New Housing: Swift Bricks

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Monday 10th July 2023

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers
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The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point: swift bricks cost little and have a huge impact. That is our ask to the Government, but regardless of whether we manage to pull it off today, I hope we will all go back to our constituencies and local authorities and drive for a bit more change.

When swifts return from their perilous nine-month flight and find that their nesting site has been blocked off or destroyed, they try to break entry. They are, unsurprisingly, not strong enough to break through several layers of insulation, and many injure themselves in their attempt to get back into their old nesting spots. If they are unable to fly, they will likely die. If they do not succeed but survive, they face a tough task of finding a new spot to nest in time to breed. That leads to many missing the mark, with the consequence that the population fails to grow again.

Old nesting spots are being lost, and new developments do not provide an alternative. Modern developments have no purpose-built nesting habitat for these birds and lack natural alcoves for birds to shelter. The swift brick is an answer to that problem. It is an intended nesting spot, providing permanence. It is a bespoke option that can host a wide range of nature. It has been designed to fit the dimensions of a standard UK brick, and is highly suitable for developments, since the overwhelming majority of modern houses are built from bricks or blocks. The bricks sit inside the wall and do not compromise its strength or insulation. They are fully enclosed, with a small, outward-facing hole for the swifts to enter. They are not offensive to look at and can be adapted to comply with the strict aesthetic requirements that developers need to meet.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con)
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As the planning Minister at the time, I had a hand in the changes to the national planning policy framework that encouraged the uptake of swift bricks, so I am pleased that this debate is taking place. Does my hon. Friend agree that there are two further advantages to the brick over the box? First, although the brick is primarily aimed at swifts, it can also offer a home to another species that is in decline, and which was the music of my childhood—the house sparrow. We do not see them as much as we used to in urban areas.

Secondly, particularly in the south-east of England, the brick protects swifts from being evicted by the parakeet. The six swift boxes on my house have been overtaken by parakeets, which are able to widen the opening because it is wooden, rather than brick. Using bricks would give other species opportunities and would protect swifts from being evicted by more aggressive species.

Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers
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I bow to the experience and knowledge of my right hon. Friend, who is the proud owner of six swift boxes—hopefully he will use bricks. He makes a very good point. I used to listen to the house martins when I was younger; I have not heard much from them recently, and I would like to hear more from them in the near future. I thank my right hon. Friend for everything he did to get things to this juncture, and I agree that we need to go a bit further to ensure that these bricks reach houses across the UK.

In addition to permanence, the swift brick offers weather resistance and climate control. That is the most convincing argument for choosing swift bricks over an external bird box—other than the parakeets.

The first concern that some raise is the fear of noise or mess. People are concerned about what the bricks mean for their sleep, their patios and their clean washing, but those concerns are misplaced. Swifts are incredibly clean birds, which go about their business far from their homes, and they make minimal noise inside their nests. Surprisingly even to me, 85% of respondents to a recent survey said they would not be dissuaded from buying a house because of a swift brick, and the remaining 15% believed it would increase their likelihood of buying the house. What is not to like? Swift bricks are clean and noise-free, the public like them, and they could help to protect four endangered species.

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Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers
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I would very much agree; in fact, I will come on to that. When we look at the costs—actually, we will come back to the costs too; we will come back to it all. I think the RSPB makes a very valid point. It is a no-brainer in many ways, and there is little to be lost by putting swift bricks into homes.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
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There is another reason to commend swifts, which is that they are not actually here for very long. As my hon. Friend may know, they broadly arrive in the first week of May and certainly leave, like clockwork, in the first week or so of August. They are not here for terribly long, which is why we should give them a nice home to live in.

Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers
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I very much agree.

So what is not to like? Swift bricks are clean and noise-free, the public like them and they could help to protect four endangered species. But what about the cost, and what do the developers say? Swift bricks are incredibly low-cost. They are already produced by multiple manufacturers, and home builders have the opportunity to shop around. Prices online start from as little as £25—although I do not know how much my right hon. Friend paid for his—which is pennies to large housing developers. Swift bricks represent one of the most cost-effective conservation measures and help developers to comply with their responsibilities in the Environment Act 2021, creating biodiversity gain.

After speaking to developers, and representatives from the Home Builders Federation, it is clear that they take their responsibilities for the environment seriously. They welcome the proposals and see them as giving clarity and direction and as a meaningful way of complying with the Environment Act. In fact, there are many examples of house builders being proactive and putting swift bricks in place without being compelled to do so.

