By Kevin Heath
While planning reforms have to be welcomed in order to get Britain building again there is a glaring gap in ensuring that wildlife is fully protected. Urban wildlife and urban wildlife habitats are clearly to be sacrificed as the government cowers to the rural NIMBY’s. There a few options for city-dwellers to enjoy a piece of nature locally and the new planning guidance does nothing to ensure what little there is is adequately protected.
While the new guidance says that brownfield sites of high biodiversity value should not be built on there is no definition or benchmark as to what a high biodiversity brownfield site is. The planning guidance is also quite clear that brownfield sites – usually to be in densely populated areas – should be built on and low-grade green fields which are effectively green deserts, lifeless and barely able to support a worm let alone a wide and vibrant wildlife population, should be protected.
Brownfield sites can be an oasis of life in a heavily populated areas and are essential green spaces for people as well as wildlife. What should have happened is that if a brownfield site was marked for development and found to be a highly bio-diverse site then a fast track method of moving the planning permission from the high quality brownfield site to a low-grade green field site should have been put in place.
Bio-diversity offsetting of brownfield sites is not really a solution. Moving species from one habitat to another does not guarantee the survival of the species and it does not help local residents – many of whom are denied gardens because of housing density – enjoy a piece of green space and an opportunity to connect with nature.
By cowering down in front of the rural NIMBY’s the government has given up on a chance to both boost wildlife and help move towards greener cities which are nicer and healthier places to live.
By offering a fast track method of moving planning permission – particularly housing – from high biodiversity brownfield sites to low quality green field sites the government would not just have protected wildlife in the towns and cities but also boost wildlife in the rural area. Gardens are some of our most productive wildlife habitats and replacing low-quality green fields with housing estates and gardens then there would have been a net improvement of wildlife in those areas.
It is important not to forget just how valuable brownfield sites can be for wildlife. Studies have shown that some of these sites can be as important as ancient woodlands. A high-quality brownfield site can support as many species as woodlands. The most bio-diverse site in the UK – West Thurrock Marsh – is a brownfield site having once been home to a power station.
Discussions on where developments are to go should be based on scientific evidence and ecological value not on whether somewhere looks green and rural or not. By bowing down in the face of a vocal minority who have no understanding of ecology and science but a high understanding of emotions and fundraising the government has missed out on a chance to set in place a planning regime which would oversee nett gains in wildlife habitat which would benefit both wildlife and people.
The new planning guidance, published yesterday, instead of setting forward new exciting ways of benefiting both wildlife and people has instead cemented the policy of a lifeless, grey, drab, urban environment and a lifeless, green. desert rural environment.