Watton housing development threatens to undermine protection of one of UK’s most important wildlife sites
The RSPB has condemned the Planning Inspectorate’s decision to grant permission at appeal for the building of 177 houses at Mallard Road, on the south edge of Watton in West Norfolk – a move it says threatens to undermine the protection of one of the UK’s most important wildlife sites.
At the same time, the nature conservation charity expressed its continuing support for Breckland District Council’s opposition to the proposed housing, praising their efforts to ensure that development avoids harming wildlife.
The developer, Tesni Properties Ltd, took the planning application to appeal after Breckland District Council planning committee refused permission in April last year, citing the lack of evidence that the proposed development would not permanently damage protected nesting habitat of the rare and threatened stone-curlew – an emblematic species of The Brecks.
RSPB Director for Eastern England, James Robinson:
“It is extremely disappointing that Breckland Council’s original decision to prevent this harmful development in The Brecks has been overturned by the Planning Inspectorate.
“No new evidence was submitted during the appeal to challenge the Council’s conclusion that this development will have a profoundly damaging impact on protected nesting habitat for one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds.
“The reversal of Breckland Council’s decision risks setting a precedent that puts wildlife in The Brecks and elsewhere in serious danger by signalling open season for development that threatens our most precious and highly protected places for nature.”
The RSPB supported Breckland District Council’s position during the appeal, submitting representations to the Planning Inspectorate opposing the development on the grounds of its harmful impact on wildlife – in particular stone-curlews. [Note 1.]
Nearly half of the area for the housing development falls within 1,500 meters of the Breckland Special Protection Area (SPA), which is home to more than half of the entire UK population of stone-curlew. [Note 2.]
This places it within the buffer zone around the SPA that has been established in local planning policy since 2009 for the express purpose of protecting nesting stone-curlews from activities that are likely to harm their breeding success.
For developers to proceed with applications in this zone they must demonstrate that there would be no harmful impact on the SPA and the species for which it is designated – a requirement the RSPB says the developer has failed to meet in this case.
Stone-curlews are particularly sensitive to disturbance when nesting, and ultimately, argue conservationists, building houses inside the stone-curlew buffer zone risks undermining more than three decades of efforts by local farmers, landowners and shooting estates, who have worked alongside conservationists to help save stone-curlews from the brink of extinction in the UK. [Note 3.]
Breckland District Council’s ‘Emerging Local Plan’ does not identify the site of the Mallard Road proposal as a ‘Preferred Site’ for development, and excludes the area of the stone-curlew buffer zone in its entirety from its proposed new housing allocation. It also identifies three alternative sites for development in Watton that would avoid entirely any impact on stone-curlews and other wildlife of the Breckland SPA. [Note 4.]
James Robinson, RSPB: “Given the evidence of the harmful impact this housing development will have on one of the UK’s most important wildlife sites – one that is afforded the highest level of legal protection – and the presence of alternative sites for development, it is unfathomable that the Planning Inspector has overturned Breckland Council’s decision.
“This is not about being anti-development, it is about the need for appropriate development to be located where it isn’t going to harm protected wildlife. Housing needs for people in The Brecks and elsewhere can and should be met without irreparably damaging the homes of our rarest wildlife.”
The RSPB is committed to protecting important wildlife sites such as The Brecks and will be looking closely at the Planning Inspector’s decision and considering available options.
Last Updated: Friday 19 January 2018