Ian Parsons spent twenty years working as a Ranger with the Forestry Commission, where he not only worked with birds of prey and dormice, but where he developed his passion for trees. Now a freelance writer, Ian runs his own specialist bird tour company leading tours to Extremadura. For more details see www.griffonholidays.com
This is Ian’s sixth Guest Blog here and you can access all the others through the Guest Blog Archive – click here.
Ian’s book, A Tree Miscellany, was reviewed here.
Building Regulations. Not exactly a phrase to set the pulse racing is it? Yet, recently, I have been thinking quite a bit about them. Building regulations, according to the planning portal website, are “minimum standards for design, construction and alterations to virtually every building”. If you are building a new house, everything you do in the design and construction of the property has to meet the current building regulations. That makes them quite important.
We keep getting told that we need to build more houses in Britain, the latest figures released before the last election stated that we needed to build 5.3 million new homes in the next 25 years. That is a hell of a lot of houses and a hell of a lot of development. Every single one of these 5,300,000 houses is going to have its construction governed by building regulations and in my mind that makes building regulations a potentially very important tool in helping mitigate the impact that these houses will have on wildlife and the wider environment.
For several decades now, the environmental NGO’s such as the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts have studied and used the planning system for the benefit of our wildlife, but, and I may be wrong here, they haven’t done so with the building regulations. Now I know that some of the planning decisions influenced by the environmental NGO’s (and others) have included modifying how a building is constructed so that wildlife benefits (the inclusion of swift boxes in some developments for example), but these planning decisions only relate to the individual developments in question, whilst the building regulations relate to every single one of the buildings that are to be built in the future.
The RSPB recently worked with Barratt Homes on a large development in Kingsbrook near Aylesbury, in this development of nearly 2,500 homes, schools and community facilities, some 900 specially designed Swift bricks were to be installed. Swift bricks are basically Swift nesting boxes and are incorporated unobtrusively into the design and structure of the building. They don’t have any negative effect on the building, but they potentially have a very positive effect on Swifts. What the RSPB, Barratt Homes and Manthorpe Building Products (they developed the bricks) have done here is brilliant and should be widely applauded.
But that is just one site and it places no obligation on any other development by any other developer to follow suit. A change to the building regulations would though. If the building regulations were changed to include the installation of Swift bricks in houses on (for example) developments of over 50 houses or more, imagine how many new Swift nesting sites it would create.
I don’t know the history of Kingsbrook, but I would guess that the inclusion of the Swift bricks came about as a result of the RSPB using the planning process for the benefit of the Swifts. Getting involved in a planning decision is very time consuming and potentially very costly, especially if you do so for every single planning permission for new housing and development. Create a new building regulation though and that is all you have to do, because every new building built after that will have to follow it. There would be no need for new partnerships between NGO’s and developers (although these are a good thing), no need for lengthy meetings; it would just have to happen.
The inclusion of a Swift brick would be no more of an issue to the developer than the inclusion of insulation in the external walls; it would be just another piece of the jigsaw that is building new houses. The costs would be negligible, as shown in this quote from a press release about Kingsbrook by one of the directors of Manthorpe Building Products “The product is already gaining a lot of interest and due to its ease of fitting and competitive price, builders are able to incorporate this product into their new homes with no disruption to the build and no need to incorporate any design changes to existing house types.”
So far I have focused on Swifts, but there are many other species that building regulations could be changed to help. Bat species are an obvious one, as are Swallows and House Martins, what about Owl boxes being part of any new agricultural building or industrial unit and likewise boxes for Kestrels too. The more I think about it, the more species that I come up with that could potentially benefit from a wildlife friendly building regulation or regulations. This is not the place to list them though; this is the place to plant the seed for a change.
In the past I have thought that adapting building regulations for the benefit of wildlife is a bit too utopian, a bit pie in the sky of me, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that, actually, it is something that can be done. So, how do you create a building regulation?
Well according to the planning portal website, “They are developed by the government and approved by parliament”. Now, the current government have come in for a fair bit of stick over wildlife and the environment (quite often on this website!), but after the election there are some faint signs of improvement – Michael Gove’s first speech for example – so maybe, just maybe, the government could look at this when it comes to the next review of building regulations.
The Minister of State for Housing and Planning has building regulations as part of their remit, so it would be great to hear their thoughts on this. The minister is Alok Sharma, the MP for Reading West, who seems to be a good person from what I have read so far. Alok uses Twitter @AlokSharma_RDG and I will be tweeting him about this blog once it is published, it would be great if you could too. If you are reading this Minister, it would be great to know your views – I appreciate that this blog is just a rough sketch of my thoughts at the moment, but hopefully you can see the general idea. Could we build (excuse the pun) wildlife into the next set of building regulations?
A silly idea? A good idea? Am I being utopian in my thoughts? Or is this something that could work? It will be interesting to hear people’s comments on this.