The chair of the council’s planning committee has given a public undertaking that the application by Brick by Brick to build an ugly four-storey block of flats next to a wildlife reserve in New Addington has been shelved until a proper and full ecological survey can be undertaken.
And that might delay the application at least until October this year, when the eggs of the endangered brown hairstreak butterfly might be observed on blackthorn hedges on the site. The same hedges which the developers say that they want to destroy to make way for the car park spaces for their 11 flats.
It means that a council-backed housing development worth potentially millions of pounds could now depend on the discovery of an insect egg measuring just one millimetre across.
Hutchinson’s Bank is a wildlife reserve established on Green Belt land more than 30 years ago after a campaign led by Sir David Attenborough. Now managed by the London Wildlife Trust, it has established a worldwide reputation for its ancient chalkland habitat, and it is the home for three rare species of butterfly, as well as badgers, bats and slow worms, all of which are protected.
Yet when Brick by Brick submitted its planning application to build a four-storey block of 11 flats (and six car parking spaces) adjacent to the wildlife reserve, they described the site as simply a “roadside verge”. The ecological survey submitted on behalf of Brick by Brick made no mention of endangered wildlife species, or even being close to their habitat.
Brick by Brick is the housing development company wholly-owned by Croydon Council. It has been funded with £260million-worth of borrowing from Croydon Council. Since the company was formed in 2015, every single one of its planning applications have been approved by the local planning authority – Croydon Council.
The scheme at Corbett Close and Fairchildes Avenue in New Addington is one of 24 submitted by Brick by Brick for planning permission since March this year, right in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, when opportunities for any consultation or public meetings have been reduced to almost nil.
Yet hundreds of concerned New Addington residents, Croydon conservationists and schoolchildren have spent the past three months lobbying widely on social media against Brick by Brick’s destruction plans for Hutchinson’s Bank.
Careful research revealed that Brick by Brick may have broken planning law when they failed in their statutory obligation to consult the London Wildlife Trust over their scheme.
There is certainly a strong case for the Brick by Brick application containing false information, using the results of an ecological site survey conducted in December and with planning forms that failed to record the presence of endangered wildlife species on or next to the site.
But now Chris Clark, the councillor who chairs the planning committee under the careful control of planning chief Paul Scott, has said that the application will not come before the committee until a full survey of the site has been conducted.
Responding to messages on social media from one of the leading figures in the residents’ campaign against the scheme, Clark tweeted, “The proximity of the site to Hutchinson’s Bank has now been acknowledged and I have been assured that this scheme will not come to planning committee until we have sufficient information about habitats, wildlife etc to make a decision. I hope that reassures you.”
Clark has given no indication whether this delay has been agreed with other members of the committee, or with the council’s professional planners, or with the approval of his puppet-master, Scott.
Given the experts of the London Wildlife Trust have been belatedly alerted to the threat to the reserve and the breeding sites of some of the world’s rarest butterflies, it does at least provide a chance for a more thorough investigation than may have been the case previously.
According to the nature charity Butterfly Conservation, “The brown hairstreak was once very widespread in England and Wales but has declined severely due to the loss of woodlands and hedgerows and increasingly intensive hedgerow management…
“Colonies are normally centred on a wood, but egg-laying usually extends over several square miles of the surrounding countryside. A complex of woodlands and hedgerows with abundant, suitably managed, blackthorn is therefore required. Most colonies occur on heavy clay soils where blackthorn is a dominant constituent of the hedgerows.”
There are several blackthorn bushes on the site Brick by Brick wants to concrete over.
Butterfly Conservation’s advice sheet continues, “This rare butterfly depends upon hedgerows and woodland edges for its survival. It breeds on blackthorn and other members of the plum family… Because of its dependence on hedgerows, the butterfly is affected by hedge removal and frequency of cutting.”
In his “Raw Deal” speech on Tuesday, Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson mocked conservationists seeking to protect what’s left of the country’s green and unspoilt places, saying he was determined that the country would “Build, build, build” its way out of the coronavirus-induced recession. There would, he said, be no more “newt counting”.
The fact remains, however, that the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act remains on the statute book, and it contains protections for a wide range of species, not just newts, but also the brown hairstreak and other butterfly species to be found on and around Hutchinson’s Bank, as well as badgers, slow worms and bats.
Penalties that can be imposed for criminal offences in respect of a single creature, or its eggs, affected by destruction of habitat, contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act, is an unlimited fine, up to six months imprisonment, or both.
It may be something which Clark, Scott and Brick by Brick’s “chief executive”, Colm Lacey, might want to check on.
- To view the planning application documents for this site, and to read the objections, click here
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