A developer’s plans to squeeze a terrace of four homes onto old railway allotments in Brighton is being stalled by the question of whether or not there are slow worms living there.
People living near the patch of land, which backs onto the Open House pub’s garden on Springfield Road, say they were horrified when the new owner of the site, Brighton Housing Developments, cleared it before Christmas.
Planning permission was given on appeal in 2014 to build four houses on the site – subject to the snakelike reptiles being moved to a new home.
But this runs out in March, and John Blackburn-Panteli, director of Brighton Housing Developments which bought the plot in December last year, has now submitted a survey which states that no slow worms live on the site, so no relocation is needed.
However, county ecologist Kate Cole says the survey was done during periods of frosty nights, which could have triggered the slow worms’ hibernation period and account for none being found.
A petition to save the allotments from development has now been signed by more than 400 people. Clare Tyler, who started it, said: “The old railway allotments between Springfield Road and London Road station, home to a wealth of wildlife and a much-loved conservation area in the heart of the city, have been destroyed.
“Much to our dismay, a developer recently bought the land with planning permission, and hastily chopped down all the woodland just before Christmas without any prior notice to the local residents or the community and plans to build four houses, immediately beside the rail track and Open House pub.
“The community are fighting this, and we will continue to fight. The piece of land was an oasis of woodland, shrubbery and wildlife.
“Now it’s a barren site – we hope it can be saved, and at the very least, we want the developers to strictly adhere to all conditions going forward- and the slow worms saved!”
Mark Best, planning consultant at Parker Dann which is representing the site’s owner, said: “The wildlife survey was conducted by qualified ecologists and due to the unseasonably warm autumn, weather conditions recorded on site during the surveys were sunny / light cloud with periods of sun, with temperatures between 10C and 15.5C.
“As temperatures and weather conditions were optimal the absence of reptiles recorded on site was not affected by the time of year the survey was undertaken.
“The trees and shrubs were removed as part of routine site clearance to enable soil tests to be undertaken to allow sufficient information to be submitted to Brighton and Hove City Council to discharge the pre-commencement planning conditions. For the avoidance of doubt, clearing the consented site of trees and shrubs, none of which were subject to Tree Preservation Orders, does not constitute development.”
Dr Cole’s letter to Brighton and Hove City Council’s planning department says: “It is my opinion that the site is still likely to support reptiles, and as such I would not recommend variation of the [relocation] agreement.
“A translocation exercise should still be carried out, in line with best practice guidance, prior to development taking place, contribution towards maintenance of the receptor site should still be provided.”
The new application to set aside the slow worm relocation has yet to be decided.
Mr Panteli-Blackburn and Nicola Panteli-Blackburn, who both live in Switzerland, are also the directors of Brighton Student Developments, which is listed as the licence holder of 13 HMOs in Brighton and Hove.
There is no planning application to designate the planned houses off Springfield Road as HMOs.