Meeting tonight as reptiles and newts buy time for opponents in Haywards Heath housing battle

A great crested newt.
A great crested newt.

Great Crested newts, all three species of British reptiles and five globally threatened bird species face uncertainty if fields on the edge of Haywards Heath are built on.

The 10-hectare ‘green lung’ known as Birchen Fields sits within the ‘green corridor’ proposed by the town council as a way of keeping Haywards Heath’s rural setting.

Residents opposed to proposed new housing off Birchen Way, Haywards Heath. Fields beyond are part of site. Pic Steve Robards

Residents opposed to proposed new housing off Birchen Way, Haywards Heath. Fields beyond are part of site. Pic Steve Robards

But developer Crest Nicholson wants to build 48 more homes there and has sparked anguish among neighbours including zoologist and British lizard expert Dr Fiona Tyson.

Fiona is expected to be one of the opponents who speaks at tonight’s (Wednesday’s) meeting of Haywards Heath Town Council’s planning committee.

The venue for the meeting has been moved from the town hall to Clair Hall in Perrymount Road due to the numbers expected.

Birchen Fields will be on the agenda as well as the application to build more than 200 homes at nearby Penland Farm.

Fiona said the planning process had been halted after the British and European protected great crested newts were found at Birchen Fields.

In addition, records showed nine species of threatened birds including the globally threatened spotted flycatcher, marsh tit, song thrush, fieldfare and lesser spotted woodpecker, plus three species of British reptiles - the slow worm, grass snake and British lizard, all of which are protected.

Crest Nicholson’s planning application will now be delayed while surveys are done during March and June when the newts are breeding.

Fiona said: “Basically, they haven’t really looked for newts and these homes could have gone up and no one would have known differently. There is a big boggy area with water running off it all year round and the newts, which are hibernating at the moment, are probably there. As a zoologist I would say it is absolutely vital that these creatures and their habitats are protected. They are all disappearing so fast.

“To have these three fields plus ancient woodland and all these reptiles and different bird species, not to mention the newts as well as stoats and deer, so close to a town is really unusual. We are not going to let it go without a fight.”

Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames has also visited Birchen Fields to meet members of the Save Birchen Fields Action Group who fear Crest Nicholson’s proposals will open the way for a swathe of housing beyond Haywards Heath Golf Club.

Mr Soames said: “This site should definitely be preserved as green space. We have too little green space of this quality in Mid Sussex.”

For more on this story see tomorrow’s Mid Sussex Times.

A report on the town council planning meeting will also follow