Published: 16:41, 15 May 2020
| Updated: 09:32, 20 May 2020
Plans to develop a former Kent coalmine have sparked an online petition calling on a council to commission an independent report into the effect on wildlife.
In the 30 years since Betteshanger Colliery between Deal and Sandwich closed, wildlife has made a natural habitat of the area that surrounded the pit head - helped by money from South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) to create a fishing pond and walkways for the public to enjoy.
But now, following property developer Quinn Estate's plans to build 210 new and self-build homes on bare and undeveloped land adjacent, residents are calling on Dover District Council to rethink it's decision not to commission a Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).
Instead it is relying on the findings of a study paid for by the developer before it makes its decision.
Caroline Mason, who started the petition at change.org, said: "We consider that an Ecological “Appraisal” paid for by the interested developer Quinns, is nowhere near sufficient for a site such as this.
We also note with astonishment that the "appraisal" paid for by the interested developer Quinns, was undertaken in November. Surely, the breeding season is the correct time!
"At a time of climate and ecological emergency, issues on which DDC has committed to taking action, it is honest, independent assessments with site visits, of the trees and habitats to be protected that are needed; it is not reasonable to make do with assessments commissioned and paid for by developers that reduce developers’ profits."
A spokesman for Quinn Estates said the Littlebourne based firm commissioned the ecological appraisal survey at the request of Dover District Council, which determined whether an EIA was needed in line with standard practice.
The company also answered residents' concerns claiming that it is making a Section 106 contribution to local amenities, using an existing road network put in place for heavy use agricultural and commercial use and it has dropped unpopular plans to build a link road through Northbourne to the Eastry bypass.
A spokesman for Quinn Estates said: "All of the information relating to environmental and ecological impact that has been submitted as part of the planning application for Betteshanger Grove was commissioned by Quinn Estates, as required by Dover District Council.
It is the role of the council to determine if an EIA was required, as they have done in accordance with the regulations.
"This is normal practice for the planning system in the UK.
“All the information, submitted as part of the application, is subject to independent review by Dover District Council’s own specialists and planning team as well as by statutory consultees.
"It would also be subject to full public consultation by the local authority.
"The same process would apply if an EIA had been required.”
The land, either side of new road Colliers Way, was part of a regeneration scheme managed by Hadlow College until it went into educational administration amid claims of financial mismanagement.
Quinn Estates purchased it last year and reopened Betteshanger Country Park, at the other side of the A258 which was also part of Hadlow's redevelopment with construction of a visitor centre and mining museum.
If approved the scheme at the business park will also include 500 sqm of office space and up to 150 sqm of retail space.
A spokesman for Dover District Council said: "For a development of this size, we are required to carry out a Screening Appraisal to see if the development would result in such significant impacts that there needs to be an Environmental Impact Statement produced in addition to the usual environmental information.
"This appraisal has taken place and has found that in this case an EIS is not required. For more details on the appraisal, please see the DDC planning pages.
"We would stress that no decision has been made on this planning application.
"All representations and relevant factors, including environmental considerations, will be taken fully into account before any decision is made.
"For more details on the application, please see the DDC planning pages.
The Dover and Deal branch of the Green Party has published a comment on the development by Peter Cutler who is a member of Facebook group the Friends of Betteshanger.
He said: "It will potentially result in an ecological disaster for a site which has become re-wilded over the last 31 years. Hadlow were managing a regeneration scheme on the old mine site which would have created green, sustainable jobs and respected the unique mosaic environment there.We supported the SEEDA/Hadlow regeneration scheme.
In her own biodiversity assessment, the Sue Sullivan, also a member of the Friends of Facebook group, said: "The turtle dove is the UK’s fastest declining bird. The Betteshanger site, as it currently stands, provides all the requirements for turtle doves:
A continuous supply of seed from April to August (from all the flowering plants on site) They feed on the ground in weedy areas where the vegetation is short and sparse – as it is on large areas of the site.
Tall mature hedgerows, areas of scrub, woodland edges with a thick shrub layer for nesting (all present or developing at Betteshanger)
A water supply from the lakes on site."
Ms Sullivan claims Betteshanger development site falls within the Turtle Dove Zone that the RSPB have designated where they are aiming to encourage better habitat maintenance.
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