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News in brief: Leeds to plant trees across the city; Conservationists refute PM’s newt-counting claim

Words: Laura Edgar
Tree planting / Shutterstock_580933222

A round-up of planning news: Tuesday 7 July, 2020

Leeds to plant trees across the city

Leeds City Council has launched a scheme that aims to plant 5.8 million trees in the city over the next 25 years.

The scheme forms part of the city’s programme to make Leeds carbon-neutral by 2030, set out after it declared a climate emergency in March 2019.

The first saplings will be planted this winter. To facilitate the planting of these new trees, 50 hectares of land will be brought forward each year for woodland creation. More than 100 hectares of publicly owned land has already been identified as potentially suitable.

Children, schools and families will be able to get involved with the tree-planting process. Residents can collect seeds of trees from their local parks and woodlands to be grown into saplings at The Arium, the council’s parks nursery. 

These saplings will then be planted to grow into trees of local provenance in the city’s new woodlands.

Trees planted as part of this project will also count towards the White Rose Forest, a joint local authority venture to double tree cover across the Leeds City Region by 2050.


West Midlands to retrofit 50,000 homes

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has set out plans to retrofit 50,000 homes across the West Midlands by the end of 2022 to help tackle fuel poverty.

As part of the region’s £3.2 billion investment blueprint submitted to the government, the combined authority is hoping to secure £50 million for its retrofitting programme. 

The programme would target older homes that have low energy efficiency and cause households to pay more than others on their energy bills. Work would include insulating walls and double or triple-glazing windowpanes.

It is part of the WMCA’s #WM2041 programme, which sets out how the West Midlands aims to become carbon-neutral no later than 2041.


Conservationists refute PM’s newt-counting claim

The RSPB has refuted Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claims that newts are responsible for the slow delivery of new housing and construction projects.

In a speech last week (30 June), he attributed the reasons for why the country is “so slow at building homes” compared with Europe to “the newt-counting delays in our system [which] are a massive drag on the productivity and the prosperity of this country”.

The RSPB noted: “According to official statistics published in the Natura 2000 Barometer, in the UK less than 9 per cent of our land is protected, compared to over 15 per cent of Germany and around 13 per cent of both France and the Netherlands.”

The conservation charity noted Sir Oliver Letwin’s review of housebuilding rates, which was commissioned by the government. It concluded that developers releasing a limited number of homes for sale at any one time slows down the current system. The review also noted a lack of variety in the types of homes being built.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s director for conservation said: “We are absolutely right to compare ourselves with other European nations, but not for the reasons the prime minster thinks. On the continent other countries are able to support their homebuilders and construction work without compromising their environmental standards.

“It sounds ridiculous to blame newts for the problems of our housing market, and that is because it is. This view is not consistent with the government’s 25-year plan for the environment, it is not consistent with wanting to establish world-leading environmental standards and it is not even consistent with the government’s own independent report on why the UK is slow at building new homes.”

Harper said it is “time to look at how developers can work in harmony with nature, to make assets of streams, pools and woodland and the amazing species that rely on these important habitats”. 

“And, of course, protecting those species like the great crested newt that, by the government’s own assessment, is in decline.”


London council buys 80 homes for local families

Havering Council has jointly completed a purchase of 82 new homes in Romford. The purchase is intended to help to tackle the shortage of family-sized homes.

The new homes, part of the Hollybrook Development on Crow Lane, were bought by a joint venture partnership between Mercury Land Holdings and the council and range from one-bedroom apartments to a large number of four-bedroom family homes.

As part of the purchase, 38 properties (33 four-bedroom and five three-bedroom homes) will be used as affordable housing for bigger families to reduce levels of overcrowding in the borough. The remainder will be used for the private rented market, managed by Mercury Land Holdings.

The properties are expected to all be available by autumn 2020, with the first properties available in July.


Shinfield green space to be extended

The University of Reading’s plans to double the size of Langley Mead SANG have been approved.

Langley Mead is currently just over 18 hectares located along the banks of the River Loddon, south-east of Shinfield. The extension will double the area of green space available to local people.

The university worked with ecological planning consultancy EPR Ltd to secure approval for the extension to this Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG).

Langley Mead was opened to the public in 2015.

Initial work will involve translocating green hay from Langley Mead’s existing wildflower meadows, plant hedgerows, and create wetland features.


A500 widening project finishes

Highways England has completed work to widen the A500 in North Staffordshire ahead of schedule.

The £17.5 million Highways England project is intended to reduce traffic jams on the road between Porthill (A5271) and Wolstanton (A527).

Three lanes of traffic now run in each direction, widened from two.

Work was expected to be completed this autumn after beginning in February 2019. Reduced traffic during the coronavirus lockdown enabled work to be carried out on the central reservation during the daytime rather than overnight, which meant there was a longer working window.


National park endorses Dark Sky Reserve bid

Members of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s board have endorsed an application for International Dark Sky Reserve status.

This follows research suggesting that the quality of the dark sky in the Dales was “exceptional”.

The annual general meeting heard that more than 400 light measurements had been taken at night across 290 locations in the national park from late 2018 through to early spring 2020. 

More than 100 locations had readings of 21.2mpas (magnitudes per square arcsecond) or more, which is the minimum requirement for a Dark Sky Reserve. 

The board agreed that the core area of the Dark Sky Reserve could comprise a large arc of land around but not including Hawes, taking in the upper ends of Swaledale, Rawthey Valley, Garsdale, Littondale and Wharfedale.

The core area would cover 30 per cent of the national park.

A Light Management Plan was also adopted by the board. It contains principles on external lighting that will be included in the next local plan. 


Legal & General sets out net-zero carbon commitment

Legal & General has announced that it will make all of its new housing stock net-zero carbon by 2030.

The move will be implemented in a phased approach across all homes invested in or built by Legal & General Group, including build to rent, build to sell, later living and affordable housing.

The housebuilder said net-zero carbon would be achieved on all its new homes through a combination of improved thermal building fabric and the use of environmental control systems, including low and zero-carbon technologies. 


Plans submitted for South Kensington Tube station

Native Land and Transport for London (TfL) have submitted plans to “repair and enhance” South Kensington’s Tube station grade II-listed buildings and the surrounding streets.

Designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, the proposals include 50 new homes, of which 35 per cent would be affordable, workspace, shops and step-free access to the Circle and District Tube lines.

They were put together following consultation with local residents and other key stakeholders, including three public exhibitions and five pop-up stalls at the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Imperial College London and the South Kensington Station subway.

Native Land was selected by TfL as its development partner in 2018.

Image credit | Shutterstock