WORK has been halted on the clearing of a town centre site earmarked for housing after concerns were raised for bats thought to be living there.
Clearing-up work has been carried out this week in the Westwood Grange and Parkside areas of Cramlington on behalf of housing firms Persimmon and Bellway as they prepare land north of Station Road for future development.
However, an outcry was sparked by workers arriving on the land with heavy machinery to remove trees and shrubs at the start of the week despite an agreement stating that only mechanical hand-strimming would be carried out to improve visibility and access for dog-walkers and pedestrians and to tackle litter and anti-social behaviour.
Resident Patricia Heard, of Falmouth Walk, said: “As far as we are aware, no bat survey has been carried out.
“Bat conservation experts believe they are probably hibernating in the mineshafts and seams at the moment, and a survey cannot be carried out until they come out of hibernation.
“Residents were shocked to hear heavy machinery at work in the fields on Monday as a contractor employed by Persimmon Homes moved in to clear trees, shrubs and bushes.
“Many residents took to the fields and finally got the work halted in the afternoon, though much of the land, and wildlife habitat, had been destroyed by then.
“We were shocked at how much devastation was caused.”
Tricia Blackett added: “They have absolutely devastated the area. It was meant to be done with hand-strimmers but they have gone in with big machines and chainsaws.
“They have left stumps of trees, and they’ve completely removed fruit trees.
“People are absolutely furious about the whole thing because we didn’t know anything until a JCB turned up.
“There are bats on the site. Whether they are roosting or not we don’t know, but we do need to have a survey done before they carry out any work.
“The Bat Conservation Trust has said it is a criminal offence for them to do any work if they know there are bats there, so we need to establish whether a bat survey has been undertaken.”
Sue Bowers, of Falmouth Walk, said: “Our concern is that major clearance of the site was started with the cutting down of trees without any regard for the wildlife or the impact this was having on the residents.
“I know someone stopped the work, but we fear the clearance will start again before we can do anything, and this will have a major impact on the wildlife and be too late for them.”
Town and county councillor Wayne Daley said: “My concern is that there has been no environmental impact assessment done to see if there are bats in this area.
“If there are nesting bats here, then this needs to be addressed and a survey needs to be undertaken before any work can take place.”
Peter Jordan, regional projects director for Persimmon, said: “We are carrying out clearing work which was agreed, and we have completed around 90 per cent of the work we intended to do.
“When problems arose, I listened to the residents and I halted the contract when we could have just continued on with it, as we have an agreement to do so.
“I have the right to go ahead and do it, but I have reacted to what they have said and stopped the work.
“We have had a small JCB Bobcat to remove some of the work that could not be carried out by hand, but there was no large piece of machinery used.
“People are emotive about the places they live and they have every right to be.”
He added that no further work would be carried out until after public consultation in June or July.
A spokesperson for Northumberland County Council said: “We understand that the landowner is doing some management work on this piece of land, which they have agreed with the town council.
“We also believe that they have stopped the work so that the methods and timing can be discussed further.”