In their response to the petition, the Government said they would not be legislating for a nationwide approach, because in

“some high density schemes the provision of ‘swift bricks’, for instance, might be inappropriate”.

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Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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As has already been said, only a small number of local authorities—Exeter, Hackney, Islington and Brighton and Hove—have taken the step of requiring bricks. I am working on Bristol, and I hope we will do that in the next iteration of its local plan. That is tiny compared with the potential of what we can do. It would be so easy to have swift bricks in all new developments—not just new housing, although the petition is about housing, but other buildings too. We need to do something to turn this from a nice little local initiative into something that is far more widespread.

It is important to say that developers are not opposed to this proposal. Barratt Homes has actively worked with the RSPB to develop a swift brick and has pledged to install swift bricks in all new houses built in Bristol as well as in several other cities. I actually went up on the roof of one of its new houses in Blackberry Hill—one of those classic “MP in a hard hat”-type pictures—to do that. Another sister of mine is working with a housing developer in Milton Keynes that is also putting swift bricks into all of its new houses. This work can be done and there is no opposition to it, so there is no reason for the Government to be cautious about it.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
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I just wanted to be clear about what hopefully we are collectively asking for. We are asking the Government to mandate the use of swift bricks—and the plural is important. As anybody will know, swifts are gregarious birds that like to nest in colonies, so putting in the odd brick here and there is unlikely to be fruitful. What we actually need is groups of four to six bricks, possibly more. As the hon. Lady said, in Bristol houses have got seriously more than that number. However, just putting in a brick—singular—is not much use to anybody, least of all the swifts themselves.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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That is certainly the case, which is why we want to see this done at scale. As I think has already been said, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management has highlighted surveys that show that buyers would not be put off by a swift brick.

It has been asked whether this would be a nuisance. I live by the harbour in Bristol and every time I open my balcony doors, pigeons and seagulls come in. Indeed, a particularly resolute pair of birds are determined to build a nest on my balcony, so I cannot turn my back without them coming in. However, having swifts in a house is not the same as having pigeons or seagulls in a house. Indeed, they are excellent lodgers and most people would not even have any idea that they were there.

It is reasonable to ask why swifts merit a specific planning requirement, as opposed to any other creature that is under threat. I say in response that, first, this is a known problem with an identifiable cause and a practical, straightforward and cost-effective solution. I am sure that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would be delighted if we could say the same for all environmental challenges and all red-listed species.

Secondly, other species are already protected by planning policy in a way that swifts are not. The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 require a developer’s ecology report to cover protected species, such as bats, which are officially designated under those regulations. Mitigating steps are required if these species are present on site.

The problem is that the Birds of Conservation Concern red list, which was developed with funding from Natural England, is not covered by any similar legal requirement, and nor are swifts included in the list of habitats and species of principal importance in England, so there is no obligation on local authorities to consider swifts as part of their biodiversity duty.

The Government’s response to the petition emphasised local planning decisions and

“the specific circumstances of each site.”

Will the Minister tell us in what circumstances exemptions might be required? The benefits of including these bricks seem to outweigh the costs and, as has been said, even if the bricks are not ultimately used by swifts, they may benefit other species.

There is already a British standard on integral nest boxes to guide developers on selection and installation. There are also a variety of brick designs to suit different types of construction; an RSPB factsheet lists at least 20. The RSPB has said that

“there are no reasons why swift bricks should not be appropriate for high-density schemes”,

And, contrary to the Government’s response, the RSPB advises that

“connectivity to wildlife is largely irrelevant for swifts".

As I think has been said, swifts are birds that are either in the air or in their little swift bricks, rather than being out and about in nature.

Finally, I turn to the issue of biodiversity net gain, which the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) mentioned briefly. If, as the Government suggest, swift bricks are not appropriate for all developments, amending the biodiversity net gain rules would allow developers to consider whether swift bricks are an efficient way for them to meet their biodiversity targets.

Three years ago, I wrote to the then Minister for Housing —the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher)—calling for the building regulations to be revised to make swift bricks compulsory in all new homes. I received a disappointing reply then, and the Government’s response to the petition suggests that their position has not changed. However, the regulatory framework has changed, with the introduction of the biodiversity net gain requirement.

The Government’s own planning practice guidance emphasises the value of swift bricks to biodiversity net gain, but that is undermined by the habitat-based biodiversity net gain metric, under which the loss of a swift nest and the addition of swift bricks are irrelevant; they just do not count in the way that, say, hedgerows, trees or other sites for swifts’ nests would count. Can the Minister tell us what incentive developers will have to install swift bricks when they will not count towards their 10% biodiversity net gain?

