“A Green Future – Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment” was published on 11 January 2018 and is to be revised periodically over the next 25 years. It stands as a statement of intent to drive future Government policy and its aims are clear: to improve the environment within a generation by improving the UK’s air and water quality and protecting threatened plants, trees and wildlife species by putting “environment at the heart of planning and development to create better places”. Noble aims but what do developers and investors need to consider?
Goal: Using and Managing Land Sustainably
The principle of achieving “net environmental gain” through development will be extended. It is intended to be strategic, flexible and tailored to the development and its environment. The Government states that it will reduce process costs for developers and provide data, tools and strategies to enable net environmental gain to be secured from developments without increasing the overall burden on developers – how is unclear.
A proposed action is reform of developer contributions to see how tariffs could be used to steer development towards the least environmentally damaging areas and secure investment in natural capital. The impact of an additional tariff on development viability, how it would be calculated and expended to achieve its aims will need careful consideration.
Goal: Reducing the Risk of Harm from Environmental Hazards
Flooding, drought and coastal erosion are key issues and access to information needed to assess risks is an area identified for improvement. Increased and more accessible information will be helpful for both developers and investors in making business decisions.
The physical reduction of risk, “boosting the long term resilience of homes, businesses and infrastructure” is an area in which the Government is looking to developers and investors for assistance and this is likely to come at a cost. Planning applications already have to address the likely effect of climate change on, for example, flood risk. Developers may feel the greatest burden if increased hurdles are imposed at planning application stage through design changes or planning contributions to help build resilience and reduce overall flood risk. Investors may find that, in the long term, higher values are achieved through more resilient developments.
Goal: Thriving Plants and Wildlife, Enhancing Beauty, Heritage and Engagement with the Natural Environment
The Environment Plan states that “safeguarding and enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery and improving its environmental value whilst being sensitive to considerations of its heritage” is key. There is also a focus on the creation and restoration of wildlife rich habitats outside of the existing protected site network.
Developers are used to the requirement for schemes to include new or improved accessible green spaces for the benefit of the existing and / or future communities. It may be that the visual setting and design of new developments will increase in importance, with a greater focus on wildlife rich habitats in the creation of public realm. Any requirement on developers to include greater amounts of green space could conflict with the current drive to increase housing numbers. Early discussion with the local authority and lobbying for clear development plan policies on green space requirements will help to mitigate delay.
Planning conditions and obligations may be utilised by local authorities to ensure that plans are carried out as approved and maintained, and owners and investors need to consider the costs of compliance with and responsibility for such plans.
Goal: Mitigating/Adapting to climate change, Clean Air, Minimising Waste and Plentiful Water
The Government has recognised over recent years the need to balance the drive to more sustainable development against over-burdening development with additional cost. However, the imposition of ever more stringent measures on construction, including carbon emission reduction targets, is likely to continue.
Measures to control water use and quality and achieve a reduction in waste are not new for developers and investors but again, regulatory requirements may become more extensive over time, resulting in increased costs of providing water protection and drainage infrastructure and waste recycling schemes.
The Environment Plan contains a number of other aims such as managing exposure to chemicals and enhancing biosecurity, all of which may impact on specific sectors. If you would like further information please contact us.
In short, the extent to which measures introduced to implement the Environment Plan will burden developers and investors remains to be seen but the Government is clear that the measures should “enable house development” – a difficult balancing act to achieve. Increased requirements to provide infrastructure and potentially make compensation payments where environmental targets have not been met are likely to have consequences over time. Consultations on setting up a new independent body to hold Government to account and a new set of environmental principles to underpin policy-making are to follow – the details of which will be eagerly awaited.