Venue: Virtual meeting via MS Teams
Contact: Matt Whitney, Local Nature Partnership Manager Email: email@example.com
Apologies, conflicts of interest, Chair's announcements and welcome to guests
Apologies for absence were submitted by Gillian Aitken, (Landowner representative).
Prue Addison declared an interest in Item 7: Local Wildlife Sites on the basis that the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust was a partner in the Local Wildlife Site project.
The Chair referred to HM Government’s acceptance of a change in the law around Local Nature Recovery Strategies which required Local Planning authorities to take LNRS into account in the development of Local Plans which it was hoped gave cause for greater optimism that the LNRSs would lead to a real positive difference to nature.
To consider the notes of the previous meeting held on 14 June 2023.
The notes of the Board meeting held on 14 June 2023 were agreed as a correct record.
Local Nature Recovery Strategy progress and ambitions
Oxfordshire’s new LNRS Project Manager will present an update on the progress and plans of the LNRS steering group. The Board is asked to welcome Chloe Edwards and provide key comments on progress, plans and ambitions.
The Chair welcomed Chloe Edwards, Local Nature Recovery Strategy Policy Manager, Oxfordshire County Council, to the meeting in order to provide an update on the progress and plans of the LNRS project, including any emerging themes and issues.
Chloe indicated that since taking up her post in August she had been seeking to collate the different stakeholder perspectives of what the LNRS should contain and achieve at the start of its development, so that as much as possible the final document would reflect those views. The consensus position amongst the views expressed to date was that the LNRS should be ambitious and be designed around function and deliverability if it was to be considered to be a success. It was felt that there should be cohesive targets and objectives within the strategy and it was likely that the target of seeking to restore 30% of the county’s land for nature by 2030 would feature, but the Board was encouraged to suggest other local or national nature recovery policy objectives.
A project plan was being developed for consideration by the Steering Group which would include governance arrangements. Working groups reporting into the steering group had been created including ones around the themes of evidence, stakeholder engagement and communications. In addition to working with Matt Whitney as the LNP Manager, Chloe indicated she was working with various members of the Board on the project and was also liaising and networking with colleagues in neighbouring areas so as to ensure a joined up approach.
In the discussion that followed, members of the Board commented on the importance of the LNRS Policy Manager role in providing a central point of focus and co-ordination in the development of the LNRS and warmly welcomed Chloe to the role.
It was suggested that early contact should be made as part of stakeholder engagement with the Planning Advisory Group of the Future Oxfordshire Partnership, particularly in light of the issues arising around the impact of consideration of biodiversity net gain within the planning and Local Plan process.
In response to a question on anticipated timescales for the completion of drafts that views might be sort on, Chloe informed the Board that the programme was not yet set, but that looking at what other similar responsible authorities were doing this could involve the submission of a strategy around the end of 2024, early 2025 to HM Government. It was necessary to work back from that date to factor in stages such as consultation and a final review process. In addition, the decision making processes of the County Council as the responsible authority had to be taken account of. It was currently expected that priority engagement with farmers and owners of agricultural business about what they wanted from the LNRS would take place during autumn/winter of 2023.
Action: The Chair asked that when it was ready the expected timelines and programme be shared with the Board and it would be helpful if this could include any points in the process ... view the full minutes text for item 3.
Oxfordshire's current affairs update
Members of the Board to update one another on key matters of importance relevant to the Local Nature Partnership arising since the previous meeting, including feedback from the Future Oxfordshire Partnership process.
The Chair invited members of the Board to raise any matters of note, interest or concern at a local or national level which might impact on Oxfordshire’s natural environment or the LNP.
Prue Addison, spoke to the project by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust to reconnect the Bernwood, Otmoor and Ray landscapes which after 18 months was coming to a close and encouraged members of the Board to peruse a report on the project which had covered some 300km2 of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. The next steps were to take forward the additional project ideas suggested by stakeholders and linked grant applications were being worked on.
Rosie Rowe highlighted that consultation was about to begin as part of the process of creating and updating a new Health and Wellbeing Strategy for Oxfordshire. This a strategic level document that covered not just the health and social care sectors but also a wide range of partners over a five year period. It was relevant to master planning and Local Plan processes in order that developers responded to the health priorities and challenges within in it when submitting development proposals.
Feedback from public consultation already had demonstrated the importance of mental health and the connection between access to nature and good mental health and it was likely that this would form a major priority within the new strategy as it progress. It was expected that the document would be considered by the Health and Wellbeing Board in January 20224 and it would also be brought to a meeting of the Future Oxfordshire Partnership for information.
