Bat survey halts £15million leisure complex
09:14 23 January 2014
Seaton Heights developers are losing £50,000 a month because planners are demanding a bat flight path study
The travel habits of bats have grounded plans for a £15million leisure complex in Seaton.
The hilltop scheme for a boutique hotel, restaurant, spa and gym with 38 luxury rental lodges was due to get under way in April.
But redevelopment of the long-derelict Seaton Heights site has been halted because Natural England says the owners – Lyme Bay Leisure - failed to carry out a survey into bat flight paths over the land.
As a result the widely-supported planning application has been turned down by East Devon District Council’s officers under delegated authority.
This week Lyme Bay Leisure chairman Dave Sullivan said he was lobbying councillors and his MP to try to get the decision reversed.
He said they were never asked to provide details of bat migrations across the land and as this could not be monitored until the summer it would put the project back at least six months.
The hold-up was costing the company some £50,000 a month, threatening the viability of the whole scheme and putting more than 100 construction and leisure related jobs in jeopardy.
He said: “We have already completed ecological surveys and addressed wildlife concerns particularly in relation to bats lofting in the derelict hotel. We have agreed with EDDC planners on appropriate bat mitigation measures involving an expensive new building solely for the accommodation of the existing bats.
“This strategy was advised to us by Acorn Ecology and has been supported by all the local bat activists and other nature conservationists.
“However, following formal consultation Natural England has objected on the grounds that we have not studied bat flight paths.
“Had we been asked to do this earlier we would have got on with it and included our response in the application.
“As the bats are now hibernating the studies can only now be undertaken over the summer setting back our build programme by at least six months, but more significantly this is decimating the financial viability of the project. As a small, new business this is a major blow which we may not be able to withstand.
“At no time have we sought to escape our responsibilities to the environment and local ecology. We believe that our scheme fully respects this area of outstanding natural beauty.
“We are not critical of the planning case officer, nor his colleagues, the problem has arisen because of the late intervention of Natural England.
“We are confident that with the right people in a room and the application of commonsense between us we ought to be able to come out with a solution where all sides are satisfied.”
Speaking as a resident and local business owner, Seaton town councillor Sharon Bruce described the situation as ‘batty’.
She has called on local district councillors to step in and put the project back on track.
She said: “This development is one of the three key brown sites in Seaton that are in desperate need of regeneration.
“They are positioned at the main entrances into Seaton, a gateway town to the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“Natural England has objected on the grounds that Lyme Bay Leisure has not studied ‘bat flight paths’. Lyme Bay Leisure started their work last June 2013 and consulted with various people and organisations including Seaton Town Council, Seaton residents and experts including Acorn Ecology.
“Natural England only made its objection in November 2013, and with bats in hibernation until April/May 2014, there is no possibility for Lyme Bay Leisure to take further action at this time, if indeed it will actually be asked for, until June at the earliest.
“Lyme Bay Leisure isseeking agreement to itsplanning application in order to proceed with obtaining funding for the development and agree to a further bat survey and appropriate mitigation measures if required.
“Please can I ask us all to consider the economic benefits to Seaton and how we can protect the residents in a fair balance with the care of our environment.”