Westerwood Planning Objection

It’s been a busy few months for us in Cumbernaulld Environmental Society: we had our AGM and strengthened our committee, we’ve spoken with North Lanarkshire Council as we work to deliver a community orchard to the Greenfaulds area of the town, we’ve been preparing this year’s entry for Cumbernauld into the Beautiful Scotland competition, we attended the Cumbernauld Living Landscape Project launch event and had our own stall at the event to tell people about the good work we are doing in the area, and we’ve secured Ken Wilson, Head of Land Services at North Lanarkshire Council, to attend our next meeting on Thursday 30th May at 7pm in Cumbernauld College.

This week (Wednesday 22nd May) we will also be speaking at a North Lanarkshire Council Planning Committee hearing against an application for a new housing development in Westerwood, in an area which encompasses a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). We’ll be at the hearing alongside representatives of Westerwood Community Council who will be speaking about the lack of adequate healthcare, education, and transport provision in the area and the added impact this development will have on those services. The full text of our objection is provided below. We will be represented at the hearing by our vice-chair Adam Smith.

The application site encompasses an area classed as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC), defined as designated sites with plants, animals, or wildlife habitats that are important to the area. The applicant proposes to amend the boundary of this area, resulting in a loss of almost 10% to the existing SINC. While the applicant has proposed to off-set this by planting on an additional 24% of adjoining land, it should be recognised that the existing boundary was not drawn on a whim and the area of the SINC which the applicant is proposing to develop was included because it adds value to the area and should be protected.

A Phase 1 & Protected Species Survey was carried out for the applicant by Central Environmental Surveys in November 2009, with subsequent updates in June 2010 and October 2012. Some of the points included in the report summary note: the area includes ancient woodland indicator species, suggesting a long history of tree cover; the woodland has two badger setts with evidence indicating they may be used periodically; the woodland edge is likely to be an important foraging area for bats, and the proposed development will result in some loss of this area; bird activity was high at the time of the survey suggesting the area is a valuable site for breeding birds; and the proposed amendment to the SINC boundary would involve the loss of regenerating scrub and trees which has value in extending, and increasing, the structural diversity of the SINC.

As the report states, two badger setts were found within the application area, with the species protected in The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 which makes it an offence to interfere with a sett, to obstruct access to a sett, or to disturb a badger when it is occupying a sett, with the legislation including seasonal use, meaning badgers do not necessarily have to be present at the time of survey. Badgers are also on the Scottish Biodiversity List of species of principal importance for biodiversity conservation. It is important to note that one of the sett entrances is in the immediate vicinity of the development boundary, with the proposed amendment to the SINC moving the boundary closer to the sett. The survey also noted evidence of Roe Deer, Grey Squirrels, and Foxes in the area.

Regarding bat activity on the site, the survey was carried out during a typical hibernation period for bats. Regardless of this, the survey identified at least three bat species (possibly five) with high potential of using the site for foraging.  The survey also notes that some of the larger trees in the area have bat roosting potential. Bats and their habitats are also protected by legislation.

The surveys carried out so far by the applicant, over just three visits, have identified almost 30 different species of birds within the site boundary, noting the area to be an important winter foraging site and summer breeding site. Several of the species recorded are of conservation concern including four amber listed species; and two red listed species. These are bird species which have been identified as under threat and should be protected from any disturbance to their foraging and breeding routine or to their habitats.

Within the site boundary the survey also notes the existence of a “viable population of Bluebells”, a species which is listed on North Lanarkshire’s Local Biodiversity Action Plan. Bluebells are also listed on the Scottish Biodiversity List of species of principal importance of biodiversity conservation, and are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The majority of the existing SINC area is Semi-Natural Woodland which is a priority habitat on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and North Lanarkshire’s Local Biodiversity Action Plan, with the survey stating “this means the council has an obligation to protect this habitat”. The proposed boundary change to the SINC will see the loss of an area of Semi-Natural Woodland which would move from the SINC into the development area.

It is vital that we keep our green corridors and networks open to allow for the free and easy travel of wildlife. In fact, that is what the recently launched Cumbernauld Living Landscape Project is all about. One of the key stakeholders in the project is North Lanarkshire Council and at the launch event just a few weeks ago, which received national press attention, many Councillors and officials turned out, along with the local community, to applaud the project which aims to preserve the greenspace networks in and around our town, and it’s important we don’t lose sight of that.

I recognise that residential developments are required but, it is my opinion, and that of my organisation, that this development would extensively disturb an area of important ecological value, and would be detrimental and harmful to the woodlands and greenspaces of the area, and to the animal and plant species that inhabit them.

* UPDATE: Unfortunately the planning application was passed by the Planning Committee. While we weren’t necessarily expecting our environmental concerns to be an overriding factor in the Council’s deliberations, we did believe that our arguments gave additional grounds for refulsal on top of Westerwood Community Council’s statement on the grossly insufficient infrastructure in Cumbernauld North. This was only an application in principle and Ogilivie Homes now have to prepare a detailed application, hopefully one that will be more considerate of the needs of the community.

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