Why and how to build nature-friendly housing developments
‘Homes for people and wildlife - how to build housing in a nature-friendly way’ is published at a time when the Government has recently committed to building a further 300,000 homes a year until 2022. This means that about 36 square miles will be given over to new housing developments annually.*
The Wildlife Trusts believe that the natural environment must be put at the heart of planning in order to give the government a chance of meeting its commitment to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it, and to build new homes and communities that people enjoy living in.
Rachel Hackett, Living Landscapes Development Manager for The Wildlife Trusts says: “A huge challenge lies ahead – thousands of new houses are to be built yet we need to restore the natural world. We’re calling on the government and local authorities to build beautiful, nature-friendly communities in the right places. Over the past century we have lost natural habitats on an unprecedented scale. Yet nature has its own innate value. It also makes us happy and we depend on the things that it gives us. Our new guidelines show that it’s possible to have both, so people can enjoy birdsong, reap the benefits of raingardens which soak up floodwater, and plants that bees and other pollinators need to survive. With good design the costs of doing this are a tiny proportion of the overall cost of a housing development, but represent a big investment for the future.”
The Wildlife Trusts are calling for the current focus on numbers of new homes to be replaced by a visionary approach to where and how we build.
Rachel Hackett continues: “We should prioritise places for new housing that are already well served by infrastructure. We should avoid destroying wildlife sites and locate new houses in places where it can help to restore the landscape and aid natural recovery. It’s possible to create nature-friendly housing by planting wildlife-rich community green spaces, walkways, gardens, verges, roofs, wetlands and other natural features. These gains for wildlife improve people’s health and quality of life too.”
The Wildlife Trusts’ blueprint for new nature-friendly homes highlights the myriad of social, environmental and economic benefits of this approach:
- Benefits for wildlife – better protection for wildlife sites, more space for wildlife, improved connectivity and buildings that are more wildlife-friendly
- Benefits for residents – daily contact with nature, improved health, protection against climate extremes, safer transport routes, good sense of community
- Benefits for the economy and wider society – cost-effective environmental protection, employment, space to grow local food, healthier and happier communities putting less pressure on health and social services
- Benefits for developers – satisfied customers, market value, enhanced brand, improved recruitment, improved environmental ranking
Every year Wildlife Trusts work to influence local authority planners and respond to planning applications to benefit wildlife and people alike. We also work in partnership with developers to influence the landscape design in and around new developments.
Regionally, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust comments on over 400 planning applications a year, a third of which are housing developments.
Lauren Garside, Conservation Planning Officer at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, explains the benefits derived from planning with the natural environment in mind: “Putting nature at the heart of housing developments can deliver key outcomes not only for our wild species but also for future residents through increased health and wellbeing. It is well documented that simply being in green spaces and seeing wildlife can benefit all through decreased stress levels and increased levels of physical activity.
“As such it can also be an important win for developers – making the homes a much more attractive proposition to buyers. We are keen to work with house builders at a very early stage in their plans so that we can make suggestions of how nature can be included in their developments.”
Read the full report here: ‘Homes for people and wildlife - how to build housing in a nature-friendly way’
*This figure is based on an average density of 32 residential addresses per hectare as per DCLG’s Land Use Change Statistics in England: 2015-16 . This is an average figure for 2015-16 with greater densities on previously developed land than non-previously developed land and even lower densities on Green Belt. Every 300,000 homes built would require on average 9375 hectares of land. 9375 hectares = 93.75 km2. NB There can be annual fluctuations in the density figures so this is an average for 2015-16 (eg 2013-14 the average density was 32, but in 2014-15 the average density was 31). We can’t assume that the whole hectare is built on - the density is calculated by the number of new and existing properties within a hectare square.