Crest’s newt survey at Birchen Fields in Haywards Heath condemned as ‘half-hearted’

Developers have been accused of a ‘half-hearted’ response to calls to protect great crested newts on land that represents one of the last medieval boundaries of Haywards Heath.

Thursday, 15th May 2014, 5:22 am
Residents opposed to proposed new housing off Birchen Way, Haywards Heath. Fields beyond are part of site. Pic Steve Robards ENGSUS00120140502104704

The 10-hectare ‘green lung’ known as Birchen Fields, on the Haywards Heath/Lindfield boundary, is threatened by a plan from Crest Nicholson to build 48 homes.

The plan was temporarily halted when opposition group Save Birchen Fields’ resident zoologist and British repltile expert Dr Fiona Tyson pointed out the presence of not only European protected newts but protected British lizards, slow worms and grass snakes and five species of globally threatened birds.

The West Sussex’s principal archaeologist Mark Taylor has also now objected to the housing bid saying it will “adversely affect a remnant of medieval assart landscape bounded to the west by the railway built in the 1840s, to the north by the golf course and to the east by the limit of 20th century westward expansion of Haywards Heath”.

Great Crested Newt ENGPNL00120121002140553

The fields were cleared between 1066 and 1499 and Mr Taylor says the landscape is “the sole survivor of the once open farmland setting” of the listed Sunte House and Wickham Farm.

County’s senior ecologist Don Baker concurred saying he ‘strongly recommended’ that Crest do a survey of the great crested newt population before resubmitting its planning application.

But Dr Tyson said no survey had yet been done and Mid Sussex District Council had now revalidated the application. She said Crest’s proposals were for a less extensive survey than recommended by Natural England.

She said: “What they have agreed to do is very half-hearted, merely a presence or absence thing rather than a proper population survey of a terrestrial habitat.

“It will not have been done when the district council comes to determine the application in June or July, which is just awful.”

A spokesperson for Crest Nicholson said: “As a responsible developer, we place significant importance on mitigating the impact of our developments on the environment. Wherever possible we aim to introduce enhancements to encourage biodiversity. Prior to submitting our planning application for Birchen Fields, we undertook a survey of the landscape and wildlife at the site and are working with Natural England, who are due to grant us a licence to undertake a terrestrial survey of the site. The surveys are expected to show that there aren’t any Great Crested Newts on site.

“The historical significance of a site is also something that we work to protect; however, initial research indicates that there isn’t any trace of medieval history in the vicinity of where we propose to build. “

The company added that it would continue to address the concerns of residents.

Haywards Heath Town Council is discussing the application again on May 19. The deadline for comments to the district is tomorrow, May 16.