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More key figures from the construction industry are adding their voice to the campaign for the UK to remain in the EU. As reported in The Guardian, David Thomas the Chief Executive of Barratt Developments, the UK’s largest homebuilder, has stated that the UK leaving the EU would hit housebuilding workforces hard, in turn exacerbating the housing crisis.

A recent survey by Building magazine indicates that David is not alone in his views. Results show two-thirds of the construction sector back continued EU membership, with over half of those surveyed believing that Brexit would reduce foreign investment and drive up both labour and material costs.

Housebuilding could suffer from skills shortages if the UK leaves the EU

Housebuilding could suffer from skills shortages if the UK leaves the EU

Housebuilding skills shortages

One of the key predicted impacts of Brexit for the construction sector is an increase in the current skills shortage. As David states, the main challenge for housebuilders is labour availability. In terms of Barratt, 30-40% of their London workforce originate from mainland Europe. Similarly, Mott Macdonald the UK’s largest independent engineering firm predicts they would face a significant skills shortage if the UK opts out of the EU and property developer Berkeley employs half of its subcontractors from eastern Europe. If the free movement of labour were curtailed following Brexit, the resulting skills shortage would affect the housebuilding industry’s ability to build new homes.

Nationwide, official figures show that almost 12% of the UK’s 2.1 million construction workers are from other countries, with the majority from the EU. The true figure is believed by experts to be even higher. By far the most common country of origin for foreign UK construction workers is Poland, followed by Romania.

An open letter backing the vote for the UK to remain in the EU has been signed by The Shard contractor Mace, property firm Jones Lang LaSalle, and Mott MacDonald.

The skills shortage is one of the main reasons for housebuilding having high numbers of overseas workers and this is partly due to the financial crisis and subsequent recession, which caused a slump in construction projects. Migrant workers have typically been seen as a short-term fix. For instance, research by design and consultancy firm Arcadis found that 53,000 extra bricklayers were needed to build the target of 200,000 new homes a year.

Our view

Baker Consultants’ managing director Andrew Baker points out that a skills shortage resulting from the UK leaving the EU will not be confined to the construction industry:

Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants, agrees that the UK should remain in the EU

Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants, agrees that the UK should remain in the EU

“I believe Brexit would have a disproportionate impact upon the ecology profession, not only because of the likely economic turmoil that would follow, but also the impact it would have on the regulatory framework. For instance, much of the law that protects UK wildlife originates in European directives. Brexit would throw our environmental legislation into disarray.

“It would also have specific consequences for us at Baker Consultants, as our in-house team is truly international and we have some of the best scientists from across Europe working for us. Exiting the EU would be a major constraint to our ability to recruit key talent and would damage our ability to compete internationally.”

Read more on why Baker Consultants believes the UK should remain in the EU in our article for Scottish Energy News.

Read the full Guardian article here.

Baker Consultants was awarded a contract with Commercial Estates Group (CEG) to provide comprehensive ecology input for the proposed Hele Park development scheme in Devon at outline planning stage. Following this, Redrow, the housebuilder developing the site, subsequently contracted the team to provide ecological advice on the detailed planning application for Phase Three of the development.

One of the plans of Redrow's development at Hele Park

One of the plans of Redrow’s development at Hele Park

The baseline ecology surveys and Landscape and Ecology Management Plan (LEMP) helped to ensure that the ecological impact of the development was reduced and that the development was integrated into the wider landscape setting. Following our advice, important ecological features were retained and new habitat created as part of a robust green infrastructure. Bats, dormice, birds and amphibians are all set to benefit from early ecological input into the development.

The Hele Park development was a particularly complex scheme that successfully received planning permission with very few conditions for its size. Early involvement from our experienced team in assessing and designing the ecology aspects into the project contributed to this success and that of the subsequent Hele Park Phase Three.

