Developer who cleared railway allotment site told he must still relocate protected slow worms – and could be breaking the law

Posted On 14 Mar 2017 at 10:06 am

A developer who wants to squeeze four homes onto old railway allotments has been told that he must still move slow worms thought to live on the site – and warned he could be breaking the law by clearing it.

Brighton Housing Developments, owned by Swiss-based John and Nicola Panteli-Blackburn, bought the site to the rear of the Open House pub in Springfield Road late last year.

It came with planning permission for a terrace of four houses – but that runs out today, with the developer stuck between not being able to start official development because of the slow worms, and the planning permission expiring unless he does.

Just before Christmas, the developer applied to get a condition to relocate the reptiles removed on the basis that a wildlife survey had found no slow worms.

This year, the site has been aggressively cleared, and the developer’s agents say this has been done on the assumption that no reptiles are living there.

But the county ecologist pointed out that the survey had been done at the wrong time of year when slow worms would have been hard to spot and may even be hibernating.

And the council has now rejected the attempt to clear the condition and says the relocation exercise must still take place – and warns that clearance of the site could be a criminal offence.

A letter to Brighton Housing Development’s agents Parker Dann from planning officer Sonia Gillam said: “It cannot be confidently stated that reptiles are absent from the site, and it is considered that clearance of the site without appropriate mitigation carries the risk of an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended.

“As such, it is considered that the [condition] should not be amended and that a translocation exercise should still be carried out, in line with best practice, prior to any development or site clearance taking place, with a contribution towards maintenance of the receptor site being provided.

“All surveys were undertaken outside optimal months. The current survey (Lizard Landscape 2016) was not carried out in accordance with best practice. Surveys were undertaken over a compressed period of 8 days between 27th October and 3rd November, i.e. at the end of and beyond the recognised active period for reptiles.

“Even if the suitability of the site for reptiles has declined, the site is contiguous with habitat that is suitable for reptiles and from which the presence of reptiles has been confirmed by local residents.”

One neighbour, Sylvia Peckham, has written to the council to state that slow worms are still living on land she leases right next to the site, and in her garden, along with other wildlife.

She also expressed concerns that the workmen on the site had told her they were intending on ripping up tree roots, which could kill hibernating slow worms.

A spokesman for Brighton Housing Development’s agents Parker Dann said they did not wish to comment.

Meanwhile, a petition calling on the council to save the slow worms has now been signed by almost 650 people.

  1. Robin Hislop Reply

    This, in a nutshell, is why house prices are so high in this country. Everyone moans about the lack of housing, but when developers try to build, everyone has a million reasons why they can’t.
    I like slow worms as much as anyone, but that is why we have protected areas such as nature reserves. This piece of vacant land can provide homes for 4 families.

    • Edward Reply

      Sorry Robin but you don’t have the whole picture. The Council tried to protect this site as a protected Open Space over a decade ago, but made errors, so it was not protected in time. It is also part of a functioning wildlife corridor. House prices are high because our population is rising madly against build, don’t confuse that with people trying to save wildlife for everyone.

      • Captainmarvel Reply

        Now i don’t know the in’s & outs of ‘open space’s’,but if
        this area is so important for wildlife why was planning permission granted? Forget the mistakes the council made a decade ago.Planning permission is about to expire so it must have been granted 3 years ago.Why didn’t the then Green council decline planning?

    • Steve Tovell Reply

      Absolute nonsense Robin. The developers acted with complete disregard to the planning conditions set out in this conservation area. Slow worms are a supposedly ‘protected’ species. If you think that driving diggers into their habit and totally destroying it is OK then perhaps you should become a developer. The council should be looking at utilising all the deserted/empty buildings laying around the nearby area, not building new ones in totally unsuitable places to line the pockets of greedy developers living hundreds of miles away!

  2. Fred Reply

    “This piece of vacant land can provide homes for 4 families.”

    This piece of vacant land can provide investment opportunities for 4 London Hedge funds.

  3. Ann Reply

    I bet these homes will be really “affordable” too!
    Local residents have defeated attempts to develop this small wild space over the past several years. How did the developers get permission now, and who allowed them to destroy the mature vegetation, which was undoubtedly habitat for all sorts of wildlife, including the slow worms known to live there? It is another small outrage. I really hope the planning permission lapses. It will take years to fully replace what has been destroyed, but it will happen if it isn’t concreted over and built on. It is, by the way, a ridiculously narrow strip of land between a noisy pub garden and a railway line, so who could think it was a suitable site in the first place I can’t imagine.

    • Captainmarvel Reply

      What’s affordable? Preston Park is a very desirable area 2 live in which is why property is expensive there.Market forces.
      Who could think it was a suitable site in the 1st place? Well the developer who purchased the land & the planning department in the Green council who granted planning permission for this development.
      Just because planning permission has elapsed does not mean the development will not proceed.The developer can re-apply for planning permission.Even though Brighton council is now run by a different administration (Labour)
      If the developer took the council to court I doubt the council would have the funds to fight it.

  4. Wendy Reply

    Do we really need more housing while properties stand vacant and uninhabited in our city? Will anybody d able to afford them?

  5. Robin Hislop Reply

    Wow, strong feelings on this issue! One of the negative effects of the shortage of housing in the south east (and the corresponding high prices), is that it has become an emotive issue. For those priced out of the market, all developers are “greedy”. I don’t know anything about these developers, but in general the building of a house is a mutually beneficial transaction for both buyer (who gets a house) and seller (who makes a profit). It is the shortage of housing which pushes up prices, because there is so much competition to buy each property. It is not the “greed” of developers. Their costs are also being pushed up, because of the shortage of land which can be developed, partly because it is almost impossible to get planning permission because of objections like this.

    I know the site. I wouldn’t choose it for my house, but many would. It’s good for transport, in a central and extremely popular area, in the catchment for good schools etc. Standing on the railway bridge, one can look west along the railway line and see gardens backing onto the embankment as far as the eye can see. Surely there are one or two slow worms in those gardens? I don’t see what is particularly precious about this little piece of land.

    We need an honest debate about solving the housing shortage. It is a total myth that there is not enough land suitable for building on in the UK. Only 7.5% of the UK’s land area is built on, and two-thirds of that is gardens and green space! But we have certain sacred cows (“Britain is being concreted over! The greenbelt is sacred!”) which are preventing any sensible compromise. People are suffering, as well as the slow worms. What about their needs?

  6. Pingback: Railway allotments development update | Southdown Rise Residents Association

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