Worcester village is first Homes England to secure new “Build with Nature” accreditation

Lea Castle

The former Lea Castle Hospital site near Kidderminster, Worcestershire, has become the latest, and first Homes England, site to gain a Build with Nature accreditation.

Building with Nature (BwN) is a voluntary scheme that sets out standards for high quality green infrastructure at each stage of the development process, from planning and design to long-term management and maintenance. The BwN standards enable nature friendly features to be integrated throughout a development and cover areas including biodiversity, water management and green infrastructure.

Homes England worked with Worcestershire Green Infrastructure Partnership (WGIP) and Borough and County ecologists in its role as site owner of the former hospital, which is  surrounded by woodland and home to a diverse range of plant and animal specie, to develop a framework for green infrastructure proposing measures in the outline planning application which would safeguard and enrich the existing environment.

Green infrastructure is defined by Natural England as ‘…a network of multi-functional green space, both new and existing, both rural and urban, which supports the natural and ecological processes and is integral to the health and quality of life of sustainable communities.’

Since the start on site to create 600 new homes in October 2020, developer Vistry Partnerships have worked with Homes England, local councils, the WGIP and specialist consultants to ensure the new Lea Castle Village development meets BwN standards.

The site is home to a number of European Protected Species of bat, including lesser horseshoe, brown long-eared and pipistrelle bats. As some of the redundant buildings due for redevelopment were roosts for the animals, replacement roosts were needed elsewhere on site. In addition to creating new homes for the bats, a redundant substation on site was converted.

Doors were removed and blocked up, and hanging tiles added to external walls to create crevices for the bats. A specially designed tile access was made for the roof to enable the bats to get into the building. As more residents move onto the site, information boards will be provided to explain the use and importance of the bat roosts.

Vistry and their consultants TEP also created a lighting strategy including dark corridors and specialist bat lighting to maintain the commuting and foraging corridors between bat roosts and surrounding off-site foraging habitats. Additional planting and screening are also being introduced to further mitigate the impacts of the development on the bats.

As a dormouse nest had previously been found on the site, all existing tree groups and woodland at the site’s edges were retained, to maintain existing commuting routes for the species. Additional landscape planting on the sides of the site’s main spine road will provide an arboreal commuting route across the road and create further foraging and nesting resources for the mice.

In June 2021 Vistry were awarded a Building with Nature Design Award for their development at Lea Castle, demonstrating that the scheme’s design had gone beyond statutory requirements to deliver a high standard of green infrastructure for people and wildlife.

The Lea Castle site has allocation for a further 800 homes, as well as employment land, a new primary school, sports pitch, orchards and allotments.

Around 40 per cent of the wider Lea Castle site will consist of green infrastructure with the aim of delivering 10 per cent biodiversity net gain – and securing further Build with Nature accreditation.

Other sites across the regional which also have BwN accreditation include Elderberry Walk in Bristol which has had its masterplan for 161 new homes on a brownfield site in Bristol approved. BwN says this is a fantastic example of how high quality green infrastructure can be achieved in a high density development.

Gloucester Services also secured BwN accreditation for both its north and south bound motorway service area on the M5 motorway. The project incorporates green infrastructure including an outdoor picnic area, play facilities and habitat provision, has been accredited a Building with Nature Full Award (Good).

Widely reputed to be the best motorway service area in the UK, Gloucester Services leads with its connection to the surrounding Cotswold landscape, and delivers a tranquil setting for the benefit of visitors and employees.

Habitat First Group has also been accredited with the Building with Nature Design Awards for up to 575 holiday homes in the heart of the Cotswolds. In addition, the completed phases of the development at Lower Mill Estate have been accredited with the Building with Nature Full Award (Excellent).

Lower Mill Estate provides a rich network of green infrastructure, bringing benefit to both people and wildlife through a landscape-led approach to restoring this quarry site.