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A new tool to protect and make better use of natural capital

02 May 2018 Author: Oliver Hölzinger

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 Natural Capital Planning Tool (NCPT)

A free tool has just been launched to enable planners and developers to effectively implement this commitment and bring about tangible benefits to society.

The Natural Capital Planning Tool (NCPT) is a site assessment tool developed specifically for the planning context. It allows the indicative but systematic assessment of the likely impact of proposed plans and developments on Natural Capital and the ecosystem services it provides to people such as recreational opportunities, air quality regulation and climate regulation.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) also 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 designed to do exactly that – to better recognise and manage the impact of planning on ecosystem services.

The tool developers hope that the NCPT will help not only to better mitigate negative effects of planning and development on the environment, but also to enable planning and development to play a more positive role in the provision and enhancement of multifunctional Green Infrastructure that works hard for people and wildlife alike - through smart and sustainable design.

How the NCPT works

The NCPT development was driven by the end-user demand from the very beginning; acknowledging the real-world circumstances in which planners and developers operate. It was essential for us to keep the NCPT transparent, simple, quick and applicable without requiring specific expertise from the tool user.

The tool user has to enter spatial land-use information for the pre- and proposed post-development state of the site as well as some other indicators such as the local population density. All information required to run the NCPT is commonly available as part of the planning process and/or easily and freely accessible online.

Development impact scorecard

The NCPT will then automatically calculate an impact score for each ecosystem service. The impact scores indicate the likely direction of change and magnitude of the impact the proposed plan or development will have on each of the 10 assessed ecosystem services over an assessment timescale of 25 years post-development. The NCPT also aggregates the scores to a single development impact score to give a broad overview of the overall performance of the proposed development.

Furthermore, the NCPT calculates a theoretical min/max impact score for each ecosystem service. These scores indicate the potential of the site for ecosystem service enhancements (and loss). The NCPT also points to guidance and literature which can help to improve a plan/design to enhance ecosystem services on site.

NCPT Scorecard

Ideally, the NCPT is applied at all stages of the planning/development process from site allocation to development design. The design can then be subsequently improved along the process.

Natural capital, ecosystem services & green infrastructure

Ecosystem services are the services people derive from Natural Capital. Green Infrastructure is part of our Natural Capital.

Natural capital is the sum of our ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, soils, minerals, our air and our seas. These are all elements of nature that either directly or indirectly bring value to people and the country at large. They do this in many ways but chiefly by providing us with food, clean air and water, wildlife, energy, wood, recreation and protection from hazards.” (HM Government 2018, p.19). 

Using the tool

Please visit NCPTool.com to access the tool, a step-by-step user guidance, case studies, training, knowledge exchange, and NCPT assessments offered as a consultancy service.

The project ‘Injecting a Natural Capital Planning Tool into Green-Blue Infrastructure Management’ was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, NERC (NE/N017587/1)

Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.

Oliver Hölzinger

Oliver Hölzinger

Oliver Hölzinger is the developer of the Natural Capital Planning Tool (NCPT), part-time research fellow and PhD researcher at the School for Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham. The RTPI joined the Steering Group for the NCPT in Spring 2016.