Councillor David Rouane informed the Board that the Future Oxfordshire Partnership was holding a focus and delivery workshop on 26 September to consider its future purpose and work programme in light of the coming to the end of Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal which had shaped its original remit and scope. The Board was also updated on HM Government’s decision to transfer the functions of local enterprise partnerships including OxLEP to upper tier local authorities such as Oxfordshire County Council from 2024 and that a transition plan was being developed between OxLEP and the County Council.
Councillor Rouane referred to the preparation by OxLEP of an updated draft of Oxfordshire Strategic Economic Plan which was due to consider by the Future Oxfordshire Partnership at its next meeting. A number of public workshops had been which members of the Board may have attended, but feedback he had received on the latest draft of the Plan following these events was that is unclear how the comments made by those at the workshops had been addressed and pertinent to LNP’s role, agriculture as a form of economic activity was felt to have not been recognised. In addition, it had appeared in this draft that only three of the nine priorities of the Oxfordshire Strategic Plan had been addressed.
Action: That the link to the Oxfordshire Strategic Economic Plan be circulated to the Board for information when available.
It was ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
LNP Manager presents a suggestion for an innovative financial facility to unblock barriers to leveraging private money for nature recovery.
The Board is asked to provide feedback on the concept, consider alternative approaches to addressing the problem, and suggest ways to capitalise such a fund.
The Board considered a report which presented one potential method of operationalising the Oxfordshire Nature Finance Strategy by establishing a revolving fund for nature, or an Oxfordshire Nature Fund. The Board was asked to discuss the proposal and any alternative ways of addressing the issue, suggest potential third parties that might wish to be involved in the exploration of the concept, suggest potential third parties who might be willing to capitalise such a fund and to support the further exploration of the concept.
Matt Whitney, Local Nature Partnership Manager introduced the report and answered questions from the Board. He commented that following the endorsement of the Nature Finance Strategy by the Board and the Future Oxfordshire Partnership, an online launch of the strategy was planned as soon as the LNP’s website was ready and it would also be launched at the Oxfordshire Green Finance Conference scheduled for 11 January 2024.
The Strategy needed to be operationalised and the report referred to a number of supply side barriers to the delivery projects. The proposed Oxfordshire Nature Fund was a way to address these. This was in the wider context of increasing demand for such products from all sectors of the economy including private corporations and local authorities. A lack of supply of BNG units could lead to significant delays in housing delivery.
The proposal included the provision of loan or grant options to farmers and landowners who wished to explore entering the carbon credit and biodiversity credit markets to cover feasibility work including ecological baseline assessments to establish what they could provide which could then potentially be repaid when any final credit units were sold.
In discussion, members of the Board supported further exploration of the concept as set out within the report with a number of comments made.
· There were potential risks and a need for caution around repayable finance when there was significant uncertainty around the actual size of the market and number of potential paying customers.
· There were technical challenges around farmers generating revenue from carbon and biodiversity services which remained uncertain despite the number of entrants wishing to enter and offer products in the repayable finance space.
· There was a need to support farmers and landowners to work together so that they could collectively bargain and navigate the market. Capacity to navigate and negotiate had been key factors for early entrants to the market to date. The Board was informed that the need for the encouragement of collaboration by the LNP was fully recognised.
· There was a need for collaboration and to avoid duplication within the space. Consideration of successful Landscape Recovery proposals to DEFRA and the green financing of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty could be useful in order to learn any transferable financing lessons.
· It would be necessary for any fund scheme to set clear parameters and to not drift into too many other natural capital markets and initiatives.
· ‘Patient lending’ could be a solution, but this underlined the importance of scale and coming together ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
This paper provides some key considerations about Biodiversity Net Gain in England. Crucially, it includes:
· a set of principles we may wish to agree
· an overview of our work with LPAs on ensuring a robust methodology for offsite option
· a proposed communications flurry around requiring 20%
The Board is asked to endorse the principles, consider the work with the LPAs, and endorse our championing of a policy of 20% BNG.
The Board considered a report which outlined the biodiversity net gain policy and implementation environment and which recommended to the Board that the Local Nature Partnership should ask local planning authorities to adopt a level of at least 20% Biodiversity Net Gain developer contributions, (BNG) within their individual biodiversity net gain policies.
Matt Whitney, Local Nature Partnership Manager introduced the paper. He highlighted that biodiversity net gain was a national policy due to be introduced in November 2023 which would require housing and infrastructure developers to leave natural environment in a better state than pre-commencement of their activities.
