Since mid-2018 our volunteers have reviewed and commented on 214 planning applications submitted by developers to the 15 planning authorities in Hampshire. Each comment is in fact a carefully worded letter which requests that if the application is successful then a condition of that approval should be that Swift bricks are included in the development.
Our success rate is low. Usually our requests fall on deaf ears; planning officers are busy people and have to make decisions in the face of many competing interests. Even in Basingstoke, which is the only planning authority in Hampshire to have specified that all new developments should include Swift bricks, it is uncommon for Swift bricks to be required as a condition of approval.
So why do we bother?
The reason is that those 214 planning applications involved a total of 16,478 new homes and apartments. If we got what we wanted, which is one Swift brick per dwelling, we would have ensured that 16,478 new Swift nest sites were made available for our rapidly declining Swift population. This, however, is the tip of the iceberg as applications for the building of hundreds of thousands of new homes are yet to be submitted in Hampshire.
This is why it is worth persisting with these reviews and things are changing in several ways. Increasingly professionals in housing development are aware of Swifts, of the benefits that Swift bricks can have for Swifts and a number of other species of bird. Overall there is a growing understanding that the natural world cannot be taken for granted, that "biodiversity net gain" (i.e. creating a space for nature, including bird nest sites) has to be built into housing developments not just to save declining populations of birds, bats and other species, but also for the well being of the people who live there.
In the Swift community across the UK there are some remarkable individuals who are painstakingly assembling evidence, influencing decision-making and crafting the justification to achieve this aim. It is up to us, at the planning application level, to use this expertise as part of our responses to planning applications. Persuading planning officers to automatically "condition" Swift bricks in new building developments will take time and effort but it is achievable with your help.
Hampshire Swifts is currently looking for volunteers to participate in our ongoing review of planning applications across the county.
- Computer literate and happy to spend time at home looking through planning submissions?
- Comfortable using Excel to track and update planning applications?
- Happy to adapt our standard template and communicate with planning professionals?
- Interested in learning more about how the planning system can be used to help Swifts?
- Have a few hours free per week to review and comment on weekly planning authority listings?
We will be running training towards the end of March so if you're interested please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org