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The Government has a housing crisis on their hands. For a long time, but especially over the last year, prospective home buyers have faced soaring prices. So, last year, the Prime Minister stated that his government was going to “build, build, build”, announcing a radical shakeup of England’s planning laws to deliver more affordable housing. Indeed, the Government has set a target of delivering 300,000 new homes every year by the mid-2020s. 

Housing development is not the only priority of this Government. As part of their ‘levelling up’ agenda, large infrastructure projects, such as gigafactories in the North East or HS2, will be delivered across the country, especially in poorer regions. 

But housing and infrastructure development can have a negative impact on the natural environment. When land including woodlands, wetlands, lakes and meadows are repurposed for development, the carbon they store and wildlife habitats they contain are lost, contributing to climate change and biodiversity decline. This is at odds with the Government’s other priority – to ‘build back greener’. 

Also, housing and infrastructure development has rattled voters in the Tory heartlands of southern England. The Liberal Democrats’ success in the recent Chesham and Amersham by-election is a testimony to this, with the Conservatives losing their long held seat, in part over public concerns around HS2 and planning reforms. Elsewhere in the Kentish market town of Tonbridge, Tory councillors have been unseated by the Greens, who pursued a grassroots campaign built on opposition to planning reforms and development.

Left unchecked, development which harms the natural environment will create a political headache for the Conservatives. The Government must reconcile its ‘levelling up’ and green agendas, and their ‘biodiversity net gain’ principle is crucial to this.

The biodiversity net gain principle ensures that when development occurs, developers have to ensure the natural environment is left in a better condition than before. Presently, the Government’s flagship Environment Bill includes making it mandatory for a 10% net gain in biodiversity to be delivered for housing and infrastructure developments. 

In Bright Blue’s recent report, Nature positive?, we found strong public support for this biodiversity net gain principle. Our polling showed that 72% of the public were more likely to support new infrastructure development under a biodiversity net gain principle. Somewhat controversially, we also noted that a majority of the public (53%) would support new development on the Green Belt, provided that it delivered a net gain for biodiversity in the same area. 

Whilst it is inevitable that there will always be loud opposition to development from ‘nimbys’, by ensuring future housing and infrastructure is carried out under a biodiversity net gain principle, it is likely there will be greater levels of public support for new developments. Perhaps then the government can ‘build, build, build’, ‘level up’ and ‘build back greener’.

Patrick Hall is a Senior Research Fellow at Bright Blue.