Thanet council has confirmed it is investigating whether planning conditions are being adhered to after some 20 campaigners visited the former Laleham Gap school site in Cliftonville to voice concerns over the felling of mature trees and the disturbance of bats and birds during development.
The land off Northdown Park Road is being developed for 70 houses following a Kent County Council ‘land swap’ with the school moving to Ozengell Place in Ramsgate in 2016.
The homes are being developed under the name of Mulberry Place by Orbit Housing and will consist of a mix of affordable rent, shared ownership and full market sale properties when completed in 2021.
But members of the Thanet Trees group say they are concerned about “the mass removal of mature trees and shrubs” at the site by contractors McCulloch Homes.
The group say they have emailed enforcement at Thanet council and ward councillors in a bid to stop the fellings.
However, Orbit Housing says it is working closely with an environmental specialist and plans to carry out replanting at the site.
They say adequate protection for Pipistrelle bats and nesting birds does not appear to have been in place and have questioned why slow worms found on the site were not moved to Dane Valley Woods.
A spokesperson for Thanet Trees said: “Laleham Gap was once surrounded by mature borders and large trees providing a much needed habitat for our diminishing wildlife, and bisected by a beautiful and peaceful wooded lane much used and loved by local residents.
“Why has all the destruction of trees and hedges taken place during bird nesting season and who has been checking for nests and how?
“The rare Pipistrelle bat lived on the Laleham Gap site – but the developers have felled trees where they put bat boxes. Numbers across the UK had fallen 70% by 1993. The main culprit is fragmentation of habitat and loss of habitat: mature hedgerows and trees. Pipistrelle bats emerge from their roosts up to an hour after sunset and often follow linear features such as hedges, streams or fences to and from feeding sites. How can they possibly do that on this site, when all those features have been removed?”
Thanet Trees say they believe the development has gone ahead without adhering to conditions put in place when planning permission was agreed in 2016. They have also questioned whether an appropriate licence was obtained via Natural England.
According to documents lodged with Thanet council in 2017 surveys for reptiles and bats were carried out prior to the development.
An adult count of four slow worms was found at the school site. A total of eight bats were found, comprising four Common Pipistrelle and four long-eared, of these three Common Pipistrelle and three Long-eared emerged from the Laleham building and one common Pipistrelle and one Long-eared were emergent from the Montrose building.
Documents state the slow worms were destined for a move to Windmill Community Gardens, saying: “Windmill Community Gardens is a site which specialises in gardening, wildlife and environmental crafts involving the local community, located 1km from donor site. A survey was untaken and a suitable site was located within the community gardens, the forest garden.”
Documents also state that ten wooden bat boxes were to be put on retained mature trees around the site and all 70 new build structures will have a bat roosting feature included into their construction.
Orbit say replanting will be carried out at the site.
Thanet Trees say trees with the boxes have now been felled.
Thanet council has confirmed enforcement officers are investigating.
A spokesperson said: “Following complaints by several nearby residents, our planning enforcement team are currently investigating the former Laleham Gap school site to ensure conditions attached to their planning permission are being complied with. These include matters relating to trees and ecology. Information submitted as part of the planning process for the development of the site is available on the council’s website here: https://planning.thanet.gov.uk/online-applications/ using reference 14/0518.
“Any allegations about harm to protected species through the removal of trees should be referred to Kent Police.”
‘Working closely with environmental specialist’
James Nicholson, Operations Director at Orbit, said: “We care about our communities and that includes the environment where people live. We are working closely with an environmental specialist to determine how to protect local wildlife and the habitat during construction.
“The trees and shrubs that have been removed were in the latter stages of their life cycle and in poor condition. As part of planning consent, we will be replacing them with an increased number of brand new trees and shrubs as part of our final landscaping.
“The 70 new homes are being developed on a former brownfield site that had been derelict for some time. When completed in 2021, the new homes will offer a mix of affordable rent, shared ownership and market sale homes.”