In part one of this three-part series, the Canary explored how ecological consultant Middlemarch aided Taylor Wimpey in its application for a housing development in Southend-on-Sea. In particular, the firm helped the developer secure planning permission to destroy over 40 protected trees. The Canary now turns its attention to Taylor Wimpey itself – a company which is no stranger to environmental destruction.
There’s no shortage of reports on Taylor Wimpey ransacking green spaces and wildlife sites. For example, in Norfolk the firm cut down trees and hedgerows outside its planning permits. Similarly, in Hertfordshire, Wimpey damaged protected trees during early construction works.
What’s more, Greenpeace’s investigative unit, Unearthed, previously exposed the company’s anti-environmental lobbying. It found that the corporation had pushed the government in 2021 to weaken climate targets for new builds.
Naturally, the developer has also racked up a record of environmental safety violations. In 2021, the Environment Agency fined the company for unpermitted sewage discharge. Following this, in May 2023, the Welsh environment regulator fined Wimpey nearly half a million pounds for a serious river pollution incident.
Net gain for nature?
Where housing is concerned, the Wildlife Trusts have produced a briefing that sets out principles for developers to build:
homes in a way that avoids and minimises biodiversity loss and damage.
Crucially, the document advises developers to mitigate biodiversity loss where it is otherwise “unavoidable”.
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For Southend-on-Sea, as local resident and campaigner Tim Fransen sardonically noted, this means “a cheap ‘wildlife area’” including:
‘man-made’ beehives, excavated ground holes (hibernacula), and stacks of logs with holes drilled in them (bug hotels) – presumably fashioned from the very trees slated for destruction
Moreover, Taylor Wimpey is proposing that the site in Shoeburyness will facilitate a net gain for biodiversity. As the Canary’s Tracy Keeling has previously explained, biodiversity net gain (BNG):
is the government’s controversial metric to facilitate continued development in nature-rich areas during the extinction crisis. It enables developers to secure a green light to destroy existing wildlife habitat. They can do so as long as their plans include promises to replace that biodiversity elsewhere and, in many cases, increase it overall.
In other words, this misleading metric will allow Taylor Wimpey to tear down mature protected trees, so long as it offsets the damage and increases biodiversity on the whole. At the site, Wimpey will cut down over 60 trees across the local greenspace. To address the biodiversity loss, it proposes to plant 105 new trees, mostly in private gardens.
Opening the door to nature degradation
This might sound like a win for nature, but in reality, the developer will replace well-established trees with tiny saplings in plastic tree-guards. As residents have pointed out, the new spruces will also take decades to reach maturity. Worse still, mortality rates for newly planted trees in urban areas are notoriously high. The most recent survey of street tree mortality suggested that:
30% of newly-planted street trees die within the first years of planting… with rates often reaching as high as 50%
What’s more, the dying, neglected trees at a separate Wimpey development in Wales should serve as a cautionary tale. In short, profit-driven housing developers simply cannot be trusted with nature. At the end of the day, they’ll readily sanction its destruction if it boosts the bottom line.
In part three, the Canary will talk about how, just as the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is bound up in Middlemarch, the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts umbrella organisation is worryingly close to Taylor Wimpey itself.
Feature image via sludgegulper/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0Support us and go ad-free
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