A previous blog highlighted the absurdly low number of Swift nest sites planned for the Cala Homes development at the Kings Barton site, located just outside Winchester. Understandably, a number of concerned people contacted Cala to offer their thoughts on this pitiful offering and in turn they received a stock answer from the Cala Homes PR department. This response was comprehensively debunked in our last blog.
As a reminder to readers this is what Cala Homes have been given approval to install:
“….planning approval for the first 2 phases (687 dwellings) was given on condition that they install seven (7) Swift boxes, a density of 1 swift box per 100 dwellings. This is 25x lower than required by Winchester City Council and 100x lower than the density recommended by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and conservation groups.”
It would be reasonable to ask what Cala Homes has against Swift bricks? After all, a housing development without spaces for nature is an ecological desert, devoid of bird song and the buzz of life...
Refusing to include Swift bricks in the face of the overwhelming evidence supporting the benefits of such a cheap and easy option suggests a deep-rooted cultural dislike or fear of Swift boxes or bird nest sites in general. Does this hard line derive from Swift-unfriendly standard operating procedures or does a critical decision-maker at Cala have an irrational hatred of birds or, indeed, the very people who buy these houses?
Well no, not exactly….let’s go back in time to 2018 when Hampshire Swifts was busy negotiating with Winchester City Council (WCC) about their policy of reroofing council properties with little regard for nesting Swifts and other urban species (more on this in our next blog). At the same time we became aware of the planned Cala Homes development at Kings Barton and so our colleague Catharine Gale wrote to Winchester MP Steve Brine about our efforts to encourage Cala to include Swift bricks in Kings Barton and asked him to intervene. Note that in the account below we have anonymised the initials of Cala employees.
Steve Brine replied to Catharine, his message including a reply to him from WR (Cala Homes), in what we now know is a typical example of "Cala-speak", stating: “Many thanks for your email, we are already engaging with Winchester Swifts (sic) with regards to the potential to incorporate some “swift bricks” within certain dwellings. We are actively discussing this matter with our Ecologist for the forthcoming reserved matters application for the next phase at Kings Barton. We have also communicated this directly to Winchester Swifts…”
This was untrue. We (Hampshire Swifts) never got such an email. Subsequent emails / calls to WR went unanswered until 2019.
WR finally replied on the 22nd Jan: “I did think our Design Manager, HV, had already written to you regarding the proposed Swift bricks and incorporating them within the next phase of development at Kings Barton, however I am happy to meet up and discuss them further. I have copied HV into this email together with Chris Hughes (the WCC Kings Barton Implementation Officer)”.
This was also untrue, as we’d never heard from HV. It was only at this stage we realised Cala had a direct line into the planning department of WCC in the person of Chris Hughes, a WCC planning officer. We followed up on the 7th Feb and WR copied us in on the following exchange with Chris Hughes:
“I understand that our ecologist has met with (Hampshire Swifts) before and is completely supportive of the idea of installing the bricks where appropriate/possible”.
Hampshire Swifts met with WR (Cala) and Chris Hughes (WCC) on-site in early March 2019 and were assured verbally that future phases would include Swift bricks. Dick Newell from Action for Swifts was also present and brought along samples of Swift bricks. The discussion was very positive and centred on how to implement this rather than whether they should or not. Dick offered to provide tailored brick samples for the approval of Cala Homes and in April WR wrote:
“We have bricks on site would there be a way of getting these to you? How many would you need? “
By May 2019, however, despite reminders and questions from Dick, the trail had gone cold and despite follow-ups in July WR never responded. However, in Aug HV wrote to Hampshire Swifts:
“Thanks for your email. I know we have been discussing as a team the introduction and trialling of the swift bricks on future phases particularly on the taller town houses and apartments where I understand there is likely to be greater need to accommodate the swift movement habits. I am sure this is something we can accommodate once we start working up the technical drawings for delivery of this phase and happy to keep you updated on progress. Kind regards HV (Senior Design and Planning Manager)”
Sadly, this too appeared not to be true as the phase 2 application (19/01616/REM) was submitted to WCC for planning approval without mention of Swift bricks. Naturally we contacted HV to discuss this and subsequently wrote, rather too optimistically:
“Just an update on this, just come off the phone to HV. Phase 1B at Kings Barton is complete but Phase 1A is still on-going: his understanding is that this phase is still earmarked for trialling the S brick and if this works out well then further installations would be rolled out to future phases, including Phase 2, referenced below. He will discuss with his “delivery” colleagues and promised to get back to me. HV, however, couldn’t shed any light on why Swift bricks hadn’t been mentioned as part of the Phase 2 application”
Clearly another example of "Cala-speak".
The trail ends there with the exception of this curiosity.
3rd July 2019: WR to Hampshire Swifts:
“Do you do a retrofit swift box and how much each are they? We are thinking of offering some residents them on the existing phase but these would be “bolt on”.
So, despite repeated promises from 2018 through to mid-2019 and the apparent full support of the council ecologist (although more on this in a future blog), the planning application for this phase of work was still submitted with no mention of Swift bricks. However, in an astonishing volte-face, as soon as new residents, presumably wondering why they had moved into an ecological dead zone, started to ask whether Swift boxes could be installed onto their new homes Cala agreed that they would pay for the services of a cherry-picker to get Swift boxes installed!
To conclude let’s return to Cala Homes.
Q. What are the possible reasons why Cala Homes object to the integration of Swift bricks in their new developments?
1. Cost? (£ 30 per dwelling or approx. 0.00006% of the average property price) (a lot cheaper than retrofitting boxes…)
2. Appearance? (a lot more discrete than retrofitting boxes…)
3. Buyer resistance? (research shows the opposite is true and evidence from Kings Barton itself suggests that people want spaces for nature).
4. Other developers aren’t using Swift bricks? (the tide is changing..)
Q. What are the reasons why Cala Homes should integrate Swift bricks in their new developments?
1. Swift bricks provide breeding/roosting spaces for a range of declining bird species at miniscule cost.
2. Swift bricks are easily installed during construction and are maintenance free.
3. Swift bricks help to save Swifts and other urban bird species for the full life-time of the buildings.
4. Research has shown that people living in places with wildlife around them have better mental health than those without.
5. Cala will be able to claim that they do care about biodiversity rather than creating an ‘ecological desert’ – a quote from a Kings Barton resident.
6. They will be in the vanguard of a major change in the building sector.
In conclusion, Cala Homes do not come out of this well. They have consistently misled Hampshire Swifts about their intentions to include Swift bricks in the Kings Barton development and yet, by offering to pay the installation costs for new buyers wanting Swift boxes attached to their new homes, have inadvertently proved our point.....
Cala Homes, it’s time to redeem yourselves…..
“Will Cala Homes / Cala Group now agree to install integral Swift bricks in all your developments at an average rate of one per dwelling as recommended by the RIBA, many conservation groups including the RSPB, and the NHBC?”