A unique site in Havant has been visited by Environment Minister Rebecca Pow after its borough council became the first local authority in the country to enable regeneration and redevelopment through the novel solution of creating a nature reserve.
When local housebuilding was put on hold because of warnings about nitrates polluting the sea, Havant Borough Council decided to innovate by purchasing a farm which will be transformed into a haven for overwintering waders and brent geese – and will be run at no cost to the council or its residents.
The coastal site is set to enhance the borough’s internationally important coastline, and also help mitigate against rising nutrient levels across the area.
Nutrient levels, which can harm coastal feeding grounds, have recently had an impact on planning applications for new homes along the Solent coastline. However, Havant Borough Council has worked closely with Natural England to develop an innovative solution, with this novel approach allowing new developments to calculate their nutrient levels and access a cost-effective scheme to offset their impact.
As this is an easy-to-use offset mechanism, it means that the area will be able to deliver much-needed development and regeneration.
The council’s new nature reserve – which totals 148 acres (or 60 hectares) - will be able to be run at no cost to the council or its residents because what is paid to offset the development will be used to maintain and enhance the reserve.
The scheme removes both an agricultural site from adding to nutrient levels while allowing developers to maintain the site through paying for their smaller nutrient addition. Additionally, the nature reserve will provide a new and welcome amenity to residents and visitors and help ensure the borough’s long-term prosperity.
“I am thrilled to announce this funding which uses nature-based solutions to alleviate the housing pressure in the local area,” Pow, the MP for Taunton Deane since May 2015, said on a visit to Warblington Farm. “Not only will this innovative scheme unlock thousands of much-needed homes for the local area, but it will provide habitat rich areas for wildlife in a true win-win.”
She added: “As the nation recovers from coronavirus, it’s more vital than ever that we build-back greener, and this project will also help people to connect with nature by providing more green spaces for them to enjoy.”
Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, said “This is a beautiful part of Hampshire, rich with wetlands, coastal inlets and shingle beaches, and it’s no wonder that more people wish to live in the area, creating demand for new homes. More people does, however, mean more nitrogen getting into the environment, and this is causing the growth of green algae ‘mats’ in the Solent, affecting protected habitats and wildlife along the south coast. This innovative new scheme that Natural England has helped design will not only help nature’s recovery in the area, but also address the historic demand for new housing around the Solent.”
He said it is but one example of ‘how it is possible to find solutions to apparently intractable challenges, and to fund them’, meaning more homes can be built while at the same time protecting and enhancing the rich and varied wildlife of a unique area.
“It also reveals how it is possible to harness regulation in a positive way, to create incentives for the recovery of the local natural environment, in turn benefiting people living in the area,” he added.
Solent LEP Business Director, SJ Hunt, said: “The project at Warblington Farm, in which the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has invested £225,000, is an excellent addition to the Solent Recreation Mitigation Project, which has developed and improved strategic green areas across the region.
“In addition, these valuable local areas bring green spaces closer to the Solent community, providing countless health and wellbeing benefits, and reducing the need to travel further to reach other beauty spots.”
Councillor Michael Wilson, the Leader of Havant Borough Council, also commented on the development: “I am delighted that our pioneering approach sees us as the first local authority in the country to tackle this issue head-on,” he said.
“Our innovative and original solution not only helps secure the long-term prosperity of our area - it will also create a nature reserve which will be a haven for wildlife and birds.”
He said the borough had worked ‘extremely hard' to find a way to protect ‘our cherished environment’ while ensuring the vital investment and development the borough needs can take place.
“By working so closely with our partners we have found a radical solution to what seemed, at first, to be a complex challenge,” he concluded. “I’m proud to say our borough is very much open for business!”
As environmental issues persist and new ones arise, and as the demand for green, sustainable homes continues to grow, it’s certainly possible that many other developments across the country will have to take similar pioneering action to Havant Borough Council – to ensure the right level of supply is provided, but not at the cost to the environment.
There has been a growing trend for green property in recent years – from carbon-neutral modular housebuilders to various eco-friendly tie-ups, partnerships and initiatives.
The government also recently announced the £2 billion Green Homes Grant, which launches at the end of this month and could help investors and landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.