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

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions