The ultimate objective of all our activities in Hampshire is to increase the number of potential Swift nest sites across the county to the point where numbers of breeding Swifts start to increase again after decades of decline. The number of nest sites lost in Hampshire alone probably runs into thousands over the past 20 years and this loss is still on-going. This puts into context the challenge facing us when considering how to best use our limited resources.
Elsewhere we describe how individual householders and organisations can help by installing Swift nest boxes on their houses, schools and office buildings and this plays a vital role in promoting our activities to the wider public, raising awareness and slowly feeding into the consciousness and, eventually, the activities of local and even national politicians. This is necessarily a slow process as we can only realistically install a finite number of boxes a year and changing hearts and minds takes time.
Unfortunately, time is not on our side. Swift numbers continue to decline across the UK and it is imperative that we create as many potential nest sites as quickly as possible. The best way to do this is to address the problem from as many angles as we can. The different approaches are discussed elsewhere but one of the most important targets, from both a short and long-term perspective and from the huge potential it offers, is the planning system.
The map shows district planning authorities of Hampshire and although it doesn't give the full picture of our planning authorities it illustrates the fragmented nature of planning across the county. If we exclude the Isle of Wight there are actually 16 planning authorities in Hampshire, including Hampshire County Council.
By following the link to Planning in the Our Projects section of the website you can see a summary of the sheer scale of on-going and planned housing development across Hampshire. We, as an organisation and as individuals, can influence how the planning process works in two ways: providing reasoned input into the public consultations leading to adoption of Local Plans and commenting upon planning applications.
Each planning authority has a "Local Plan". This is a huge document which, in essence, summarises how that planning authority intends to comply with central government requirements for the provision of housing, usually over a 20 year period. Local Plans are the planning equivalent of the Forth Road bridge: each time a Plan is approved and adopted, central government has moved the goalposts and the Plan has to be started again. Fortunately the 15 Local Plans we have been keeping an eye on all have different timetables so it is relatively easy to keep on top of the changes as they are opened up for consultation. When reviewing Local Plans our sole aim is to ensure that Swift bricks are "provisioned" in all new houses. Having such a requirement would ensure the installation of thousands of Swift bricks across the county; something which would be very difficult to achieve by any other means. For an overview of the status of Local Plans in Hampshire click here.
Each planning authority also has to review planning applications on an on-going basis. These fall into two types; those concerning existing properties (and including tree work, extensions etc) and those for new developments, including large scale housing developments as specified by the Local Plan. Currently we don't review applications for work on existing properties even though there is the possibility they may have Swift nests which might be damaged or destroyed by the proposed work. Our Swift survey data are provided to HBIC and we rely on HBIC to identify whether proposed works would impact on Swift nest sites. We do, however, track new developments, generally those of 5 houses or more. We comment on the application and also, when relevant, contact the stakeholders involved in the application (contract ecologists, developer, ward councillors, biodiversity officer and members of the planning committee). The primary aim is to get the plans changed to include Swift bricks in the new construction. A secondary aim is raise awareness of our existence, and our strong arguments for the inclusion of Swift bricks, so increasing the chance that future applications will automatically provision Swift bricks. A summary and overview of our review of planning applications can be found here.