For too long the housebuilding debate has focussed on pure numbers, both nationally and locally. The Government has committed to building a further 2 million homes by 2022 - swallowing an area twice the size of Portsmouth every year. These towering targets are then passed on to local councils to accommodate within their Local Plans.
While new homes are needed, by focusing narrowly on housing numbers, we miss the wider goal of building sustainable communities, investing in green infrastructure and creating much needed places that are good for nature and people. This poses a big threat to our wildlife - over the past century we have lost natural habitats on an unprecedented scale. And our lives and communities are poorer for it.
We’re calling on the government and local authorities to put nature at the heart of planning and focus on building beautiful, nature-friendly communities in the right places. With good design the costs of protecting nature are tiny relative to the overall costs (and profits) of a housing development, but offer huge public benefits and a significant investment for the future.
There are some simple ways to do this. We can insist that all developments offer ‘net gain’ for wildlife and give more to nature than they take, creating new spaces for wildlife as they create new spaces for people. We could prioritise housing in locations that are already well served by infrastructure and avoid destroying places that are valuable to wildlife. We can demand higher standards, including wildlife-rich green spaces, roofs and buildings at the heart of our communities.
Wildlife Trusts up and down the country already work with the Government, local councils and developers to try and make sure that proposed development benefits wildlife and people alike. We’ve had some real successes here in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, including one of our newest nature reserves, Barton Meadows near Winchester.
Barton Meadows comes as a result of the development of 2,000 homes at Barton Farm. Through working closely with Winchester City Council for several years, we helped the developers provide a way of diverting new recreational pressure away from more sensitive wildlife-rich habitats, and pushed an ambitious vision for a new space for wildlife and people on their land.
What was a patch of arable land will become instead a flower-rich grassland buzzing with bees and butterflies – a new wildlife haven and a great asset for the surrounding community. Barton Meadows nature reserve has led to an overall increase in good quality habitat for important species like skylark and yellowhammer, and crucially it’s now safeguarded from future development.
Our report being published this week sets out a clear path towards homes for people and wildlife. Your local Wildlife Trust will continue to push government and developers to ensure that developments like Barton Meadows really do become the new norm.