Carlos Abrahams, Technical Director at Baker Consultants, said: “The Hele Park development benefitted from our involvement from the early stages of the project. Our expertise allowed us to provide a cost-effective, innovative package of ecological surveys and a comprehensive Landscape and Ecology Management Plan to ensure ecological compliance at all stages of this complex scheme.”

Read the full case study here.

Planning and Design Group (P&DG) has obtained outline planning consent with all matters reserved except access, subject to completion of the Section 106 Agreement, for a high quality, sustainable residential development of 250 dwellings on the edge of Oakwood, Derby. P&DG has been engaged in the longstanding promotion of the site through to an allocation in the emerging Derby City Local Plan Part 1: Core Strategy, working proactively with planners and fellow consultants to secure the positive decision at Planning Committee, concurring with officer recommendations.
Planning and Design Group logo

Planning and Design Group logo

 
The development also includes 75 much-needed affordable homes, provision for an ecological wildlife corridor extending beyond Chaddesden Wood Local Nature Reserve, over 3 hectares of accessible public open space, a neighbourhood play facility, new footpath links and pedestrian crossing to facilitate better linkages towards the Breadsall railway cutting. An overcapacity in the on-site drainage attenuation system has been designed into the north-eastern corner of the site to manage surface water both on and offsite, responding directly to concerns raised during the consultation about flooding further afield in the Breadsall area. Moreover, approximately £1.2 million has been proposed to be directly invested in Oakwood, towards the maintenance and support for new open space, leisure and community facilities, and highway improvements to the A61 corridor as part of the associated S106 Agreement.
 
Following extensive public consultation before and after the submission, P&DG and the rest of the application team have secured a highly desirable development that received the support of material consultees including the Highways Authority, Derbyshire County Archaeology, Environment Agency and Severn Trent Water. The landscape and amenity value of the site, which forms part of a designated Green Wedge were found not to be significant when tested against the Council’s lack of a five-year housing land supply and the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF). Ultimately, the location of development has been proven to be very sustainable in assisting the city’s housing delivery to provide family homes, that should respond positively to the existing built form when developed as part of the future Reserved Matters submission.
 
Carlos Abrahams, Technical Director of Baker Consultants said: “Baker Consultants is pleased to be working with P&DG on this scheme”.

Gladman Developments Ltd has won a planning appeal inquiry for a residential development at Coalville, Leicestershire. The development of 180 new homes was initially refused by North West Leicestershire District Council in November 2014 and was subsequently examined at a public inquiry a year later. Baker Consultants provided Gladman with ecological advice throughout the planning process, carrying out comprehensive surveys and negotiating with the Local Planning Authority.

Prior to the inquiry, Baker Consultants gained agreement with the local authority ecologist that any ecological impacts could be fully mitigated, and wildlife issues were not, therefore, a reason for the initial planning refusal. Third parties, however, maintained ecological objections and Baker Consultants’ Managing Director, Andrew Baker, was called to give evidence to the inquiry. In addressing the ecological objections, the inspector stated in his report that “these matters were addressed comprehensively in the evidence of the Appellant [Gladman]”.

Andrew Baker said: “We are very pleased to be part of Gladman’s inquiry team and contribute to the successful outcome of this project.”

Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants, provided evidence at the planning appeal

Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants, provided evidence at the planning appeal

About Baker Consultants

For more information on Baker Consultants’ ecological services, visit our terrestrial ecology page.

To read more about Andrew’s experience of public inquiries and expert witness, click here.

October saw the government’s Housing and Planning Bill, which applies primarily to England, introduced to the House of Commons. Through the Bill, the government aims to build more homes that people can afford, give more people the chance to own their own home, and improve the way housing is managed.

Housing development masterplan

Housing development masterplan

The Bill

The Housing and Planning Bill includes a series of reforms to ensure the planning system does not add unnecessary obstacles to the delivery of new homes.