The biodiversity net gain approach is not perfect because the loss of a swift habitat will not necessarily be captured in the baseline assessment—I suspect the Minister might say that in response. If a survey is not conducted at the right time during nesting season—as we have heard, it is only a 12-week season—the nest is likely to be missed. But including swifts in the metric as a starting point would mean there is an incentive to look for nests and check the RSPB swift survey or the Swift Mapper app. I am sure all the local groups would be delighted to assist the Department in telling people exactly where swifts are likely to turn up. Even if no nest is detected, it means developers have one easy way to secure some biodiversity net gain credits.

Milton Keynes Swifts this weekend was checking the nest boxes for a developer who had agreed to incorporate nest sites. It told me the development did not install swift bricks because the architect was not aware of those at a sufficiently early stage in the process. If swift bricks were included in the biodiversity net gain metric, it seems they would be more likely to be considered during the design process.

The biodiversity net gain metric already includes design features such as green roofs, so it is not a big ask to include swift bricks as an option. In fact, it is a lot easier to put swift bricks in than it is to make sure that a green roof is installed and thrives for years to come. Relying on biodiversity net gain has the added benefit of considering all developments, not just housing, with larger public buildings and commercial premises potentially able to accommodate more bricks.

Swift bricks also give more options for biodiversity net gain in urban environments—something that was sadly neglected in the Government’s environmental improvement plan 2023. We have to ensure that we green our urban environments. We cannot have everyone’s gardens concreted over and green spaces built on, and that offset somewhere way outside the cities. We must improve urban environments, and swift bricks are an ideal thing to do.

Does the Minister agree that the biodiversity net gain metric has adversely changed the regulatory landscape for swifts? I hope she will tell us that she thinks a revised BNG metric could be a useful tool. I know that that is a matter for DEFRA rather than the Minister’s Department. DEFRA has already committed to reviewing species inclusion in future major updates to the biodiversity metric. I urge the Minister to discuss that with DEFRA colleagues.

On a final note, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said, we are talking about this in the context of a massive biodiversity loss and ecological emergency. Swift bricks are one easy step towards addressing that, so I hope the Minister looks favourably on what we have said today.

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Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
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It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. Many hon. Members have talked about the constituents who urged them to attend this debate, and in my case the group Devon Swifts recommended my attendance. It has over 1,000 followers on Facebook and is pledging to turn up at shows and events in Devon under a gazebo to encourage other people who live in Devon to take a greater interest in swifts.

Two years ago, in 2021, swifts were added to the red list in the UK’s conservation status report, and the RSPB reports that the number of swifts has halved in 20 years and that fewer than 90,000 arrived last year. The same is true of other species that can use similar nesting sites: the house martin has declined by 50% since 1960. It should be said that species that are on the list, which are retreating or falling in number, are being threatened on a global level. It is not just in the UK that numbers are falling. This is very much an international issue, and it is made worse by climate change. Environmental degradation around the world is affecting bird populations.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) hoped that some hon. Members present might also take a greater interest in wider environmental issues around nature degradation and turn up to the relevant debates, and I agree with her. While we think about compulsion and how the Government might make some things mandatory of developers, we should also think about the insulation of homes. Some 2.3 million homes were insulated in 2012, whereas fewer than 100,000 homes are insulated per year now.

Swifts prefer to build their permanent homes by squeezing through tiny gaps in roofs, and as older buildings are changed, modified or taken down, some of those nest sites become unavailable to them. Swift bricks can be embedded in walls in the upper section just below the roof, and they offer a safe space for swifts to establish themselves. The hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), to whom I pay tribute for securing the debate, referred to concerns around noise and mess, before he allayed the worries that people might have. I would add to that: he is right, but developers can choose where to put these swift bricks, and they could not be so selective if we did not have swift bricks. I have heard concerns about mess and noise from these bricks being used by other bird species—for example the starling—but the swift brick can be placed away from people, in a home where the mess will not bother people underneath. That is great: we can choose to put these bricks in a particular location. They help dozens of other species—not just starlings and swifts, but blue tits, wrens, house sparrows, house martins and many others on the red list for endangered British birds.

