Vikki Patton

February 19, 2023

How greening developments can benefit us all

Real estate construction and materials are major contributors to ecosystem loss. Green spaces are increasingly being incorporated into new developments to improve biodiversity whilst yielding economic and social benefits.

Ørestad photoshoot
Historically, a lack of robust consideration of biodiversity within the planning system has led to a cumulative loss and degradation of habitats over many decades. With land availability at a premium and developers looking to maximise yield from their investment, dedicating areas of potentially developable land for biodiversity improvements represents a commercial and logistical challenge.
National governments are increasingly introducing legislation imposing mandatory biodiversity net gain requirements into planning policy. Developers will begin to see – as some already have - that beyond meeting compliance, incorporating high quality green space within their developments can have economic and social benefits, as well as environmental ones.
Understanding the real value of biodiversity
Biodiversity is the variety of species, habitats and ecosystems on our planet. In the past biodiversity has often been regarded as having only intrinsic value, in that it has value in and of itself, with no immediate value to humans. The conservation of biodiversity has therefore been considered as an ethical obligation due to humanity’s role in its decline.
However, these views are quickly changing with The World Economic Forum recently listing biodiversity loss as one of the top five threats to humanity in the coming decade. This is due to the fact that biodiversity provides us with many quantifiable benefits. The ecosystem services provided by the plants, animals and varied ecological features within our environment are invaluable, such as the cooling effect of trees in areas otherwise affected by the urban heat island effect, the improved flood resilience provided by rain gardens and wetlands, and the clean, breathable air provided by habitats.
Perhaps even more compelling than these benefits is the simple fact that humans enjoy nature. It is well understood that natural and green spaces, as well as developments following biophilic design principles (including water features, natural materials, sights and sounds of wildlife, foliage and natural light etc) provide a stress-busting effect for the people who inhabit and interact with these spaces.
Some people believe that access to green space goes beyond stress relief - the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku (literally translated to ‘Forest bathing’) is a practice of relaxation, observing nature whilst disconnecting from the demands of every-day life, which is said to boost health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, for a large number of people living in urban areas, there is a lack of easily accessible green spaces, such as communal gardens, parks and river walkways.
Property with green space attracts a premium
Although there are generally higher up-front costs of integrating biodiversity and biophilic design into developments, publicly available statistics suggest these higher costs can be fully or partially recouped; a study by the UK Office for National Statistics showed that houses and flats within 100 metres of public green spaces have a greater market value (an average premium of 1.1% over residences greater than 500 metres from green space). Additionally, just having a view of green space (such as public parks or playing fields) or water (rivers, canals, lakes or sea) boosts prices even further, with an average premium of 1.8%.
The UK Land Registry’s House Price Index showed that the average price of a property in the UK had risen by 10.2% to reach £256,405. This is in part driven by a shift in desirability for properties with access to the outdoors. According to the RICS UK Residential Survey, 83% of respondents anticipate demand increasing for homes with gardens, 79% for being near green space and 68% for more private outside space over the next two years. In combination with the sharp rise in house prices, house buyers seem to be prioritising the outdoors over being centrally located in more built up areas.
Biodiversity net gain as a driver for improved site selection
Developers will face a number of challenges in implementing biodiversity net gain, primarily in balancing available developable land to be used for biodiversity compensation whilst delivering sufficient value to make the development viable. This balance may lead to some developers having to source and pay for a level of off-site compensation to meet the net gain target. In the future the requirement for biodiversity net gain will lead to improved site selection, with the needs for net gain being considered in early due diligence for site acquisitions.
Ultimately, by prioritising biodiversity, multi-functional green spaces will become a focal point for an emerging form of development serving both communities and the environment.
Want to know more about biodiversity net gain? Contact Vikki Pattonl, Senior Management Consultant for Ecosystem Services at Ramboll.

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