National Trust believed that allowing replacement habitats
in the area covered by a planning authorityan option in
the Green Papermight deny ready accessibility to local
24. The Secretary of State told us that "in
order to get people's support, it has to be reasonably local and
within reasonably easy reach. If people are going to lose an environmental
asset and they want to enjoy something else, I think it has to
be reasonably close".
"Local people want to see that their local environment has
He assured us that offsets would not be provided in parts of the
country far away from the development to which they were linked.
25. Any offsetting scheme should take account
of reduced public access to the biodiversity being lost with development.
Distant offsets might be contemplated, especially if they benefit
ecosystem networks and if the public has little or no access to
the development site. Where local people's enjoyment of habitats
and wildlife would be directly affected, on the other hand, offsetting
decisions should be considered at the lowest planning authority
level possible. This would have the additional benefit of allowing
that authority to be able to give full weight to both the loss
and the gain under its jurisdiction.
44 Biodiversity Offsetting in England Green Paper,
op cit, p6 Back
ibid, para 28 Back
ibid , para 29 Back
Environment Bank (BIO 012) para 15 Back
Wildlife Trusts (BIO 020) paras 5.1 and 5.2 Back
Defra, Making Space for Nature (September 2010), p15 Back
Biodiversity Offsetting in England Green Paper, op cit, p3 Back
"Just one in five UK children connected to nature", RSPB, 16 October 2013 Back
National Trust (BIO 080) para 11 Back
National Trust (BIO 080) para 31 Back