Hedgehog highways for new developments – August 2022 update

newbury hedgehog highway

August 2022

Since Newbury Town Council’s initiative in July (see below), West Berkshire’s hedgehogs have been much in the news.

The BBC picked up on the story on 3 August. This originally quoted West Berkshire that to introduce a policy of insisting that builders add a hole to allow animals to move freely between properties would place an “overburdening condition” on developers. It has, however, since been changed ro reflect a statement issued by WBC on 5 August which cites a completely different reason, that a “blanket policy for hedgehog highways would not meet the requirements of national planning legislation because there is no specific evidence of a fall in the District’s hedgehog population.” I spoke to a couple of experts on 11 August and am trying to establish is a definitive survey does indeed exist and whether it could be sent to WBC. Certainly they are currently regarded as “Vulnerable” by the Mammal Society (working with, amongst others, Natural England). They are also a species whose health and numbers are widely regarded as indicative of the well-being of the eco-system overall: and by several measures, hedgehogs are not doing that wee. WBC’s insouciance on the matter may therefore be mis-placed.

More recently, one local pressure group has launched a petition which you can see here. If this can get to 1,500 signatures by the time it closes in min-September it will be debated at the next available WBC Full Council meeting. At the very least, this will give WBC the chance to expand on its previous slightly underwhelming statement which was also both reactive and defensive.

To describe adding these fence holes as “overburdening” in developers is clearly laughable. The reality is that the people who would be overburdened are WBC’s own enforcement officers who already appear to have more work than they could handle. Obviously a lack of enforcement resources is no reason not to have a law or a policy – as one NTC Councillor put it to me, that would be like saying there’s no point in making murder illegal because the police aren’t always able to investigate every crime properly – but it’s fanciful to suppose that just because something does become a matter of planning policy that it will automatically happen.

It’s equally important that reasonable and beneficial measure like this become normalised. Take double-glazing. No new-build prospectus now mentions this aspect. It is a planning requirement (though only since 2002) but, even if it weren’t, it would now be very difficult to sell a house that didn’t have it. The time will come (though it hasn’t come yet) when the same will be apply to features such as solar panels and air- or ground-source heat pumps. This will be driven not only by developers trying to stay ahead of the regulatory curve and being smart about extracting PR benefit from adding a feature that’s widely seen as desirable, even if it isn’t yet mandatory; but also by buyers. Many might baulk at paying top dollar for a home which, if it lacks these features, may become hard to sell in the future.

No one is suggesting that the lack of hedgehog-friendly fences are going make a house unmarketable. They are, however, a small, simple and good thing which can be done to help make the world a slightly better place. A canny developer will also use them to buy repetitional advantage. Additionally, if the promised features aren’t added, the developers can expect the new owners to complain. This market-forces approach is perhaps a surer way than relying on regulations which may never be enforced, important though it is to have legal confirmation of what is expected.

The only way both the developers and the planning authorities can be aware of what people want is to say so. So, hats off to NTC and those responsible for this petition for getting the ball rolling on this one.

July 2022

Newbury Town Council has resolved to request that all new developments in Newbury include a 13cm hole in the bottom of fences that allows hedgehogs to move freely between gardens.

In response to a national petition named “Help save Britain’s hedgehogs with ‘hedgehog highways’!”, which highlighted the fact that the hedgehog population is decreasing in large part to their being fenced off into smaller areas. The total hedgehog population is estimated to be down 95% since the 1950s so the Council decided to take action.

At the last Planning & Highways Committee meeting on 11 July 2022, the Council resolved to adopt a policy of requiring hedgehog-friendly fencing in all housing developments on which the Council is consulted. This fencing would include a 13cm hole in the bottom that allows free movement for hedgehogs to find food and a mate.

Nigel Foot, Chair of the Planning & Highways Committee said that “although the Town Council has already signed up to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s “Hedgehog Heroes” scheme, we felt that more needed to be done to help protect this iconic animal.”

The Council also resolved to lobby the local planning authority, West Berkshire Council, to make hedgehog-friendly fencing a specific condition of the granting of planning permission for housing developments and look to get the need for hedgehog highways identified in the emerging local plan.

Although this requirement would only be for new developments, we would like to encourage all Newbury residents to put holes in their existing fences to help reverse the steep decline of our hedgehog population.

For more information you can contact Councillor Nigel Foot, Vice-Chair Heritage Working Group at nigel.foot@newbury.gov.uk  or Hugh Peacocke, CEO Newbury Town Council at hugh.peacocke@newbury.gov.uk. Alternatively, visit the Newbury Town Council website.

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2 Responses

  1. Without encouragement from any planners, councils or twonks, but after full discussion with our delighted new neighbours, I’m pleased to report that our new garden wall contains two hedgehog holes that are turning out to be a focus of much garden based exclamations of interested delight from visitors. Photos can be made available!

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