Rare newts ‘planted’ at development sites to stop the bulldozers

Please read on – that’s an old news story run by the Daily Telegraph in 2016, which referred to the “well-known trick of objectors using newts to delay the construction of badly needed housing.”

The Housing White Paper, published this week, specifically refers to ‘excessive bureaucracy in protecting species like great crested newts’ as a critical factor in slowing down the building of new homes, and there is no doubting the very real frustration experienced by developers when unforeseen ecological site constraints cause costly delays to project delivery.

There are other site constraints however, and whilst the presence of protected species and habitats is certainly a material consideration for timely site delivery, is it really sensible to give equal weight to ecology baseline conditions as that given to problems like lack of local planning authority capacity to handle applications, too many applications going to appeal, the time taken to discharge planning conditions or address planning obligations, lack of infrastructure, difficulties securing the necessary utility connections and construction skills shortages?

Most professional ecologists have long acknowledged the need for rationalisation and better resourcing of UK protected species licensing systems, which is now beginning to emerge. But the need for species licensing affects only a small proportion of development, and there are measures that planning authorities and developers can put in place to avoid those ‘unforeseen’ ecological constraints to development which cause the most costly impediments to housing delivery.

Understanding the site

High quality information from the earliest stages of development is critical to timely delivery.  If a developer knows at the time of promoting a site, or considering taking forward an allocation, that bats or great crested newts are present in the area, the risks to programme and costs can be ascertained early on, before significant resources are invested in the site.

Landmark prepares well planned strategic and site feasibility assessments for a number of clients (who interestingly are not those now calling for loss of protected status for wildlife following Britain’s exit from the European Union). These reports include the same level of detail of environmental constraints and opportunities as that afforded to early assessment of other critical technical issues, such as infrastructure availability and costs.  The outcome is that there are rarely nasty surprises of significant species constraints appearing on site at a critical phase of delivery. It may be that knowing about significant ecology constraints informs a commercial decision not to pursue the site further.  Much more often, knowledge of the constraint informs programmes and budgets for further work to enable timely delivery of the site, with intelligent ways of overcoming site constraints and delivering opportunities embedded in scheme design.

It’s all in the planning.  On that point, please read this month’s reminder that the 2017 ecology survey season is fast approaching.

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