(L-R) Gentoo’s Delivery and Development Manager, Thomas Rigby and Vistry North East’s Senior Design Manager, Andrew Mayfield.

Member Article

Building homes and habitats for nature in Penshaw

It’s National Nest Box Week (14th – 21st February) and a new housing project in Penshaw, which is building much needed homes for people over 55, is also creating living spaces to boost local wildlife and biodiversity.

As part of an ongoing drive to make ecological considerations in the design of its projects, Vistry North East is implementing various habitat enhancements at Penshaw Gardens, just off Station Road, where a complex of 72 apartments is currently being constructed - in collaboration with Sunderland-based housing association Gentoo Group.

Part of the Vistry Group, Vistry North East enlisted local ecological consultants, Ecosurv, to offer pre-construction advice, expertise and ongoing guidance throughout the build. Ecosurv - operating under its Habibat brand - has developed a range of habitat features tailored for bats, birds and bees, which can be seamlessly built into brickwork. Each product has been developed in conjunction with relevant advisory organisations, such as The Bat Conservation Trust and RSPB.

Impressed by this habitat feature range, Wienerberger bricks, a key partner in Vistry's supply chain, has allocated dedicated factory space in their UK facility to manufacture the units for use on new developments.

At Penshaw Gardens, Vistry North East is installing four bat boxes - including one specifically designed for bats during the breeding season; three swift nesting boxes; two sparrow terraces; two bumble bee boxes and five bee bricks, which provide a host of varying sized nesting spaces for solitary bees. All will be strategically located to guarantee optimal orientation and height and to meet the needs of individual fauna, whilst also minimising any potential disturbance to future residents.

Andrew Mayfield, Senior Design Manager, Vistry North East said: “The loss of habitat for our native wildlife has been a huge driver in the continued decline of many species across the UK. Swifts were added to conservation experts’ red list of the UK’s most endangered birds in 2021 and eight species of bee - a third of the remaining species we have - are currently listed on conservation priority lists, due to their large-scale declines in distribution. These are just two worrying examples.

“However, by thinking imaginatively, working with experienced and knowledgeable partners and implementing design features that create habitat and promote biodiversity, new development can make a positive impact - providing new spaces for animals to live and thrive.”

Graham Jeffery, Managing Director, Ecosurv said: “Wildlife is in a state of decline across the UK with 41% of species reducing in number since 1970. The modernisation of building materials with new designs in recent years has meant that species which previously adapted alongside the built environment, have quite often become excluded from newer buildings. Operating nationally, we have partnered with Wienerberger to combat this problem by producing a range of eco-habitat solutions for a wide range of species including birds (swifts, starlings, sparrows, robins, wrens and redstarts) bats and bees.

“We are delighted to be working with Vistry North East on a number of projects across the region and have been impressed by its progressive approach to the issue of habitat creation on its developments.”

Paul Hodgkinson, Director of Business Development, Wienerberger, Said: “The collaboration between Wienerberger and EcoSurv is testament to the connection between sustainable development and the preservation of biodiversity. By creating spaces that provide opportunities for wildlife we can help reduce species decline across the UK.

“In July last year, MPs debated a call for swift bricks to be made mandatory for new housing development due to declining numbers - following an e-petition which gained more than 100,000 signatures. Eco-habitats allow developers to integrate features such as swift bricks aligning not only with future legislative changes but setting precedents for ecologically responsible development."

Regenerating a brownfield site, previously used for office space by Sunderland City Council, into affordable housing, properties at Penshaw Gardens are expected to be completed in autumn 2024. 

All will be modern and spacious and the building will be eco-friendly - featuring a fabric first approach with improved thermal construction, and low energy technologies. All properties will be made available for affordable rent via Gentoo’s allocations system.

Thomas Rigby, Delivery and Development Manager at Gentoo Group, said: “As well as being committed to addressing the affordable homes shortage in Sunderland, Gentoo is focused on ensuring the environmental impact of our new builds is minimised and our contribution to the natural environment is maximised.

“It’s brilliant that new homes can be built with design features to provide new spaces to support animals and local wildlife and we are delighted to be working with Vistry North East, to bring much needed affordable housing for the over 55s forward, whilst promoting and preserving biodiversity.”

Vistry North East is part of Vistry Group, the UK’s leading provider of affordable mixed tenure homes. A young and dynamic business with a Partnerships-led approach - delivered through the Countryside Partnerships brand - the Group is delivering thousands of homes every year for the affordable and private marketplaces. The Group also encompasses a portfolio of retail brands, including Linden Homes, Bovis Homes and Countryside Homes.

Vistry North East is currently active on 15 construction sites around the North East region with a gross development value of just over £630 million and is working with six housing associations and seven local authorities.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Paul Dobbie .

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