Residents accuse developers of 'environmental vandalism'
The council has stopped construction work amid concern over protected wildlife at a greenfield site set to make way for homes.
Crest Nicholson was granted permission to build 125 homes on the urban fringe site to the north of Overdown Rise and Mile Oak Road in September, but on the condition that protected wildlife would be moved to a nature reserve in Whitehawk.
City planners were concerned for adders, badgers, hedgehogs and other wildlife that call the area their home, but were told the Whitehawk Hill nature reserve would be enhanced with cash from developers, and wildlife would be moved there, although hibernating adders were likely remain in the area.
But last week Cllr Peter Atkinson expressed concern when work started on the site last Tuesday (January 23), and said residents were 'aghast' at the 'environmental vandalism'.
He said: "There was heavy plant on site, and the works staff appeared to be pulling everything up in their path.”
After Cllr Atkinson and residents alerted the planning department, the council ordered developers to stop work on site.
A council spokesperson said: “We were alerted to work taking place on this site last week by one of the ward councillors and concerned local residents.
"We immediately contacted Crest Nicholson and told them to stop any further work until the condition of their planning permission regarding wildlife and ecology takes place.
“The council will now be carrying out a full investigation into this situation, and everything will be done to ensure the animals are safely protected or removed from the site before any work commences.”
Cllr Atkinson said although work has been halted, it was 'not before a large amount of shrubbery, scrubland and gorse had been destroyed'.
Resident Jennie Cockburn said: “The letter that was sent out stating that hand-held and low impact machinery would be clearing this beautiful space, under supervision of an ecologist (no-where to be seen).
"We have seen diggers and tree shredders on this space making lots of devastation as it goes, with total disregard of the environment and animals that inhabit that area, like foxes, badgers, newts and currently hibernating adders which are a protected species.”
Jo Hawse-Daly told developers: “As residents we have watched with alarm and dismay as the land behind Gorge Close has been cleared, with no apparent care or attention to habitat or wildlife.
"I understand that a certain amount of ground work is needed to prepare for an ecology survey however your sub contractors have chopped down trees and stripped and decimated a large area of the site and only stopped when the local councillor and planning officer intervened.”
Cllr Atkinson is calling for work not to recommence until the issue has been fully investigated. He is also asking for clearer guidance on exactly how this type of clearance should take place.
A Crest Nicholson spokesperson said: “In September 2017, Crest Nicholson was granted outline planning permission for the redevelopment of land at Overdown Rise with 125 dwellings.
"In recent weeks, we have begun basic maintenance works to reduce the level of scrub and protect existing wildlife on the site. This work has been carried out under the supervision of an ecologist.
"We have been working closely with the local authority and Aspect Ecology, an expert ecologist, to ensure that potential hibernation spots around the development remain undisturbed and that local wildlife is protected.
"There are also a number of other ecological measures that we have taken to protect wildlife whilst these sensitive works are carried out. Reptiles will be translocated from the development site to one of two release areas including an off-site Local Nature Reserve, to ensure they are protected throughout construction.
"We will continue to work proactively with the local authority to prepare the forthcoming reserved matters application and will be presenting these proposals to residents over the coming weeks.”