Chattenden housing project may be scuppered by nightingales
Eighty-four nightingales may have
scuppered the biggest housing project in Medway.
For 18 years a new town with 5,000
homes and 5,000 jobs has been earmarked for the former army base at
Lodge Hill, near Hoo.
But in a shock move its wildlife
has been given a top protection order - so the gigantic scheme is
back to the drawing board.
Natural England, a government
agency, has made Lodge Hill a site of special scientific interest
(SSSI) after a survey found rare nightingales flooded in after the
army left, largely protected by the site’s 7ft fence.
How the Lodge Hill
development would look
There are now 84 singing males,
more than 1% of the UK population, leading the RSPB to declare the
site a “national stronghold”.
A Medway Council spokesman
described the decision as “astonishing” and said nightingales only
lived there for 12 weeks a year.
He said: “We now seem to have the
absurd situation of a government agency (Natural England) stopping
a government department (the Ministry of Defence) from
“Nightingales aren’t a protected
species, and there are numerous similar habitats within the
The RSPB hit back. Casework officer
Anna Heslop said: “They’re not here all year round but it’s an
important period because they breed here.
Video: Developers speak
about Lodge Hill when the development was first mooted
“It’s fantastic [...] that Natural
England have been able to do this in the face of extreme economic
The Lodge Hill scheme was in its
final stages before the nightingale survey put it on hold last
In December deputy council leader
Cllr Alan Jarrett told the Messenger: “If the development does not
go ahead it will be disastrous. It is a large part of our housing
requirement as it is the only large site suitable.”
The plan includes 5,000 homes with
shops, offices, schools, a doctors’ surgery, two hotels, retirement
homes and a garden centre.
Natural England’s executive board
ruled on Monday to expand the 868-acre SSSI it already has near
Lodge Hill by 549 acres.
Spokesman Graham Tibbetts said the
order had been made very carefully,
adding: “This decision does not determine whether or not
development can go ahead at the site; this is a matter for the
Consultees including the council
and the site developer, Land Securities, now have four months to
lodge their objections.
If the SSSI remains, the council
has hinted strongly that it will fight it. That is likely to mean
taking its plans to a government inquiry which could take years and
cost tens of thousands of pounds.
The environment will be protected,
but residents will face a desperate wait for new homes.
Council leader Rodney Chambers
(Con) said: “The government is constantly telling us we should be
going for growth, kick-starting the
economy and fighting the recession and yet here we are with a
shovel-ready project that would deliver 5,000 much needed homes
delayed by a government agency.”
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