Introduction

The NCPT was developed to give local authorities, planners and developers a fit-for-purpose, easy-to-use tool to hand which enables them to effectively and efficiently implement environmental net-gain. The NCPT is designed to indicatively but systematically assess changes to Natural Capital in a planning context. Land-use changes due to development can impact on the capacity of Green Infrastructure and Natural Capital to provide ecosystem services such as space for recreation, the mitigation of flooding events and air quality regulation as well as their associated health and wellbeing benefits.

The NCPT developers and their partners and supporters hope that the NCPT will not only help to better mitigate negative effects of planning and development on Natural Capital assets and the ecosystem services they provide, but also to enable planning and development to play a more positive role in the provision and enhancement of Natural Capital assets through smart and sustainable design – benefiting both, people and wildlife.

 

How the NCPT works

 

Policy Context

In its recently published 25 Year Environment Plan, the Government makes a commitment:

“…to put the environment at the heart of planning and development to create better places for people to live and work. We will seek to embed a ‘net environmental gain’ principle for development to deliver environmental improvements locally and nationally. […] That will enable us to achieve measurable improvements for the environment – ‘environmental net gains’” (HM Government 2018, p.32)

The NCPT was designed to enable planners and developers to effectively implement this commitment by the Government into practice.

In their third State of Natural Capital Report (2015), the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) which is an independent advisory committee to the Government and advises on the sustainable use of Natural Capital, states:

“Given that over 80% of England’s population now lives in urban areas, the quantity and quality of green infrastructure (GI) in our urban areas is of critical importance. It is not just an issue of wellbeing and economic benefits, but one of equity and distribution, too. […] Investment in GI is often the first to be sacrificed during periods of financial pressure, but this is a false economy. […] GI needs to be fully incorporated into urban planning systems, to help avoid short termism. Building GI into long-term development plans will not only ensure its benefits from the outset, but will also avoid costly retrofitting in the future.” (NCC 2015, p.43–44)

We believe that the NCPT, which has been specifically designed for the planning and development context, can play an important role in delivering the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. The NCPT allows to assess impacts of planning decisions and designs on Natural Capital and the ecosystem services it provides in a quantitative way. This information can be assessed against national and local policy goals such as environmental net-gain.

 

The NCPT Development was Demand-Driven

The development of the NCPT was always driven by the end-user demand, acknowledging the real-world circumstances in which planners and developers operate. It was at the heart of the NCPT development to keep the tool transparent, simple, quick and applicable without requiring extensive expertise or time from the tool user. The NCPT was designed to enable environmental net-gain in the planning sector without imposing an additional burden on developers and planning authorities.

Throughout the development of the NCPT, local authorities have often articulated that they want to implement Government policies with respect to biodiversity and Natural Capital net-gain. They are aware of the problem and willing to act but also face austerity pressures and tools to effectively implement such policies on the ground. We hope that the NCPT can help to overcome this ‘implementation gap’ and lead to more sustainable places for people, businesses, and wildlife.

At the beginning of the NCPT testing phase (see also ‘How we got here…’ below) we started with 7 case study partners from Local Government and industry to apply and test the NCPT at live developments and plans. By the end of the test-phase in February 2018, 10 more case study partners joined our team making it 17 case study partners altogether. For case study experiences and success stories see our case study reports.

 

What the NCPT can and can’t do

The NCPT was designed to give planners, developers and other relevant actors a fit-for-purpose and easy to use tool to hand that allows the indicative assessment of the impacts a proposed plan or development design may have on Natural Capital and ecosystem services.

What the NCPT can do:

  • Give you an indication (direction of change and magnitude) of the impacts a proposed plan or development is likely to have on Natural Capital and ecosystem services over 25 years post-development.
  • Allow you to incorporate the high complexity of Natural Capital and ecosystem services science into everyday planning decisions without demanding extensive expertise or resources.
  • Provide you with a flexible and transparent tool that shows you how scores are calculated.
  • Give you a new evidence base and set of indicators to better assess proposed plans and developments against national and local policies.
  • Allow you to monitor the impact on Natural Capital along the planning/development process so that subsequent improvements can be achieved towards policy goals (e.g. environmental net-gains).
  • Allow you to monitor the overall cumulative impact of development on Natural Capital such as at a city scale.
  • Potentially be a calculation tool for Ecosystem Services Offsetting.

