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Covid-19 – why future developments must prioritise green space

Local plans across the country for new housing developments and schemes must prioritise access to green space for the long-term benefit of human mental and physical wellbeing, according to a leading independent ecology consultancy.

Essential social distancing measures introduced to offset and alleviate the effects of Covid-19 have highlighted the critical importance of quality green spaces within housing developments, Ecological Planning & Research Ltd (EPR) claim.

Time spent in green and blue spaces has long been known to improve human wellbeing. People living in greener areas suffer notably lower levels of mental distress than those with limited access to green space, a Public Health England report into improving access to green spaces previously found. 

Consequently, the difference between the experiences of living through the coronavirus lockdown in areas with poor provision of green space - 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 priceless’.

“The limitations imposed by the Covid-19 lockdown have brought to the forefront the need to be clever about improving access and creating pockets of green space to protect our wellbeing, and that of the wildlife we are welcoming back to our streets, parks, and gardens,” Ben Kite, managing director of EPR, said.

“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.”   

He said 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,” Kite added.

To support housebuilders in building quality biodiversity enhancements into their projects, EPR has published ‘Building Biodiversity Net Gain into Housing’.

The report, the first in a series addressing Biodiversity Net Gain requirements across all aspects of development in England, sets out the strategic approach developers can take to increase biodiversity both on and off site, in turn improving spaces for both wildlife and people whilst increasing the value of England’s housing stock.

The report is available to download here: www.buildingbiodiversity.co.uk.

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