- for a Green Recovery of the Built Environment Sector
There are growing calls and policies demanding net gains for the environment from new developments. This is because the environment is increasingly seen as a valuable and multifunctional asset that benefits people’s health, wellbeing and prosperity.
As recognised by the Prime Minister, the built environment is central to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as future sustainable growth. A key challenge for the built environment sector which is yet to be resolved is how net gains for the environment can be objectively measured and implemented.
The aim of this research project lead by WSP and the Ecosystems Knowledge Network (EKN) and in partnership with Northumbria University is to co-develop a Net Gain Planning Tool (NGPT; working title) to enable built environment professionals to objectively assess and measure to what extent new plans or developments achieve net gains. The project is co-funded by Innovate UK. We are establishing a strong cross-disciplinary partnership to develop the NGPT with the aim to become a widely accepted UK industry standard – a game changer for the built environment sector. The NGPT will be made publicly available and free to use.
The NGPT-user will need to enter a range of simple indicators such as land-use and greenspace accessibility before and after development. On that basis the tool will calculate the impact of the land-use change on up to 20 ecosystem services, on physical and mental health, and on biodiversity, and assess to what extent net gains for the environment would be/have been achieved. The biodiversity assessment will only apply outside England as England already has a tool to assess biodiversity net-gain.
Some tools to assess the impact of land-use changes on environmental services are already available and provide a springboard for the NGPT development. However, none of these tools answers the crucial question of whether a net gain has been achieved.
The NGPT will advance existing tools by combining the best features of existing tools, adding value by achieving the following: assessing physical and mental health benefits; being evidence-based and yet easy to use; providing outcomes that are easy to interpret; answering the critical question of whether a plan or development achieves net gain based on national and local policies; allowing local planning authorities to pre-define what is expected from new development in terms of net gain which will also enhance planning security for developers; setting incentives for going above and beyond minimum net-gain requirements; and becoming a widely accepted industry standard co-developed with the sector.
Overall, the NGPT will not only help to make future land-use more sustainable, but also to enable the built environment sector to play a more positive role by becoming a net-contributor to tackling environmental issues – a potential game-changer for the sector as well as people and wildlife in the UK and beyond.
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