I was looking earlier at the RSPB’s swift mapper. In my part of Devon, we have 114 pairs reported south of Honiton and 133 pairs west of Cullompton. It seems that the Government are opposed to making these new bricks a mandatory part of future planning developments, arguing that local authorities can choose to make this a condition on their own account. Typically, I would welcome that sort of devolution. Many areas that Westminster legislates on would be better put within the purview of local government, but in this instance I am not quite so sure: given that there has been so little take-up—only eight local authorities have chosen to use swift bricks—there needs to be a degree of compulsion. I pay tribute to Exeter City Council for being among those eight local authorities, but clearly, if we are to avoid losing further swifts in the future, we need to require developers to use swift bricks.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
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I am sure the hon. Gentleman would recognise that the Government mandate an awful lot on housing, not least to do with human occupation—whether we should have a front doorstep, the dimensions of windows and, in London, even the height of ceilings. It seems odd that the Government would not mandate on something as simple as this.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord
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I am grateful to the right hon. Member for that point, and I agree with him. It is an area where a small action by the Government could deliver a real benefit for our natural environment. I urge the Minister to listen to the strength of feeling, not just from right hon. and hon. Members in this Chamber, but from activists and campaigners here and in our constituencies. This small action could make a big difference, and I would be grateful to see this change made.

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Dehenna Davison Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Dehenna Davison)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I will do my best to address all the points raised; if I miss any, I will follow up in writing following the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) on securing the debate, and I thank all hon. Members here for their valuable contributions.

We have received in-depth aviation know-how from a former aviation Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts); incredibly informed views on the planning process from a former planning Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse); and some wonderful anecdotes and poetry about swifts. Some of my favourite memories of nature are sitting out in the early morning, watching them swoop and dive and dance. It is one of the most beautiful things that is so pure about swifts as a species. One of the great things about this debate is that we are all united in wanting to improve the population of swifts across the UK. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South referred to them as urban boy racers. I appreciated that; they certainly feel the need for speed when we watch them.

Before I address the points raised, I will make it clear that the Government greatly welcome actions by developers that contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment. We recognise the importance of protecting priority species, which is why our national planning policy framework establishes that opportunities to improve biodiversity in and around developments should be integrated as part of their design. That consideration is especially essential when it could secure measurable net gains for biodiversity. That is why it is so encouraging to see design features such as swift bricks in new builds to provide nesting facilities for birds included in housing plans.

In some circumstances, we support planning conditions or obligations being used to require that planning permission provides for works that will measurably increase biodiversity, just as we have seen with Brighton and Hove local planning authority. It has taken decisive action by mandating the inclusion of swift bricks on certain types of developments. I am sure that is due in no small part to the tenacious campaigning of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). I am sure many hon. Members are aware of similar actions in their constituencies, some of which have been highlighted, where specific species necessitate such measures.

In the case of swifts, action is needed—I think we are united on that. It is of great concern that a staggering 62% of these magnificent birds have disappeared from our skies over the past 26 years. So worrying is their decline that they have been added to the UK red list of birds of conservation concern, as a number of Members have highlighted. Although external factors such as adverse weather and a lack of insect food for chicks are contributing to their decline, the scarcity of suitable nesting spaces only exacerbates the issue. That is why I wholeheartedly agree that conservation efforts must continue to focus on ensuring safe nesting sites are in sufficient supply.

Furthermore, since swifts can be found throughout England, any urban or rural area with buildings can potentially provide homes for these birds, but it is worth noting that to maximise the chances of successful colonisation by swifts, it is crucial to install the bricks within certain parameters, considering aspects such as openness and height off the ground, as my hon. Friend the Member for Witney outlined. Planning practice guidance sets out the benefits of resting facilities for birds, but I take on board the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney and I will take them back to the Department.

This is a rare moment of cross-party unity. It is rare that myself and the shadow Minister agree at the Dispatch Box, but the Government also believe that we need to be cautious when it comes to mandating national planning conditions. There could be some circumstances where development proposals will not impact on bird habitats. We should not impose conditions and ensure that planning permissions are subject to additional and unreasonable requirements to accommodate species that are not present in an area while creating financial burdens to comply with and to discharge the condition.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
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I cannot believe what I am hearing. This brick costs about 25 quid—that is a tiny amount for new developments. There is no worst case scenario if one is put up but does not get used; there would be no problem, and other birds would probably use it. Can I impress upon the Minister that warm words do not get us anywhere? I am hearing too many warm words and not enough action. This is a simple thing that she could do, and I cannot believe that she is refusing to do it.

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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I hope that some points further on in my speech will address the hon. Lady’s point.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
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I am pleased to hear the Minister’s enthusiasm. The point is this: when the last revision of the NPPF came in, introduced this guidance towards biodiversity net gain and indicated things like swift bricks and hedgehog highways, there was a hope that developers would take it up. They have had several years to do so, and they have not.

