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Scandal-hit Norwich housing site could bring boost to declining sparrow numbers

A house sparrow enjoys the sun. Pic: Robina Churchyard.

A house sparrow enjoys the sun. Pic: Robina Churchyard.

(c) copyright citizenside.com

It’s a site which became steeped in controversy for the way people were moved out, but now Norwich’s Greyhound Opening could become home to an increasingly uncommon feathered favourite.

An artist's impression of the development at Greyhound Opening. Pic: Norwich City Council. An artist's impression of the development at Greyhound Opening. Pic: Norwich City Council.

As part of work to build more than a hundred new homes at the site, special house sparrow terraces are planned in an attempt to help a bird whose population has declined massively.

Work has already started to build more than a hundred homes at Greyhound Opening and Goldsmith Street, but councillors will today be asked to agree some tweaks to the design.

Members of Norwich City Council’s planning committee will be asked to agree some houses are changed from three-beds to two-beds..

But they will also be asked to include special measures for birds and bats, including for house sparrows - once so common but now an increasingly rare sight.

City Hall planning officer Lee Cook said: “It is recommended that a number of house sparrow terraces be installed on some of the new homes.

“House sparrow numbers have declined over many years, so the provision of new nesting opportunities is likely to help the species.”

The changes, if approved, will mean the development will consist of 53 one-bed flats, three two-bedroom flats, four three-bedroom flats, 40 two-bedroom and five four-bedroom houses.

The homes will be available for social rent, owned and managed by Norwich City Council, with contractor RG Carter hoping the first new tenants will be able to move in by May next year.

Greyhound Opening made national headlines in 2008 after it emerged that, contrary to city council policy, council staff had moved into sheltered housing on the site, after elderly people who lived there moved out.

The pensioners who lived there and in nearby Goldsmith Street were being re-homed to make way for new houses.

While the council had agreed officers relocating to Norwich could go into the homes, so elderly people who had yet to move out would not feel isolated, it was against policy for other staff to move in.

It sparked a scandal and led to the sacking of Kristine Reeves, the council’s head of neighbourhood and strategic housing, who was among those who moved into the properties.

The decline of the house sparrow

Once one of the most common birds in the gardens of Norwich, monitoring of house sparrows suggests a severe decline in the UK population.

In the 1970s the UK sparrow population was estimated at 12 million.

But, it has been estimated that numbers dropped by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008, with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations.

They have vanished from the centre of many cities, but can still be seen in most towns and villages.

Possible reasons for the fall include: Increased levels of pollution, loss of suitable nesting sites, increased prevalence of disease, increased numbers of predators and a reduction in the availability of their favoured food.

Whilst the decline in England continues, Breeding Bird Survey data indicates recent population increases in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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