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Planning inspector says yes to homes on land used by badgers in Mill Road, Epsom
A housing development which residents and councillors fear could threaten a badger population has been approved by the Government's planning inspectorate.
At a meeting of Epsom Council's planning committee in April, councillors voted to reject an application by Shrewsbury-based developer Loganberry Ltd, to build 10 detached and semi-detached homes on former railway land in Mill Road, Epsom.
Although the application was recommended for approval by the council's planning department, members of the committee felt it would harm the character and appearance of the surrounding area, because of the loss of green space and density of the proposed housing, and would harm the badgers living there.
The land, which is not in a conservation area, lies between Mill Road and the railway and is natural scrubland home to many badger setts.
Planning inspector JP Roberts said that they acknowledged the views of residents who "clearly cherish" the wildlife, but found the development would not harm the badgers.
In a report on the inquiry, they said: "The proposal results in the loss of some foraging area but there is no evidence to suggest that this loss, a small proportion of the overall territory available to badgers, would be harmful to the continued well-being of the badger population."
The inspector also found that the character and appearance of the area would not be harmed by the development because it has "no distinctive unifying character".
The report said: "The proposed dwellings would have their own character which would fit in satisfactorily with the mixed feel of the other residential developments in the road."
As part of the development, Loganberry Ltd aims to maintain one-third of the site as a wildlife sanctuary, which would be managed by a nominated wildlife trust which will be given £25,000 to do this.
Epsom councillor Julie Morris, who lives opposite the site, said she was "absolutely gutted" by the decision.
She said: "It's very sad for the wildlife. The consensus is that the one-third of the site that's going to be left is not enough to sustain the wildlife. There are going to be casualties in the badger population and probably the lizards that live there."
Coun Morris said members of the Millbridge Wildlife Trust, who were out-bid in their attempt to buy the land from Network Rail when it went on sale in 2009, will manage the undeveloped part of the site and that the "next steps" is for it to meet with the developer.
She said: "We will try to set up a site to maintain the land, but the worry is that with so much disruption caused during the construction, the wildlife will go away and not come back.
"It's greed on the part of developers for what is a very narrow strip of land."
The Liberal Democrat councillor said the sum to be given by the developer to the wildlife trust was reduced from £100,000 in a trade-off with Epsom Council, for Loganberry Ltd to provide the required quota of affordable housing as part of the development.
A council spokesman said: "Whilst obviously disappointed, we are pleased that the planning inspectorate supported the idea that approximately one-third of the site is set aside as a nature reserve and the council looks forward to working with local residents to bring this to fruition."
Simon Cowell, founder of Leatherhead-based Wildlife Aid Foundation, and an expert on badgers, said: "The development has to be a certain distance away anyway but it would have a massive impact if it's taking away half of the badgers' foraging area."
Mr Cowell said he would like to carry out a site visit and conduct an independent assessment.
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