homes win over stone curlews

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A VILLAGE’S new homes can go ahead after a planning inspector rejected conservation objections.

An application by Childerhouse Lodge Farms for permission to build 35 homes in Weeting was rejected by Breckland Council in January because of impact on the 1,500m stone curlew buffer zone round the village.

Natural England did not object to the plan, but at the inquiry the RSPB strongly opposed it, citing studies on the impact of human activity on the rare nesting birds.

But the inspector cited variation in stone curlew studies. He said Natural England was the Secretary of State’s scientific adviser on biodiversity. “Its evidence should only be rejected where there is clear objective scientific evidence which contradicts it. There is none in this case,” he said.

Robert Childerhouse, for the applicants, said: “At long last we’ve managed to break the concept of the buffer zone. The council’s and RSPB’s position that you shall do nothing has been seriously weakened.”

As a district councillor he added: “The RSPB puts so much pressure on the council for stopping development in this zone that the council has become scared of them.”

Parish council chairman and district councillor Mike Nairn welcomed the decision that means 14 affordable homes will be built to help reduce the village’s shortage.

He felt the RSPB’s criteria was ‘flawed’ and a definitive study should be done on human impact.

He added: “Applicants have to prove a negative, that it has no effect. That’s an impossibility. That requirement puts a stranglehold on everything.”

Paul Forecast, the RSPB’s regional director, said: “Stone curlews are shy birds that are sensitive to human disturbance. We therefore look very closely at any planning applications, such as the one at Weeting, that have the potential to cause disturbance.”

He said the RSPB had worked with Breckland Council to find places to build homes without disturbing the birds, so was concerned about developments outside of that ‘carefully developed plan’. He said the charity would welcome and support research into what aspects of development disturb stone curlews.

Breckland Council said: “We are currently considering the inspectors’ decision and in particular how the council assesses the environmental effects of development proposals in these parts of the Brecks which are home to the stone curlew.