Controversial planning rules launched last month were revisited last week when MPs raised ongoing concerns that they did not do enough to safeguard biodiversity.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was scrutinised by a Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee hearing a month after its launch (HW, 30 March). But politicians are still worried about protection of the natural environment.
Conservative MP George Eustice said: "There remain concerns that the framework does not give enough emphasis on biodiversity. Do you think it should have given stronger reference to ecosystem evaluation?"
Environment minister Richard Benyon said the Government had launched six biodiversity-offsetting pilot projects, where groups "offset" urban development by investing in something that reduces emissions, such as landscape creation.
"They will allow the impact of development to be offset in a given locality. We think for a measurable cost you can have a clearly measurable gain and that is what we are seeing to achieve with the NPPF," Benyon added.
Responding to a question from Conservative MP Richard Drax on how offsetting would be monitored, he said: "This has to be transparent. Calculation of credits is key so that developers know what they have to provide.
"This is not a cunning wheeze to allow developers to get around the planning system," he told the hearing into the natural environment white paper. "It must provide a new gain for biodiversity but is not as simplistic as weighing up the value of an otter against a hedgehog."
Offsetting pilot projects underway
Defra, Natural England and local authorities are testing "biodiversity offsetting" in Devon, Doncaster, Essex, Greater Norwich, Nottinghamshire, Coventry, Warwickshire and Solihull.
Local authorities are drawing up guidance on how offsetting will operate in the two-year project. Initiatives could include tree and hedge planting and building nature reserves, said Defra.