Items of note within the Bill include:

  • taking forward the government’s commitment to require local authorities to manage their housing assets more efficiently
  • enabling local planning authorities or neighbourhood groups to grant planning permission in principle for housing sites at the point a site is allocated in an adopted local/neighbourhood plan document or local brownfield register
  • streamlining the planning process
  • allowing developers to include an element of housing as part of their application for consent for a nationally significant infrastructure project
  • reducing the time for the neighbourhood planning process to be completed
  • allowing the communities secretary to prepare or revise a development plan or direct a council on how to proceed in certain circumstances
  • allowing the communities secretary to grant unconditional permission in principle directly (or provide for local authorities to grant it) to development proposals meeting certain criteria.

Brownfield sites

The Bill allows for Local Development Orders (LDO) to be made on all suitable brownfield sites listed on a statutory register, in order to simplify and promote their development. The LDO brownfield sites process will give ‘automatic’ permission for housing schemes, and RIBA and the Planning Officers’ Society have voiced concerns over this in terms of the quality of developments and the appropriateness of some sites that might be included.

One of the key concerns for nature conservation arising from the Bill (raised by bodies such as the RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts) also relates to the Bill’s approach to brownfield land. While, in principle, this may seem better than development of greenfield sites, in ecological terms this may not always be the case. Brownfield sites can often contain significant ecological interest, which might outweigh, for example, an agriculturally improved greenfield site.

However, as one of its Core Planning Principles the National Planning Policy Framework aims to “encourage the effective use of land by reusing land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value” (our emphasis). For further information,Wildlife and Countryside Link has produced guidance on this issue, available here.

In conclusion

Although we support the general principle of developing brownfield sites over greenfield, appropriate ecological assessment must still be a key part of the planning decision in bringing these sites forwards. At the moment it is not clear how technical details such as flood risk, site contamination, heritage, access and ecology would be considered as part of the LDO process. This is potentially a large stumbling block, which might render sites that are listed on the brownfield register unviable for developers and would likely still require Environmental Impact Assessments for larger schemes.

As part of the Thorpe Park development in Leeds, we are responsible for translocation and mitigation of great crested newts. Between mid-September and the end of October, we translocated over 2,000 amphibians, representing only a third of the trapping we are due to carry out! Here Katie Watson, our Assistant Ecologist, tells us more about the project that has seen our ecologists monitoring and trapping amphibians along five kilometres of newt fencing.

Great crested newt translocation and mitigation

A daily rota of checking newt traps along the installed newt fencing on site has led to our ecologists translocating 120 great crested newts (which are a protected species) as well as 996 smooth newts, 1,189 toads and 119 frogs from the development area at Thorpe Park, Leeds. So far, a third of the trapping has been completed, with a further third likely to be completed over the next week.

Newt fencing at Thorpe Park business park by Assistant Ecologist Katie Watson

Newt fencing at Thorpe Park business park by Assistant Ecologist Katie Watson

Translocation is essential, as great crested newts are Britain’s largest and most threatened newt, protected under the EU Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). By following Natural England’s mitigation guidance, we aim to maintain and enhance the population by ensuring high quality translocation habitat as well as maintaining strict welfare standards.

Translocation only forms one part of the mitigation measures for great crested newts at Thorpe Park, as pond creation in the translocation area has also been a vital aspect of the project in terms of ecology. The ponds have central open areas for mating displays, encircled by shallow water margins, which are to be planted with translocated vegetation from the marshland habitat at the development site. Spoil has been used to sculpt the terrestrial habitat alongside the water’s edge to create raised earth banks. Woodland and grassland mosaics have also been created using wildflower seedlings and saplings.

Katie Watson, Assistant Ecologist, checking newt traps at Thorpe Park. Photo by Kelly Clark, Principal Ecologist

Katie Watson, Assistant Ecologist, checking newt traps at Thorpe Park. Photo by Kelly Clark, Principal Ecologist

During the initial great crested newt surveys a number of surveying techniques were used including egg search, torchlight surveys and bottle trapping. Since then, eDNA sampling is being used to detect microscopic fragments of DNA biomarkers belonging to great crested newts within waterbodies. This method can be used to determine species occupancy in ponds (i.e. presence/absence) and has the potential advantage of increasing survey efficiency.