The Chair commented that although the national minimum for BNG had been set at 10%, the evidence base locally and precedents supported adoption of at least 20% given that the level of nature of need within Oxfordshire for nature would not be satisfied by a 10% target. It was felt that this level of contribution was both affordable and viable for developers. It was noted that a recent report drafted by the University of Oxford had indicated the importance of setting the percentage of BNG as high as possible to maximise chances of the policy being successful. The Board was also informed that approximately 25 local planning authorities including a number within the South-East had already adopted requirements for 20% BNG.
In discussion, various members of the Board agreed that the district and city councils should be requested to seek contributions of at least 20% as it was felt to be the minimum of what was necessary within Oxfordshire to achieve actual net gain based on the ecological evidence available, although it was acknowledged that local planning authorities had to consider a wide range of factors. This should be communicated to the councils and published where possible and it was noted that a workshop with planning officers on BNG had been suggested by which point a statement of the LNPs position should be finalised.
Other points were in summary that:
· With regard to principle 12, that there should be further discussion around the wording of the approach to Open Mosaic Habitat to ensure the continued promotion of grass land scrub and tree mosaic habitat via BNG funding.
· They should be contact with the Future Oxfordshire Partnership Planning Advisory Group and the officers supporting it to test the views of strategic planners on BNG and any evidence as their Local Plans progressed. Whilst the objective of 20% was a good one any increase above 10% might lead to increases in viability challenges from developers. Many schemes were already facing such challenges and it was important to avoid a situation where developers appealed and won against levels of contributions because local planning authorities lost their ability to negotiate and defend their core policy values at that point.
· Each local planning authority followed a process whereby its Local Plan had to be approved by the Planning Inspectorate. It was good to be ambitious, but it was also necessary to be mindful of this.
· Principle seven ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
This item provides an overview of the Local Wildlife Sites project and makes the case that it is important and worthy of expansion and increased security. Some proposals are made to achieve this.
The Board considered a report which set out proposals to increase investment in Local Wildlife Sites to ensure these sites could play a full role in the emerging Local Nature and Recovery Strategy. Simon Smith presented the report and highlighted that:
· From the perspective of nature recovery, locally designated wildlife sites held probably the most important designation but could be considered to have been traditionally under recognised.
· Although Sites of Special Scientific Interest, (SSSI) were of high quality they did not represent the largest volume of wildlife habitat within Oxfordshire.
· Wildlife sites were increasing in prominence due to their importance to the baselining and delivery of Local Nature Recovery Strategies, (LNRS).
· Local authorities were statutorily responsible for local wildlife sites and such sites had material planning status, for instance within Local Plans. However, it was considered that the processes supporting local wildlife sites were not as robust as they needed to be in order to deliver LNRS objectives. This included work around calculating feasibility and making evidence based cases for funding in the context of the significant constraints on local authority generally.
· The proposals represented a judgement of what was needed from a LNP perspective and were designed to inform and support local authority officers in their roles.
· The proposals had been developed alongside Edward Church from the Local Wildlife Site Project Steering Group, BBOWT and officers from a number of local authorities to ensure that an operational perspective was considered.
· It was proposed within the recommendations to bring the Local Wildlife Site Project Steering Group within the LNP structure.
Camilla Burrow commented that she fully supported the proposals which echoed those which she had previously been involved in. It was suggested that exploration of match funding to help supplement local authority contributions was an area that could be looked at moving forward, but this did not affect the current proposals.
The Chair commented that he recognised that Board members might welcome additional opportunity to consider the report in light of the limited time available for discussion in the meeting and suggested that Board members be asked to confirm their agreement to the recommendations by email. This was supported.
Action: That Board members be asked to formally indicate whether they supported the recommendations via email.
The Oxfordshire Local Nature Partnership Manager to provide an update of important conversations and actions over the last three months that are not captured in other agenda business.
Matt Whitney, Local Nature Partnership Manager presented a verbal update. The Board was informed that:
· A Nature and Health Project Manager had been recruited who would be starting in early November.
· There had been authorisation of the proposal to recruit a Nature Finance Project Manager who would primarily lead on enabling a nature based carbon sequestration project. Board members were asked to help raise awareness of the post.
The Chair also referred to his and Matt Whitney’s visit to Westminster regarding Local Nature Recovery Strategies and thanked Matt for the letter he had written to HM Government on behalf of LNPs on the strengthened legal duties of LNRSs. The Chair also thanked all the members of the working groups for their valued contributions to the work of the LNP.
Any other business
No other business was raised.
Dates of future meetings
To note the dates of the next meeting as 13 December 2023.
The dates of future meetings were noted as set out in the agenda.