By Anthony Reuben
Business reporter, BBC News
There was a time when planning decisions were about whose view you couldn't block or whether your new tower block was a monstrous carbuncle.
Now there are quite different demands.
Increasingly the planning authorities are considering the impact a development has on wildlife.
And this has resulted in the emergence of a new breed of environmentally aware developers and consultants.
Having taken early retirement from the Tate gallery, Edward Mayer runs a consultancy that encourages people to provide nesting places for swifts.
"I thought 'how can I make a difference?'," he says. "These birds have fascinated me since I was a very small child and I knew they were in trouble locally."
It all started as a relatively low key operation: "We call ourselves a not-for-profit and we hope it's going to be a not-for-loss," Mr Mayer quips.
Yet it soon became clear that demand for London's Swifts' services was strong.
"Some architects got in touch with me the day before yesterday and said 'we've been told by the developer we've got to put in facilities for Black Redstarts'," Mr Mayer says.
'Compete on being good'
Last year, the government published Planning Policy Statement 9, which some people interpret as a very powerful document.
The swift nests are like normal bricks and are built in
"A planner who interprets it as we would could theoretically reject a development proposal that did no ecological harm whatsoever on the grounds that it did no ecological good," says Mike Wells from the consultancy Biodiversity by Design.
"It is no longer acceptable not to be bad - you have to compete on being good," he adds.
Some developers are embracing the new regime as a way of encouraging a less adversarial planning system. Mr Wells explains.
Eugene Dreyer, director of urban design at the architects Farrells, agrees that having a biodiversity plan helps with the planning process.
"It's obvious that it makes sense in order to build a good relationship with local authorities to try to initiate these sorts of initiatives," he says.
"I think it does help when you go up to a local authority and say 'this site has got an x, y or z kind of habitat and this is how we want to improve it'," he adds.
Flying for three years
Mr Mayer encourages developers to make one of those provisions a nesting place for swifts.
A government decision in 1997 to see bird life as an indicator of quality of life has made councils more enthusiastic about his work, he says.
Swifts need help because they tend to nest in roofs, but building regulations say that new roofs have to be sealed.
Swifts mate for life and return to the same nest every year.
"They have no time to waste looking for nest places or looking for partners because they have to produce a perfect chick," Mr Mayer says.
"When a swift leaves the nest it has to be aerodynamically perfect. It has to leave the nest and then fly straight to Africa and keep flying for two to three years before it can breed."
One solution comes in the form of a hollow brick with an entrance hole, made by a German company called Schwegler.
The brick can be built into new developments to provide nests for swifts, and is one of an extraordinary range of products that help builders provide homes for everything from short-toed treecreepers to hedgehogs.
You can even buy a wasp or hornets' nest.
'Nice little green add-on'
Mr Mayer was called in by a local resident, Paul Harrison, when a new development was planned in New Barnet in Hertfordshire.
One of the changes suggested in the plans was the addition of swift nesting boxes.
"Local people are very pleased with what they have got out of the development and it's a nice little green add-on," Mr Harrison says.
Green roofs can make the city more biodiverse than countryside
Another green add-on that we may hear more about following the summer's floods is green roofs, which slow the flow of water after a storm and reduce the strain on drains and sewers, as well as provide homes for a range of insect and plant life.
Mr Wells reckons that as more is done to encourage wildlife in towns and cities, their importance in terms of biodiversity could eventually outstrip the countryside.
"We've been losing habitats in urban sites that seemed like wastelands, but in fact [they] have higher biodiversity than many countryside sites," he says.
"The reason for that was that the countryside site had been sprayed to death with herbicides and pesticides."
"So on a roof in London you might find many species of rare invertebrates that once existed in the countryside but no longer do. It creates an interesting zoological conundrum of almost aerial zoos."
And as an added bonus, green roofs provide food for Black Redstarts.