How SMEs can benefit from Net Gain

For too long, small developers have been at the blunt end of legislative changes. All too often, well-meaning policy is drafted by the Government following extensive consultation and back and forth with large developers, with the needs of small developers a distant afterthought. As a result, the unique concerns of SMEs often go unheeded until it’s too late. 

Unfortunately, history looks set to repeat itself – the Environment Bill (which is currently going through Parliament and set for Royal Assent by the end of the year) will create a range of new obligations on property developers. Most notably, the Bill will require developers to comply with ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’, a policy that is explicitly intended to apply to smaller developers as well as larger ones. 

In a nutshell, ‘Net Gain’ is a new requirement for developers to show how – either on their site or on an off-site location – they can increase the pre-development level of biodiversity by 10%. This is calculated via a complex new ‘Biodiversity Metric’ and the final results need to be written up in the form of a ‘Biodiversity Gain Plan’, a new set of paperwork that has to be approved by the Local Planning Authority before planning permission can be granted. 

“Net Gain’ is an excellent policy – an initiative ten years in the making. There’s no doubt that it will go a long way towards restoring England’s natural environment and to turning the planning system into an engine of biodiversity creation. However, as it stands the policy looks set to create a set of expensive obligations on small developers, either in the form of having to comply with hiring ecologists to undertake a range of new surveys or in the form of having to navigate the complex ‘Biodiversity Metric’. The Government has, belatedly, realised that small developers will struggle to comply with these new rules. 

To its credit, the Government has now recognised the problem that ‘Net Gain’ might create for SME developers, and is currently trying to find ways to support the sector. Their proposed solutions, however, don’t seem to go far enough – Natural England has admitted that their ‘simplified’ tools will likely still require specialist skills to use. The other proposed solution is for small developers to take a day’s training and to try and navigate the metric themselves – which is clearly not ideal considering that Local Planning Authorities can only approve reports that meet the highest standards. 

Our view is that there is a better way – but we need the support of small developers to make it work. 

Joe’s Blooms has spent the best part of 10 years developing technical solutions to these problems. Working with a wide range of academics and developers, we have created a highly accessible user interface that will allow SMEs to easily input data about their site, and generate a set of recommended solutions that will fully comply with the new law, while ensuring the developer is – at all stages – in control. 

Keeping in close contact with the Government, we have created a streamlined service that will help to ensure that developers can comply with the Net Gain via a very fast, highly accessible web portal. Information about local habitats can be entered via a series of intuitive web pages, and a final recommended habitat solution calculated using the proprietary technology that we have built over the last ten years. 

Our aim is simple: to create a tool that allows SME developers to become the driving force of biodiversity net gain. A tool that, among other things, will make it very easy to comply with ‘Net Gain’ But to do that, we need to make sure that our programme is as accessible and intuitive as possible. We want to ensure that our software is, at all stages, designed for developers. And beyond that, we would welcome your thoughts and comments on how we can develop our product. 

Get it right, and we can create a tool that lets developers comply with the new rules in under 30 minutes; ensure substantial savings when it comes to selecting habitat types; providing greater aesthetic control over site development; and (of course) the chance to make a real difference to our natural environment. We are really excited by what we are building, and  – if you are a small developer who shares our vision – would love to have your input. Please do get in touch at oliver.lewis@joesblooms.com, we look forward to working with you to make a real difference – and to help ensure that SMEs can not only cope with ‘Net Gain’ but embrace it. 

If you would like to raise anything we’ve discussed in this article, please call us on 020 8515 2975 or email us at info@guildhubservice.co.uk and talk to our expert team. We’re here to help.

GuildHUB is an information resource, provided free of charge by The Guild, for accounting professionals and their clients.  If you wish to contact The Guild, please email contact@trusttheguild.com.

The content of this article is for guidance only and shall not constitute advice. Please seek independent advice or contact GuildHUB for information about its services.

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GuildHUB
07/2021
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