According to a WWF report, global wildlife population sizes have declined by 60% in less than 50 years, and in the UK alone, over 1,000 species are at risk of extinction.
In light of this, Development Finance Today asked industry experts their views on Brokenshire’s latest announcement and its possible impact on both wildlife and the development sector.
Are the new government expectations achievable and sustainable?
Robert Collins, co-founder at Sirius Property Finance, stated that while the idea was necessary, there were still doubts regarding how successful the initiative would be.
“I think that the basic premise is that developers need to identify and safeguard local wildlife habitats and wider ecological networks — I don’t think that anyone would dispute that this is a good idea and that developments should be as eco-friendly as possible.
“Whether this can be made into a long-term workable solution while we are also trying to provide more homes as part of the overall housing market remains to be seen.”
The government has maintained its commitment to providing more housing across the UK and plans to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
Michelle Lowe, founding director at Redshell Consulting, described the government’s aims as achievable and sustainable.
“The new directions as presented by [the former] communities secretary aren’t entirely new or groundbreaking,” said Michelle.
“Developers and planners alike have been directed towards more environmentally conscious developments for the past 15 years or so, with the regular introduction of swales [marshland], SuDs [sustainable drainage systems], public open spaces and bird and bat boxes etc, particularly on larger or regeneration schemes, quite commonplace.”
Despite agreeing that the government’s expectations were achievable and sustainable, Adele Turton, director at Sirius Property Finance, felt unsure whether everyone would “buy in”.
“Margins aren’t as high as most people would like to think on development, so to add in further costs could essentially push prices up.
“However, with shorter build times using quicker methods, that could counteract it, [but] I do think they will require some tweaking, as with all new methods.”
Paul Ellis, chief executive at Ecology Building Society — which provides mortgages for properties and projects that respect the environment and support sustainable communities — said that while the government’s guidance was welcome, developers needed “certainty”.
“…[It’s] disappointing when measures appear and disappear from the policy corpus,” he said.
“We know that people value wildlife and that a flourishing natural environment is essential for human wellbeing; by incorporating ecologically sound measures into their planning, housebuilders can vastly improve the desirability and longevity of the homes and communities that they’re responsible for creating.”
Will this incur extra expense?
Tony Smith, managing director at alternative business finance platform Business Expert, believed that Brokenshire’s announcement was both “timely and pertinent”.
“Building in a responsible and eco-friendly way is certainly going to raise the project costs, but other sectors are already demonstrating that consumers are now prioritising making ethical decisions, even if it costs them more.”
By contrast, Michelle stated that the additional measures posed “no real cost increase”.
“The real cost effect that I can see will come down to densities of developments,” she added.
“Guidelines for public open space, green areas and green infrastructure areas will reduce the density available, particularly in inner-city schemes.
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“Integrated designs bringing ‘green' within the build will become more commonplace.”
Michelle believed that these measures would “surely enhance the value [of the build]”.
“A better, more sustainable built environment [will be] both good for society, and the environment will make for a brighter world.”
Robert also supported this idea, stating: “Society is becoming increasingly aware of ‘green’ issues and I am sure that certain buyers will pay a premium for houses that have good green credentials.”
Are developers more likely to get sales as a result of homes being more eco-friendly?
Adele was unsure whether sustainably-built housing would “automatically” guarantee more sales.
“I would like to think so as the general public are becoming more conscious of our impact on the planet —how quickly they catch on, though, is another matter.”
She explained that, in the beginning, the cost would have to be borne by the developer with a hope that it would result in higher prices than before.
“…There have been many benefits to using these methods in addition to the reduced impact we have on the environment.
“The build time is cut down by two-thirds in some cases, therefore, saving on costs.
“Additional support can sometimes also be obtained by way of government grants and the only push back has been from lenders not being completely onboard.”
When asked how build times were being cut down, Adele stated that the new methods were “much quicker” than conventional construction and the materials were also “much more efficient.”
“Part of the build may be constructed off-site and then brought in and almost slotted into place, similar to modular builds.”
Daniel Norman, co-founder and CEO at aprao, felt that the next generation of homebuyers were significantly more conscious of their impact on the environment.
“This will 100% start to make homes with a reduced impact on the environment more desirable,” said Daniel.
“All we need to do is draw parallels from the motor industry and the rise of electric vehicles, increasing efficiency and a spotlight on the environmental impact, not just of the emissions, but the entire supply chain and disposal at the end of the vehicles life.”
Have there been any interesting developments recently which have utilised some of these wildlife protections?
Daniel claimed that aprao was seeing an “increasing” number of developments that minimised the loss of planted areas.
Michelle added: “The use of sustainable storm water drainage solutions, creating swales and wildlife spots is quite commonplace already."
Michelle previously worked as a cost manager on new town development scheme, Manydown, in Basingstoke.
The proposed properties for the scheme — which is still currently in the planning process for phase one — are expected to sell at a premium due to the project’s “green and open environment”.
“The new town development of Manydown in Basingstoke will also incorporate much of the green space requirements as noted, with green links criss-crossing the 10,000-hectare scheme.”
“A public park, play parks and natural woodland will all be maintained as part of the new development, along with 10,000 new homes.”
Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and Hampshire County Council have also revealed that the planning application details the additions of new community facilities, schools and a new 250-acre country park.
On Manydown’s website, councillor John Izett, cabinet member for Manydown, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, said: “We have a unique opportunity to do something outstanding in the way Manydown is developed — high quality, well planned, well designed and well-built new communities that work and have first class infrastructure — learning from the best examples of new development in this country and abroad.
“I have pledged to do my best to help achieve proposals that will have wide support and deliver housing and other valued amenities.”