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News Environmental Law 16th Jan 2023

Freeths launches innovative scheme to improve biodiversity in the UK

National law firm Freeths is helping to preserve the future of UK biodiversity by creating ground-breaking Habitat Banking Vehicles (HBV).

The firm’s leading Environmental team is working on behalf of Plymouth City Council (PCC). The council is setting up a habitat vehicle (a holding company) that will help developers contribute towards the improvement of substantial areas of land, including parkland and former landfill sites.

PCC will be responsible for enhancement and maintenance works carried out on behalf of the new HBV, drawing on private investments designed to improve local biodiversity.

Under these arrangements, PCC will create a legal company responsible for operating the HBV, called a Habitat Bank. This Habitat Bank will undertake the management of various sites in line with strict legal requirements over the required 30-plus year period for BNG. Developers will then invest in the HBV’s subsidiaries to ensure their developments are being offset by the creation of diverse habitats in the region.

Following changes to the law introduced under the Environment Act 2021, national and local planning policies now require biodiversity net gain for new developments, with mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) coming into force in November 2023 for most Town and Country Planning Act developments.

The UK is one the world’s most nature-depleted countries, and it is hoped that BNG will be a big step towards reversing biodiversity declines and supporting nature recovery.

Cabinet Member for the Environment and Street Scene Councillor Bill Wakeham said: “This a fantastic innovative project and I’m delighted that Plymouth is leading the way. The support we have received through the Future Parks Accelerator programme and Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund has been crucial to reaching this stage.

“Sustainability and growth are key to our plans for Plymouth and so to be able to inextricably tie these two things together for the long-term benefit of biodiversity in the city really is an exciting step forward.”

Freeths’ approach has been led by Freeths Environmental Director Richard Broadbent, previously the Head of Legal Services at Natural England, where he worked on the development of mandatory BNG. He is supported by property Partner Duncan Tringham and commercial public sector Partner Stephen Pearson.

Commenting on the scheme, Richard Broadbent said: “We are genuinely excited to be a part in what we believe to be a ground-breaking project and to work through all the issues involved in creating a suitable operational model to ensure HBVs can properly ‘get off the ground’ to deliver nature recovery through BNG.”

Stephen Pearson added: “This project continues the long-term work which we have done in improving the infrastructure commissioned by Plymouth City Council over many years. We hope to work with other bodies on creating similar vehicles across the country.”

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