"Newts are not the problem"

After last week's claim from the Government that newts are getting in the way of building new homes, we caught up with our Planning Officer, Kate, to gauge her thoughts:

Wildlife is not the cause of most planning delays, says Kate Dewey, Senior Planning Officer for SWT, who has worked in planning for the last 20 years.

"Lack of people, knowledge and data are the real culprits holding up development." she says.

"Most of the delays I see are caused by problems popping up at the last minute, rather than being known and designed around from the start. That applies to everything- flooding issues, utilities, contamination as well as wildlife. Issues are missed if the right surveys are not conducted early, developers do not always design sites with enough green space, many planning departments are understaffed, and there is a lack of ecology advice and good data."

Planning is all about just that- planning to avoid problems and build a liveable place that doesn't have ongoing issues or destroy the environment. To do that you need two things- information, and people.  Information on what is there and how to work with it, and people to interpret it, design with it and if necessary enforce it. Many planning departments are struggling to keep up with demand and don't have in-house ecologists. They are also losing their landscape, tree and enforcement officers.

Nearly all wildlife 'issues' or 'constraints' are actually potential assets, and can be solved by designing around them or making suitable compensation; very rarely does wildlife ever stop something being built. And the places that build in green features are better for people and the planet too. If Covid 19 and the recent floods and droughts has taught us anything it is that green places are essential to our health and wealth; when they don't work, we don't either.

What we need is investment in planning departments, training, data, nature recovery mapping and green infrastructure plans so we build wiser, as well as faster. Then we will get better places that really work for the 21st century we find ourselves in. The best developments we have seen in Staffordshire have been designed around newts, flooding, protected habitats and more, and have been a great success- you can have both.

So in short if a newt is holding up a development - it's probably not a good development in the first place. And that can't be fixed without tackling the real practical issues that are a little less headline-grabbing.