Leading article: How to meet the demand for new homes the green way

Share

All housing development within a 300-square-mile area to the west of Greater London has ground to a halt. Since last October, the construction of thousands of new homes across the counties of Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey has been on indefinite hold. This follows a ruling last autumn by English Nature, the Government's wildlife protection agency, that all house building within five kilometres of the Thames Basin heathlands should put on hold for the good of three species of rare bird that inhabit the area.

The reaction of developers has been less than understanding. Why, some have demanded, should building work be held up for the sake of a few wild birds? The answer is obvious to anyone who has visited the heathlands. This is not just some anonymous, over-cultivated corner of rural England. The lowland heaths - covered by heather, gorse bushes and silver birch trees - have a rare, wild beauty. They are also home to a rich array of birdlife. The nightjars, woodlarks, and Dartford warblers, which English Nature has moved to protect, are the ecological jewel in the area's crown. These heathlands are part of Britain's natural heritage, and English Nature is right to put a priority on their survival.

This is no overreaction. As Jim Knight, the Environment minister, has pointed out, this EU Special Protection Area already has more urban development around it than any other SPA in Europe. It is at serious risk of being swallowed up by the growth of residential developments in the South-east. The environmental impact of new housing should not be underestimated either. Studies have shown that the dog walkers and domestic cats that spill out of residential estates have a devastating effect on the heath's rare bird population (which nest on the ground, or in low bushes). Simply put: more houses in the area will mean more harmful visitors, of both the animal and human variety.

This battle between the push to develop and the need to protect our natural environment is likely to be the first skirmish in a long war. Some 580,000 new homes are to be built in the South-east over the next 20 years. More friction between environmentalists and developers is inevitable as this ambitious programme proceeds.

We would argue that some additional building is necessary. The rate of house building in the UK is at its lowest level since the 1920s. Many workers, and not just in the public sector, find themselves priced out of the market in the South. In the long term it would be preferable for the Government to encourage people to move to the rest of country, where housing tends to be cheaper and more plentiful, to take the pressure off the region. But in the short term the Government has little choice but to cater for the demand for more housing in the areas around London.

This need not be ecologically disastrous. Not all the green-belt land that has been earmarked for residential development is as valuable as the Thames Basin heaths. And in the case of the heaths, English Nature is in the process of devising a reasonable compromise. House builders will be asked to develop new public spaces alongside any land developed at the edge of the heath. This will provide alternative places for recreation, so as to minimise the effect on the heath itself. This is an environmental equivalent of requiring developers to build a quota of social housing on any new private development. Local authorities and developers should seize upon it as the sustainable way forward. Let us hope that this becomes a model for future green development; we will certainly need one in the coming years.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: pours or pores, pulverised, ‘in preference for’ and lists

Guy Keleny
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect