Why green space is crucial in new urban housing
While much of the focus of Cop26 will be on grand-scale projects, such as carbon-based fuel bans, rainforest preservation and large-area rewilding, an important element will be to recognise the need to provide sustainable new housing environments that simultaneously encourage biodiversity.
In Scotland the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 places a statutory duty on public bodies to further biodiversity conservation.
However, the forthcoming Environment Bill will introduce a fresh focus for the building industry across England in a mandatory requirement for Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) to be delivered through the plan- ning system, a move that is certain to be followed by the devolved nations.
UK-wide, the aim is to ensure new developments enhance biodiversity and create green spaces. The early years are key in the establishment of biodiverse and species-rich environments and managing these is not a short-term project; they require long-term specialist management solutions.
Gordon Millar is sustainability & biodiversity manager for a leading UK company in open space management, Greenbelt, which already incorporates ecological and environmental features on more than 600 developments to boost biodiversity.
He says: “I see BNG as an extension of what we do every day of the year: managing habitats as they should be managed. This is why existing management plans and ecological plans should not be consigned to the shelf when the planning permission is secured. The further leap of BNG is it takes the guardianship or stewardship requirement to a legislative 30 years and requires at least a ten per cent measurable gain in biodiversity.
“Speaking as a former regulator, what will be absolutely key will be for planners as enforcement authorities to be funded or given the resources that have the time to bare their teeth if and when necessary.
“Tough statute has little effect, if it’s not from time to time – and in a measured, balanced way – enforced.”
Helen Nyul, group head of biodiversity at Barratt Developments, the UK’s biggest housebuilder, is supportive of the Biodiversity Net Gain mandate.
“One of the main challenges is a lack of consistency across different planning areas and having legislation in place will help to ensure a level playing field,” she says. “An additional challenge is ensuring all the various parties and sectors required to deliver a successful BNG scheme need to have the capacity to deliver.
“Barratt sees many benefits to incorporating biodiversity net gain into our development designs. These not only help minimise our ecological footprint but meet wider place-making and health and wellbeing priorities for our homeowners.
“Biodiversity protection requires a concerted effort by various sectors working together long-term to make the BNG process a success.”