Last December, Michael Gove announced proposals to enforce biodiversity net gain at new housing schemes. This would essentially require natural environments to be left in a better state than they were found by developers.
The consultation on the plans closed on Sunday and I hope it will produce a host of positive outcomes. The environmental benefits are clear, but that’s not
the only reason we believe this should become mandatory at all future new developments. For Berkeley, it goes much further than protecting and enhancing habitats and wildlife – which is why it’s been a business commitment of ours since 2016.
Working with experts like the London Wildlife Trust, with whom we have partnered at Kidbrooke Village in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, enables developers not only to create more integrated habitats, they can encourage communities to grow through greater interaction with nature.
It’s particularly important for developments the size of Kidbrooke Village – 4,800 homes set within almost 140 acres of green space and parkland – that housebuilders prioritise not just the bricks and mortar, but the spaces in between. Delivering biodiversity through well-designed open areas that respond to the local context and inherent character of a site, should be recognised for its role in creating healthy vibrant communities and supporting the wellbeing of residents.
We’ve worked hard to make a positive contribution to nature in what once was an unloved and uninspiring urban setting. This has meant creating a patchwork of new habitats with diverse planting to allow nature, flora and fauna to flourish. Effectively creating wilderness in the city, it allows children to explore and play with abandon, not stifled by manicured lawns that are inhospitable to kids running around, or indeed, much wildlife. We’re all aware that loneliness in London is an issue, and our focus has been on creating areas like play spaces and community meeting points and walkways that bring people together and encourage natural interactions.
We need people to understand and support these changes so that they are sustainable and long-lasting.
Developers are in the perfect position to educate through biodiversity and there are several ways to do it; we run volunteering days, hold nature walks and talks, and get kids involved in spotting and counting native wildlife. All of this means that everyone is invested in protecting and enhancing the environment on their doorstep, and the hope is they will take this ethos beyond our boundaries.
Enforcing biodiversity net gains puts the environment at the heart of planning and development and we believe this must be supported. No one can, or should, argue against the principle that we must all leave our environment and our wildlife in better shape than we found it. But if it does become policy, what it should not mean is doing the bare minimum to reach environmental targets.