Essential social distancing measures implemented to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 have highlighted the critical importance of quality green spaces within housing developments. This is according to leading independent ecology consultancy Ecological Planning & Research Ltd (EPR).
Time spent in green and blue spaces has long been understood to improve human wellbeing, with people living in greener areas suffering notably lower levels of mental distress than those with limited access to green space. As such, the contrast between experiences of living through Covid-19 lockdown in areas with poor greenspace provision, such as high-density urban areas or rural areas that are comprised of privately owned farmland with no public access, compared to living in communities with public access to green open space, makes it clearer than ever before that green space is invaluable.
Ben Kite, Managing Director of EPR, said: “The limitations imposed by Covid-19 lockdown have brought to the forefront the need to be clever about improving access and creating pockets of greenspace to protect our wellbeing, and that of the wildlife we are welcoming back to our streets, parks, and gardens.
“Revising Local Plans to place greater emphasis on the provision of green and blue infrastructure, sustainable travel, and high-quality open spaces will not be easy – particularly in built-up high density areas where there is a real need to create green space – but this is no reason not to try. Allocations for new residential development should be seen not as being in competition with the need for green open space provision, but as an opportunity for such provision to be delivered.
“The wheels have already been set in motion for the creation and improvement of green space in England with the biodiversity net gain requirements set out in the emerging Environment Bill. The Bill will mandate for residential, commercial, and infrastructure developers to demonstrate that biodiversity has been enhanced through all new projects – but I believe that we can do more to build more resilient, greener communities by bringing green space to the top of the agenda in every new Local Plan.”
To support housebuilders in building quality biodiversity enhancements into their projects, EPR has published ‘Building Biodiversity Net Gain into Housing’. The report, first in a series addressing Biodiversity Net Gain requirements across all aspects of development in England, outlines the strategic approach developers can take to increase biodiversity both on and off site, improving spaces for both wildlife and people whilst increasing the value of the countries housing stock. The report is available to download here: www.buildingbiodiversity.co.uk
1 Balfour, R. and Allen, J. (2014), ‘Local action on health inequalities: Improving access to green spaces’, Health Equity Evidence Review 8: September 2014, Public Health England