About Thorpe Park

Thorpe Park is a business park development in Leeds, currently accommodating 4,500 office workers at several organisations. Current development will expand the facilities for staff on the Park to include a hotel, restaurants and a coffee shop, as well as retail and health & fitness facilities.

With 44% of dedicated green space, Thorpe Park will ultimately have around 7,000 trees, 20,000 shrubs and hedges, 50,000 flower bulbs and 15,000 aquatic plants.

About Baker Consultants

Baker Consultants are experienced in a full range of protected species surveys and mitigation measures, including great crested newts. To maintain the high professional standards expected by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and our clients, we strictly follow Natural England’s guidelines. For more information, visit our Terrestrial Ecology home page or go directly to our Great Crested Newt Surveys page.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are classified for the populations of wild birds that they support. Due to an administrative muddle between three parts of government regarding SPA designations (note that there is no dispute on the science behind SPA selection criteria), the planning policy that will dictate the development of Bradford for the next two decades is being forged on an SPA citation that is 14 years out of date. This confusion is potentially widespread, as Andrew Baker’s experience at the recent Examination in Public (EiP) made clear.

Andrew recently gave evidence on behalf of Commercial Estates Group (CEG) at the EiP into the Bradford Core Strategy concerning the restrictions placed upon new house building figures by Bradford Council ostensibly due to the nearby South Pennine Moors SPA (Phase 2). The inspector agreed with Andrew’s evidence at the outset, finding the Core Strategy’s Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) to be wanting and instructing the Council to revisit the assessment. Although this revised HRA is still pending, the case highlighted important issues relating to the designation of SPAs and the interest features of these sites.

Moorland in snow

Moorland in snow

The history of this is complex, but is summarised below:

  • Prior to 1998, SPAs were designed by English Nature (Natural England’s predecessor) on a somewhat adhoc basis
  • In 1999, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), which has overall responsibility for identifying UK SPAs, produced a set of site selection criteria to formalise this process
  • In 2001, JNCC reviewed all SPAs against the 1999 selection criteria and publicised their recommended changes in a review that was formally submitted to Government (as supported by English Nature, the RSPB and the BTO) and, JNCC claim, the European Commission
  • The review process was not implemented by Natural England and, in all but a handful of cases, the pre-2001 citations are the only documents with legal status
  • Natural England claim that Government didn’t instruct them to implement the review, although DEFRA conversely blame Natural England.

So why does this matter? The South Pennine Moors SPA and the HRA of the Bradford Core Strategy provide a good example. Legally, any plan or project likely to have a significant effect upon an SPA is subject to an HRA, which must assess impacts upon the interest features. The HRA in this instance used the SPA’s original interest features from the 1998 citation, which includes an assemblage of breeding birds, as well as a number of birds that are specifically listed. However, breeding birds assemblages were not included as a reason for SPA site selection in the 1999 selection criteria, which led to breeding bird assemblages being removed from the South Pennine Moors’ interest features in the 2001 review. Furthermore, the 2001 review added additional species to interest lists and, in the case of the South Pennine Moors, the Peregine Falcon was added.

Therefore, in the case of the Bradford Core Strategy, the assessment is being made against the 1998 citation, which includes interest features (in this case, breeding birds assemblages) that JNCC does not consider as a reason for designating the area an SPA. Furthermore, the assessment does not protect species that JNCC consider to be in need of protection (in this case, Peregrine Falcon).

During the EiP, HRAs from other Development Plans within the area were also reviewed and it was found that not one reflected what Natural England regard as the legal definition of the South Pennine Moors SPA (Phase 2).

JNCC is in the process of carrying out another review of the SPA suite and we hope that Natural England’s response to this update will rectify these issues.