Cala Homes, the Kings Barton development and the case of the missing swift bricks

Summary

The 2000 home Cala development at Kings Barton in Winchester will include a derisory 20 swift boxes (estimated), corresponding to a density of 1 per 100 dwellings, a massive 100x lower than currently advised and inconsistent with catastrophic falls in the populations of urban bird species such as house sparrow, starling and swift. As a nation we need to be providing hundreds of thousands of nest sites for these rapidly declining species and what better way than to build them into new homes? More detail is provided below but if you simply want to know how to ensure that Cala and Winchester City Council are made aware of how strongly we feel about this issue then just skip to the end..


The Cala Homes development in Kings Barton, Winchester will eventually total 2000 new homes. Final planning approval for the first phase (423 dwellings) required precisely zero (0) swift boxes whereas the phase 2a approval (264 dwellings) was given on condition that they install a miserly seven (7) swift boxes. The first 687 dwellings, therefore, have a density of 1 swift box per 100 dwellings. This is 25x lower than the provision required by Winchester City Council for roosting/nesting sites for birds and bats and 100x lower than the density recommended by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and conservation groups.


A recent paper, reporting survey data from new housing developments built with integrated swift bricks, has shown that swift bricks are readily used by all species of crevice nesting urban birds such as house sparrow, starling and swift and so should be considered to be the optimal "universal" nest site for declining urban bird species.


We are observing an unprecedented decline in urban bird species such as house sparrow, starling and swift (100,000 pairs lost in 20 years), a situation which on its own merits urgent action. Additionally, if we factor in our increased understanding of the value of wildlife in ensuring well being and good mental health of the residents of such developments, is this utterly inadequate level of nest site provision morally and socially acceptable in the 21st century?


Cala "homes": no nest sites for urban bird species.

The background to this development, including what we now know about mitigating the catastrophic decline of our urban bird species, the drawn-out planning process, relationships between Cala Homes, the ecology consultancy which works for Cala (RPS), Winchester City Council (WCC) and Hampshire Swifts and inconsistencies in policy within WCC itself, is complex and will be addressed in a future blog.



More importantly, there are “reserved matters” planning applications outstanding for the next 5 phases of this development (1266 homes). Until these are approved by WCC, Cala cannot commence construction. The ecology consultancy, RPS, which is paid by Cala to produce ecology recommendations for consideration by the planning authority (WCC) has written 3 ecology reports, each with different recommendations for Swift nest sites. The most detailed states:


“a minimum of 5% of residential buildings will have roosting / nesting provisions for bats / birds. Roost and nest boxes will be installed in suitable locations connecting to nearby habitat and away from direct lighting. Nest boxes will target species of conservation concern for which there is suitable habitat within the site (swift, swallow, song thrush and sparrow)”.


We have several issues with this recommendation, which may cast considerable doubt on the competence of the ecologists involved:

1. There is no such thing as a song thrush nest box.

2. Swifts don’t require suitable habitat as they feed entirely on the wing and can fly long distances to find food: they just need suitable sites in which to nest.

3. There is continued reference to nest boxes and not nest bricks. The latter are discrete, maintenance-free, are as durable as the building itself and should always be specified in preference to externally-located nest boxes.

4. The stated 5% covers all nest boxes, including bat boxes, so the eventual density of swift boxes in the next 5 phases of the Cala development would still not exceed 1 box per 100 dwellings, 100x lower than recommended.


Hampshire Swifts want WCC to ensure that planning approval for the next 5 phases of this development will only be given on condition that the development includes an average of 1 swift brick per dwelling (so 1266 swift bricks). We have already been in contact with the 2 WCC ecologists and will be contacting as many people at WCC and Cala as possible.

Cala "homes": the sound of silence

Comments have already been submitted to the planning authority in response to these 5 applications and we are now planning posts on Facebook and Twitter and will be asking for the support of as many swift conservation and planning experts as possible. The key thing is to make Cala and WCC aware that there is considerable disquiet about the appallingly low contribution to nest site provision at the Kings Barton development.

What can I do? We urge all readers to submit a comment or complaint and below we have some suggestions on how to do this. Note that Cala Homes have developments throughout England & Scotland (see https://bit.ly/3wavCHA) so there is a national imperative to make your views known. The success of such campaigns often relies on the sheer number of responses making our requests impossible to ignore. Your comments need only explain why you think Cala (and WCC) should be integrating these nest sites, it isn't necessary to provide all the background information unless you really want to. Equally we welcome all thoughts and questions from you, please email info@hampshireswifts.co.uk.


1. Access the WCC planning website, using the simple search box to find one of the 5 outstanding planning applications (19/02124/REM, 19/01983/REM, 19/01984/REM, 19/01985/REM, 19/02029/REM) and the comment section to explain why the planning officer should insist that 1 swift brick is required per dwelling.

2. There will be posts on the Hampshire Swifts and other groups Facebook & twitter pages: please like, share and comment on all posts linked to this subject.

3. Winchester residents should contact their local councillors to relay their concerns about this development.

4. Steve Brine MP is the member of Parliament for Winchester & Chandlers Ford. Contact him at steve.brine.mp@parliament.uk or via facebook (https://www.facebook.com/stevebrinewinchester/), explaining why it is so important to provide nest sites for these urban species. Note that he intervened on our behalf back in 2019, albeit without much success.

5. Contact local newspapers, radio stations, tv channels

6. Write or call Cala Homes asking them to include more swift bricks. Their facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/CALAHOMES/ or send them a message via twitter @CALAHOMES (remember to tag @hampshireswifts), or send them a message via their website https://www.cala.co.uk/

7.Keep an eye out for social media posts, future blogs and emails providing updates and further suggestions on how to keep the pressure up on Cala and WCC.

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