One of Brighton and Hove’s few “green lungs” is at risk from plans to build a hundred houses on a vital ecological site, according to the Conservatives.
Hangleton and Knoll councillors Dawn Barnett and Nick Lewry have vowed to fight the threat from Brighton and Hove City Council which is preparing its planning blueprint for the next 10 years.
The blueprint, known as City Plan Part Two, includes a proposal to build homes in Benfield Valley alongside the A293 Hangleton Link Road.
The document is to be debated by the full council at a “virtual” council meeting next week.
The Conservative group wants to delete a section of the document which lists 16 “greenfield” sites on Brighton and Hove’s urban fringe for development – including Benfield Valley.
Their political opponents said that the “urban fringe” sites were included in the document at the insistence of a government planning inspector and cannot be removed next week.
Councillor Barnett, who has represented Hangleton and Knoll for 16 years, said that the Conservatives had fought several times before to save Benfield Valley from development.
She said that they had won every time and that they would take up the fight again, adding: “Benfield Valley is the last free greenfield land in Hove and we will fight all the way to save it.
“It has wonderful ecological, historical and archaeological value.
“Children use the site for educational purposes with many school groups visiting the area.
“There is significant ecological value and it is a wonderful habitat for dormice and other animals.
“There is also the historical value of the site and you can see the piggeries from the Hangleton Manor site.
“We have fought to protect Benfield Valley before and won every time and we will fight again.”
Councillor Lewry said that the valley held great value to people and that it should not be sacrificed to meet Labour’s housing targets.
He said: “We have had two or three companies wanting to build there in the past and we’ve fought and won each time.
“We will fight again to protect this greenfield land for future generations.”
Benfield Wildlife and Conservation Group issued a statement on the importance of protecting the Benfield Valley from development.
The group said: “Benfield Valley forms one of the very few remaining green tongues of open land remaining in Brighton and Hove, linking the town to the Downs.
“With only about 3 per cent of the species-rich chalk grassland remaining over the whole of the South Downs, it becomes increasingly important to preserve this environment by management.
“The special chalk grassland plants have great difficulty in competing with the long grass and shrubs shutting off their light. Without the natural lawn mowing assistance of sheep and cows, the invasive growth needs to be kept back by hand.
“It is noticeable that, in those areas where it has been kept under control, the plants and small fauna, including the glowworms, take advantage of the opportunity to grow and flourish.
“The Benfield Valley is an open space and a very important green lung extending from the urban area into the National Park. It is a valued local wildlife site and a green local space.
“Children ride their bikes here, dog walkers enjoy the open area and people use this as an exercise area, plus using the pathways to reach Sainsbury’s, almost pollution-free.
“The area is a buffer between the bypass and the urban environment.
“The chalky soil in the valley supports a variety of plants more often found on the South Downs, such as the rest-harrow and meadow vetchling, along with smaller grasses like yellow oat grass and red fescue.
“The hedges contain species such as maple, blackthorn, hawthorn, privet and dog rose. Coarse grasses like false oat grass and cocksfoot occur with taller broad-leaved plants like agrimony and St John’s wort.
“The area supports large mammals like the badger, which have setts in secluded areas.
“The elm trees support the white letter hairstreak, a scarce butterfly, which has had ecologists like Dr Dan Danahar and the Benfield Wildlife and Conservation Group searching for the eggs laid in the young blackthorn hedges.
“Other butterflies abound such as the brimstone, holly blue, gatekeeper, small skipper, marble whites, peacocks and significant numbers of brown argus and small blue, etc, with dormouse activity in the hedgerows.
“It is a migratory pathway for birds with regular sightings of buzzard, peregrines, kestrel and the occasional red kite.
“Health Walks use this footpath route keeping the walkers away from traffic and pollution.
“An ancient hedgerow exists on this site marking the parish boundary with the Old Benfield Barn which was home to many bats.
“The valley stretches up on to the Benfield Hill Local Nature Reserve, where surveys of glowworms, chalk grassland flowers and orchids, moths, mammals, etc, regularly take place, all of which find a place in the valley.”
The Conservative group spokesman on the council’s Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee, Councillor Robert Nemeth, is co-ordinating the Conservative amendments to City Plan Part Two.
He said that Councillors Barnett and Lewry had fought hard to protect Benfield Valley, adding: “Nick and Dawn should be commended for what they are doing and Conservative councillors stand together with them.
“As we know the Labour administration has been unable to deliver on its housing targets across the city over five years and now is turning its attention to greenfield land.
“Labour broke their manifesto promise to build 500 council houses, delivering only 88.
“This proposal also continues Labour’s assault on the family home in Brighton, prioritising flats and mixed developments, with 50 per cent or less of the proposed greenfield development sites devoted to traditional family homes.
“All this comes at the expense of our environment which should be protected.
“We cannot support sacrificing our valuable green space to make up for Labour’s failure on housing policy.
“These sites all have significant environmental value and the Conservatives will always stand to protect them for future generations.”
The full council is due to meet remotely next Thursday (23 April) at 4.30pm. The meeting is expected to be webcast.
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