Planning decisions are “key” to making sure biodiversity is improved in the area and help tackle the ‘nature crisis’. A report to South Cambridgeshire District Council said the authority could use the planning process to meet its “doubling nature ambitions”. The district council set out its doubling nature strategy in 2021, following its declaration of a climate emergency in July 2019.
The authority has said ‘doubling nature’ is an “aspiration rather than a closely defined target”, and that the strategy focused on what the district council could do to “impact positively directly and indirectly on the district’s natural capital”. At the climate and environment advisory committee this week (Tuesday, April 4) Richard Astle, Chair of Natural Cambridgeshire, said the county was “nature depleted”.
He said there was a “crisis in nature” which he said needed to be addressed. Mr Astle said: “The biodiversity crisis is the rather underplayed little sister of the climate crisis. It is as real and it does matter, if we do not address this crisis many ecosystems which we depend on are in danger of severe stress and collapse around the world and on our doorstep.”
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A report presented to the committee updated councillors on actions the authority has taken to help improve nature in the area, and suggested ways it can continue its work. The report highlighted tree planting work already undertaken by the authority and the grants it has made available to other organisations for biodiversity measures.
It explained that the authority had been working with developers to try and achieve a 10 per cent biodiversity net gain in new developments, and highlighted the district council’s aspiration to increase this to 20 per cent through the new local plan. The report said using the planning process was a “key” way the authority can take further action to make improvements in the area.
It said: “In terms of its ability to provide strategic, larger scale improvements for nature through biodiversity net gain, the planning process is considered to be one of the key methods through which the council can meet its doubling nature ambitions. This would be far easier however, if we were effecting change within our own estate, and so perhaps a consideration about the future possibility of owning land upon which to create biodiversity net gain might be considered as one option by the council.”
Councillor Stephen Drew asked how realistic the aspiration to ask for 20 per cent biodiversity net gain from developers would be, due to the legal requirement being 10 per cent. He said the council can set positive targets, but highlighted that developers can push back, which he said could lead to disappointment.
Councillor Dr Martin Cahn suggested the authority should consider a minimum biodiversity level rather than a percentage net gain increase. He highlighted that if an area of land had no biodiversity then it would not take much to improve it if only a percentage increase was required. Cllr Cahn also said it was also important for the authority to “talk about the scale of the problem”.
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