In many developments, the box is ticked by putting up some wooden boxes here and there that will deteriorate over three or four years and then be gone. The point about the swift brick is that it is permanent. It cannot go. It does not weather or deteriorate. After seven or eight years, my wooden boxes are already looking a bit ropey after the predations of the parakeets and will need to be replaced. A brick would not. That is why we are all so keen to see them mandated.

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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I am incredibly grateful to my right hon. Friend. He has incredible wisdom in this field, having served in the Department and focused on planning during his time in government. He will know that we have recently consulted on the new national planning policy framework. I will come to that later on in my speech, which I hope will address some of his concerns.

It is fair to say that more research is needed on how best we monitor and improve swift populations, as outlined by the shadow Minister. I have received assurances from DEFRA and its agencies that they will monitor swift populations and assess any positive effect.

I pass on my thanks to organisations such as Swift Conservation and to local groups such as Hampshire Swifts and Save Wolverton’s Swifts and Martins—I have to do that, as the sister of the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) is in the Public Gallery. It would not be right not to pay tribute to those groups for their work.

The Government do not at present intend to make swift bricks compulsory in new housing, but I assure Members here today and the House that measures are being introduced across Government to protect and enhance our natural and local environment, and I will outline those now.

Hon. Members may be surprised to learn that other familiar birds, such as sparrows and starlings, which were added to the UK red list 21 years ago, have remained on that list since. To tackle that, we are placing greater emphasis on implementing a range of policies that intersect with planning to achieve better outcomes for habitats and species in England, and we have already made great progress. Just last month, the Government announced funding of £14 million to support 48 authorities in England responsible for developing local nature recovery strategies. Those identify and outline ways to enhance or recover the existing or potential species in the respective areas. Their importance cannot be overstated.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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Does the Minister not accept that nature recovery strategies are aimed at birds that would nest in trees, hedgerows and so on, which is not relevant to the swift debate, because we are talking about houses with bricks in?

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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The hon. Lady makes a reasonable point. I am just outlining some of the wider work to help not just the swift community, but the wider bird population across the UK.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts
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The Government are doing a lot, but the point that we are seeking to make is that they are not doing anything to help swifts. I made my comments, at some length, to explain why swifts are different. They will not be impacted by the measures being taken—laudably—in other areas. The swift brick is needed, because it is niche to swifts.

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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I appreciate that, and I again thank my hon. Friend for his valuable contribution—specifically the point on ensuring that swift bricks are installed at the right height, which is vital to them being fit for purpose.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts
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The Minister has touched on the right point, but that can be dealt with by the guidance. If there is a mandate to require swift bricks wherever possible, the guidance can be laid out afterwards on how to go out and do it.

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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Again, I appreciate that, and I will take it back to the Department following our debate.

In addition to the strategies I outlined, a range of cross-Government measures will support the needs of nature more widely in local planning, including mandatory biodiversity net gain, which sees most types of new development required to deliver improvements of 10% or more in biodiversity. Work is ongoing with DEFRA to finalise the regulations, but we are confident that that update to the planning process will have positive outcomes for biodiversity.

The hon. Member for Bristol East asked specifically about that issue. As she outlined, DEFRA has committed to keeping species features such as swift bricks and bat and bird boxes under review. It is also committed to updating its biodiversity metric every three to five years, which will provide further opportunities for change and innovations to be considered.

Another measure that is in place to support the needs of nature in local planning is the green infrastructure framework, published in January 2023. The framework helps local planning authorities and developers to meet the national planning policy framework requirements to consider green infrastructure in local plans and new developments. The framework’s “Green Infrastructure Planning and Design Guide” is a helpful resource, which already advocates using British Standard 42021, calling for integral nest boxes to be installed in new developments. Furthermore, the requirement to consider green infrastructure in local plans is embedded in the national model design code, which provides guidance for local planning authorities on setting clear design standards through design codes and already refers to the green infrastructure framework, reinforcing the importance of the measures it outlines.

As we consider the implementation of a national policy, we need to reflect on its practicalities and whether planning is the most appropriate mechanism to achieve the desired outcomes. There is no denying—it has not been denied in this Chamber—that the planning process can be confusing and outdated for users. That is why our Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is crucial to deliver changes to planning policy to address that complexity, including modernising it, increasing flexibility and regulating pre-application engagement with communities.

