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Builders are key to both housing and biodiversity crisis, says report

Words: Laura Edgar
Hedgehogs / Shutterstock_1007540725

Housebuilders have an opportunity to play a fundamental role in improving the environment while they deliver the homes the UK needs – but must get their strategies right to avoid costly delays. 

Research by ecological consultancy Ecological Planning & Research Ltd (EPR) outlines how developers can respond to the biodiversity net gain requirements set out in the forthcoming environment bill in a cost-effective way.

The UK Government aims to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, while the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are all working to increase the number of homes built, including affordable homes. But EPR warns that if this is not handled properly, the level of construction required to meet the targets could cause “significant damage” to wildlife habitats, including the 14 per cent of species facing extinction.

The bill, currently making its way through Parliament, includes a measure to ensure that there is an increase in biodiversity across all new developments. EPR notes that the metrics to be used by developers to measure and monitor biodiversity are built on “generalised assumptions of the importance of habitats [that] do not adequately take into account factors such as the wildlife that rely on them and regional variations in the habitats”.

The consultant explained that these assumptions risk developer resources being channelled into ineffective habitat enhancements that the metrics suggest will improve biodiversity. 

However, they would add “little true value to the environment”.

To maximise the benefits of biodiversity net gain, housebuilders as well as urban designers and masterplanners should work with “skilled ecologists” to guarantee that the results of the metrics are understood. EPR urges ecological input early in the design process.

Ben Kite, managing director and principal ecological consultant at EPR, said: “Over a quarter of mammals in the UK – including much-loved species like the hedgehog, hazel dormouse and water vole – are in danger of extinction. However – if done right – measures taken to achieve the requirements set out in the emerging environment bill will enable developers to enrich the environment and protect these species as they build much-needed new communities. This is a golden opportunity for developers to show that the natural environment can be improved because of new development – not despite it.”

Kite warned that developers risk costly delays if they do not make their schemes compliant with net gain requirements because they would have to start the process again.

“Crucial to avoiding this pitfall will be designing biodiversity enhancements into projects from the earliest stages, not retrofitting them.”

Kite highlighted that 94 per cent of the British public agreed that there is a “moral obligation” to halt biodiversity loss.  

“Consumers have proven that they will vote with their feet on environmental issues, and developers must respond to these expectations through their projects. Those that do so will also benefit from the substantial sales premium that results from well-planned green space near homes.”

Building Biodiversity Net Gain can be downloaded here.

Image credit | Shutterstock