Bird Nesting Sites: Protection

Liz Twist Excerpts
Monday 13th May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Sir Hugo Swire Hansard
13 May 2019, 5:06 p.m.

I do and I do not agree; I agree that that sort of behaviour is wholly unacceptable, but I do not agree that they should replace like for like, if it is the case that they have done this where there were tree preservation orders or the like. If they have cut down a number of trees, they should be obliged to plant many, many times the amount of trees they have cut down, to encourage a change in the pattern of their behaviour.

I am afraid that it often comes down to the lack of local planning officers or their inability to challenge those large companies. Local councils are terrified of being taken to appeal, because then they have to fund it, so it becomes a vicious circle and a win-win for the volume house builders, as we have seen—although I say again to the volume house builders, or their representatives watching this debate, that I do not view them all in the same light.

That is one of the points on which I wish to conclude. The Government have been quite clear, but they need to be a little bit clearer what they are going to do about this. Why do we not have a register run by the Department, naming and shaming the worst offenders, so we can see on a regular basis which house builders and developers are behaving responsibly and which are not? There are also such things as shareholder action groups, and they and others can vote at annual general meetings and so forth and can bring the matter to the board’s attention. Naming and shaming, in this instance, is an extraordinarily good way to proceed.

I believe it is time to stand up to that sort of abuse. We are in the slight conundrum—or I am—of castigating some of these volume house builders while at the same time recognising that we need to build more houses, and quickly, if we are to avert what is becoming a national crisis in getting younger people on to the housing ladder. However, with the current scrutiny of developers, I would have thought it would make eminent good sense from the point of view of their own public relations. Indeed, if I were advising them—I am not available to advise them, incidentally—on public relations, I would say, “This is precisely the sort of headline that we don’t want to read about ourselves.”

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab) - Hansard
13 May 2019, 5:08 p.m.

In my constituency, there are a couple of developments on greenfield sites. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) report that Bellway has now decided not to use netting, because until a few weeks ago it had netted an area in my constituency where it was about to develop, which, as he said, caused great uproar and consternation among people who were opposed to the development in the first place.

Sir Hugo Swire Hansard
13 May 2019, 5:10 p.m.

That is very good and shows that some of these companies are more concerned about the environment than gross profit—or, indeed, net profit. They should concentrate on having no netting, not net profit, in some instances.

To conclude, a list of offenders would be a good thing. However, I do not think that we should use a hammer to crack a nut. Parliamentarians should insist only on proportionate, enforceable legislation. As I said, I am not convinced that it is either desirable or practical to ban netting of hedgerows, bushes and trees throughout the year—because I am not really an environmentalist in this sense, I do not know whether it is. However, as a start, we should ban netting during the breeding season, which the Minister will hopefully say something about when she concludes the debate. If we can achieve that this afternoon, it seems to me that we will not have wasted our time.

Break in Debate

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard - Hansard
13 May 2019, 5:30 p.m.

We are seeing species decline in all parts of our wildlife in every part of the United Kingdom. The breeding farmland bird index is falling. It has declined by more than half since 1970. The breeding woodland bird index for the UK declined by 25% between 1970 and 2017. We cannot keep squeezing nature into smaller spaces and we must put the environment at the heart of Government policy. The best way to do that is for the Government to lead by example in the projects that they run and the leadership that they can provide for the environment sector.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist - Hansard
13 May 2019, 5:31 p.m.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. In the past fortnight, many of us attended an RSPB drop-in called “Let nature sing”. I am sure that we all supported the goal of getting their nature CD into the charts. I am told it got to number 18 in the charts. There is a bigger issue. He is talking about planning issues and squeezing nature. Many residents are concerned that when we develop greenfield sites in particular, but other sites as well, it feels as if the environment is a long way down the priorities list. We look at off-site mitigation and other things, but what we want to do is preserve the site. This has been a huge issue in my constituency recently.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard - Hansard
13 May 2019, 5:32 p.m.

Singles like that would make a proud addition to my collection of Britney and Kylie songs on iTunes, so we need to promote it. We also need to ensure that every type of economic activity that we have as a country becomes greener. If we are to meet our Paris climate change obligations, we need to remove 80% of the carbon from our economy. We will not be able to do that simply by recycling some more plastic bottles. We need fundamental economic change. The UN report on species loss outlined the transformative change that is required, and made it clear that when it comes to the loss of habitat in respect of the trees and hedgerows that are being lost through bird netting we need to take quicker action.

Break in Debate

Mrs Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler - Hansard
13 May 2019, 5:41 p.m.

Again, the hon. Lady makes a perfectly reasonable point. I am sure the people in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will have heard it and will pick up on it.

DEFRA’s recent consultation proposed introducing a requirement for new developments to deliver a 10% net gain for biodiversity, onsite or off. It also includes an alternative tariff that developers could pay to offset the costs of providing environmental improvements. I look forward to seeing those proposals considered and debated in due course. I hope the hon. Lady will be involved in that.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist - Hansard

Does the Minister accept that many residents faced with the loss of hedges or the offsite mitigation of environmental benefits are unhappy? They want their local environment to be preserved for birds and other wildlife and for local enjoyment, rather than some money to be paid to address the issue in another place.

Mrs Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler - Hansard

In every planning application, the matter will be dealt with at the local level, so local wishes will be part of the decision-making process.