Ecologists concerned, despite a new bat barn being built as mitigation
A ‘licence to kill’ has been granted, it was claimed, after plans to knock down a barn known to be home to rare and protected bats were approved.
Councillors voted by eight votes to five on Tuesday morning to give the go-ahead to demolish a barn in East Budleigh, known as The Pound, and for it to be replaced with a house.
A new bat barn will be built in the garden as mitigation and Clinton Devon Estates have said the new building will provide ‘conditions more suitable’ for bats, including a dedicated loft area and ground floor with free flight access for the animals.
But concerns have been raised by ecological campaigners about the risk it would pose to the rare bats, saying the demolition of the barn could see them lose their homes and die.
A previous East Devon District Council development management committee meeting saw councillors defer a decision pending additional information from Natural England about wildlife mitigation on the site.
Chris Rose, the council’s development manager, told the committee on Tuesday that Natural England had since confirmed that the proposed mitigation was acceptable, the proposal as submitted is likely to be granted a bat licence by Natural England for the works. He added that they said it was only necessary to secure provision of the bat house prior to demolition, and evidence of relocation was not required.
Councillors though were concerned at the response of Natural England. Cllr Brian Bailey accused them of failing in their duty, adding: “I find it amazing that Natural England do not find it necessary to have any evidence of relocation before demolition begins. They are content to issue a licence, which is a licence to kill and destroy their habitat. I feel they are failing in their duty to not have to provide evidence of relocation.”
Cllr Mike Allen added: “I really cannot support the proposal unless there is certainty that the bats will relocate. We can have the very best location and habitat but if they don’t go there, then we have lost the whole game,” while Cllr Geoff Jung said that this was a serious wildlife issue and he could not support it at all.
Karen Alexander-Clarke, secretary of the East Budleigh Parish Conservation Group, had addressed the committee and said that the bats have the highest level of protection but would still at risk from this development, and the mitigation offered was not enough.
Kathy Moyle added that the Natural England response does not guarantee there won’t be a risk to the bats and the consequences of the light spill will sever flight paths and isolate bats from their colonies.
But Iestyn John, on behalf of Clinton Devon Estates, the landowners and the applicants, said that the scheme was a bespoke design of the highest quality, was backed by professional opinions, and that the evidence shows there will be no harm to bats.
Natural England’s response had said: “Having considered the ecological reports and independent assessment, and taking into account the mitigation proposed and secured by conditions as described, we concur that the development is licensable.
“With the proven presence of light averse bat species, it is important that the proposed bat mitigation and habitat features are not lit and the lighting plan and landscape scheme to be conditioned, should be designed to achieve this.
“We concur that the bat house must be available for bat occupation prior to demolition. Had this been a significant maternity or hibernation roost then we may have considered it necessary for evidence of relocation of bats before demolition, but unless otherwise required through the licensing process, we are satisfied that the protected species aspect of this application has been dealt with satisfactorily.”
Cllr Alan Dent said that the response of Natural England address the concerns that he had, while Cllr Tom Wright said that while they had concluded that the mitigation measures should enhance the future of the bat colony, we still needed to be very sure that the measures will work.
Cllr Helen Parr said that she was happy to approve the development. She said: “How do you make the bats relocate? Put them in a cage and move to the new bat barn. When the new barn is worked on and built, I imagine they will decide to relocate. I don’t see what else we can do and I am content that we should let the development proceed.”
Questions had been asked whether a condition that the bat barn was not demolished until the bats had relocated could be imposed.
But Mr Rose said that Natural England had said that the condition was not needed and that the bats could choose to relocate somewhere else, so it would very difficult to enforce as a planning condition, adding that he could not see how the council could defend refusal on appeal.
Councillors approved the application by eight votes to five, and once the result was announced, members of the public shouted out ‘the bats will all be dead within six months’