The changes that we want to make to the planning system will see a more consistent, streamlined and digitally enabled approach to the way planning applications are made. They will be proportionate to the scale and nature of the development proposed, to ensure faster and better decision making.

I must make it clear that the Government recognise the fact that many local planning authorities, as well as the wider planning sector, are facing capacity and capability challenges, which is why we have developed a programme of support, working with partners across the planning sector, to ensure that local planning authorities have the skills and capacity they need, both now and in the future. To that end, we are concerned that the introduction of mandatory conditions may impose an additional burden on all local planning authorities to enforce breaches of conditions. As legislators, we need to be mindful of the potential unintended consequences of introducing a national policy.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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The Minister will know that my constituency neighbour, our right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), shares a local authority with me. Test Valley Borough Council already requires a long list of specifications when a planning application is granted, including what type of brick and roofing material will be used and what the windows will look like. Mandating a standard brick per dwelling does not seem very complicated to me.

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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I have heard my right hon. Friend loud and clear, but I hope she will recognise my wider point about not wanting to add unnecessary additional complexity to a service that already faces a great deal of it.

Consultations such as the one on the national planning policy framework in December 2022 are invaluable sources of information, as mentioned by the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan). We are currently analysing the responses to the consultation, which included answers about how national policy could be strengthened through small-scale nature interventions—for example, swift bricks—and a Government response will be provided in due course.

We also used the consultation as an opportunity to outline our commitment to a wider national planning policy review, which will align with the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill receiving Royal Assent, and will ensure that the planning system capitalises on all opportunities to support the environment, address climate change and, of course, level up the economy. In the review, we have already committed to exploring how we can incorporate nature into development through better planning for green infrastructure and nature-friendly buildings. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate that we cannot pre-empt the findings of the review, so we would not want to introduce a national compulsory planning policy until it has been concluded, but we remain conscious of the plight of our swift population and the potential benefits that mandatory swift bricks could have.

Before I close, I reiterate that the Government are committed to protecting and enhancing our natural and local environment. Through our planning changes and cross-Government working, we are pursuing a fair and balanced approach to achieve better outcomes for biodiversity. Our policy interventions will empower local areas to adopt a targeted approach in reversing the decline of swifts, based on local opportunities. Local planning authorities have the power to adopt policies locally that protect species, and it is important that that is done in a holistic way.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
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Before the Minister finishes, could she confirm to us that she is not saying no to introducing mandatory swift bricks? I understand that she is a Minister in a Department and that collective decision making has to be gone through, but will she go away and have a think about it? In doing so, will she consider two things? First, she should have a look at the wooden boxes that developers may have put up three or four years ago, get a sense of whether they are all still there and consider their permanence. Secondly, I understand that she has given notice that she will not be standing at the next general election but, in a small way, she may be able to leave her mark for the future. If she said yes, we would all be happy to call it the Davison brick, and she would be able to gaze at the swifts with some joy in the future and see the part that she had played in their success.

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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I am incredibly grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention but, just to confirm, it is not something that is being considered by Government at the moment. As I said, in the review of the national planning policy framework there are opportunities to feed in, and I would encourage all Members here and all interested campaigners to feed into that consultation.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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The problem is that that review is absolutely massive—it covers a huge range of things. The reason we are having the debate today is to try to flag that this issue needs a very specific response. How can the Minister assure us that, when it comes to the consultation, this does not get lost among everything else?

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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Given the tenacity of the Members present and the incredible campaigning of groups such as those sitting in the Public Gallery today, I am confident that the issue will remain on the radar of both my Department and the wider Government.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts
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I am grateful to the Minister for taking another intervention. I add my voice to those we have just heard: this issue is a way for her to make a real mark on nature. It could be something that she could forever say she had done that had helped the future. I hope the Department will forgive me, but I feel that it is quite a niche subject, and perhaps one that the Department does not understand in the way it ought to in terms of how it could help. Would the Minister agree to meet a cross-party group of people who care about this issue and who will come and plead the case again? Maybe then she will be able to say that she will think again.

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison
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My hon. Friend pre-empted my final sentence. I was going to offer to meet interested Members from across the House and interested campaigners from across the country to discuss the issue further. I recognise that it has provoked hearts and minds, and it is important that we get it right to stop the decline of swift populations.

Finally, I assure hon. Members that we want to build a future where swifts can thrive and soar high in our skies, bringing joy to all who, like myself, witness their graceful flight. I am grateful to all hon. Members for taking such a close interest today.