What the NCPT cannot do:

  • Replace existing planning requirements such as an Environmental Impact Assessment.
  • Be a substitute for ‘in house’ ecological expertise such as a planning ecologist – a certain degree of expertise is highly recommended to produce reliable outcomes.
  • Provide a definite answer. Natural Capital and ecosystem services science is very complex and reveals gaps and uncertainties – the tool outcomes are indicative only and based mainly on expert knowledge.
  • Make a decision for you. The tool provides an additional information source to inform decisions; it cannot make decisions for you and planning decisions should never be made purely based on the NCPT outcomes. The NCPT is a decision support tool only.
  • Set a political goal. What is and is not desirable in terms of Natural Capital and ecosystem services protection/enhancement is not decided by the NCPT or its developers – it is a political decision. You have to decide if for example a plan or development should achieve no net-loss to Natural Capital or a more ambitious positive outcome such as environmental net-gain. The NCPT only provides the indicators against which such political goals can be assessed.

 

How we got here

The development of the NCPT was a direct response to the publication of HM Government’s Natural Environment White Paper which acknowledges that:

Planning has a key role in securing a sustainable future. However, the current system […] is failing to achieve the kind of integrated and informed decision-making that is needed to support sustainable land use” (HM Government 2011, p.21)

as well as the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which states that:

The planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by […] recognising the wider benefits of ecosystem services.” (DCLG 2012, p. 25)

The NCPT was developed by the Consultancy for Environmental Economics & Policy (CEEP) in collaboration with Birmingham City Council and the UK Business Council for Sustainable Development (UK BCSD) in 2014-2015. The development of the NCPT was funded by the RICS Research Trust. The latest project phase of testing, refining and implementing the NCPT (2015/16-2017/18) has been led by the University of Birmingham in collaboration with Northumbria University and was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

 

Where to go from here…

Please be assured that the NCPT will be regularly maintained and further developed in the future as well.

Ongoing NCPT maintenance will be provided by the NCPT creator and developer Oliver Hölzinger (CEEP). Whilst there is no ongoing funding support for tool maintenance, part of the income from NCPT-related consultancy services provided by CEEP will be re-invested in NCPT maintenance and development.

There are already plans to develop a NCPT2 and the ambition is to harmonise the NCPT2 model as far as possible with related tools and approaches developed/commissioned by Natural England such as the Biodiversity Offsetting approach and the Ecometric which is a Natural Capital add-on to the Biodiversity Offsetting approach. The biodiversity offsetting approach is being updated by Natural England and the Ecometric approach is being developed by the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford together with CEEP.

 

Acknowledgements

The NCPT has greatly benefited from the support of a project steering group including government, private and third sector organisations which are listed below. The case study partners have tested and trialled the NCPT across several green-blue infrastructure settings (rural to urban) and stages of the planning/development process. Project partners have also acted as ‘critical friends’ and helped with the refinement and dissemination of the NCPT.

The tool developer and project team are grateful for their incredibly valuable contributions to the success of the NCPT project! We would also like to thank all experts who participated in the scoring and review exercise.

Last but not least we would like to thank the funders of the NCPT development. The RICS Research Trust funded the development of the NCPT through phase 1 (2014-2015) and the Natural Environment Research Council funded the testing and implementation of the NCPT during phase 2 (2015/16-2017/18).

Please refer to the ‘acknowledgements’ section of the tool or ‘Appendix A’ of the guidance for a full list of project partners and individuals involved in the project. Tool and guidance can be accessed here.

 

References:

HM Government. 2018. A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment. London: HM Government.

Natural Capital Committee. 2015. The State of Natural Capital: Protecting and Improving Natural Capital for Prosperity and Wellbeing. Third report to the Economic Affairs Committee. London.

HM Government. 2011. The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature. London: HM Government.

DCLG. 2012. National Planning Policy Framework. London: Department for Communities and Local Government (Now Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government).