Erith Quarry – work begins without Bexley Council’s promised consultation on biodiversity ‘management plan’

Bexley Council has failed to fulfil its written undertaking to consult Bexley Natural Environment Forum and London Wildlife Trust, prior to construction works beginning, about the biodiversity management plan for what little will be left of the important Erith Quarry wildlife site, previously approved for housing by the planning committee. This despite it being sent a reminder about the matter over a year ago.  The ‘developer’, Andersons, cannot be entirely absolved from blame as its representatives were present when this ‘offer’ was first made by a council  officer at the original planning meeting in March 2015, and two of its ‘ecologists’ had met with BNEF officers before that to hear about the many objections and concerns regarding its plans.

Following reports in the local media that ‘development’ is now underway (since confirmed by observation), the Council has been chased up about this yet again, but more than two months after we were told that the e-mail had been forwarded to ‘the Development Control team who are responsible for managing the …. process’ there has still been no reply.

We are now writing to Bexley Council about this again, copying in Chief Executive Gill Steward, seeking an assurance that such a management plan has been submitted at all, given that it was a formal condition of approving the planning application that one be signed off by Bexley before any work was done, and asking again about the consultation upon it.

Erith Quarry - most of which will now be built on. Bexley Council has failed to deliver on its promise to consult over the biodiversity management  plan for the remaining fragment before 'development' commenced. (Google Earth)

Erith Quarry – most of which will now be built on. Bexley Council has failed to deliver on its promise to consult over the biodiversity management
plan for the remaining fragment before ‘development’ commenced. (Google Earth)

Once again it is proving extremely difficult to get any kind of sensible engagement with Bexley Council on wildlife matters. Not only do replies rarely materialise within a reasonable period, never mind within its own response time target,  but we rarely get straight answers to straight biodiversity questions, and multiple e-mails have to be sent to get anywhere at all.

The chain of correspondence is set out below. Neither Bexley Council, nor the ‘developer’, has bothered to address the entirely reasonable questions also submitted by BNEF about ongoing reptile impacts and related courses of action – in particular:

  • whether the animals have been let out of the small area they had been corralled into over 2 years ago yet
  • the fact that the small 3.25ha area to be left unbuilt on is half the size required according to the measured population density
  • the fact that uncaptured animals have now had two full breeding seasons to reproduce again so that a further round of capture and removal is necessary to avoid charges of illegal ‘deliberate killing and injury’ of protected species.

We are pressing the Council and ‘developer’ again on these matters.

The war against Bexley's reptile populations has continued since the Erith Quarry decision, with no data-backed assessment whatsoever being made to determine whether planning decisions fall foul of the Council's supposed policy of opposing significant impacts on protected and priority species.   (Photo: Jason Steel)

The war against Bexley’s reptile populations has continued since the Erith Quarry decision, with no data-backed assessment whatsoever being made to determine whether planning decisions fall foul of the Council’s supposed policy of opposing significant impacts on protected and priority species. (Photo: Jason Steel)

The Erith Quarry ‘development’, in which over 70% of a Grade1 Site of Importance for Nature Conservation will be built on, was approved unanimously by Bexley’s planning committee in March 2015, with the Council’s biodiversity officer claiming that there would be no loss and a net gain for biodiversity as a result.

Chris Rose, BNEF lead on Erith Quarry

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Subject:          RE: Biodiversity management plan, Erith Quarry.>From:          “Luckhurst, John” <John.Luckhurst@bexley.gov.uk>

Date: Wed, August 10, 2016 11:32 am>

To: <chrisrose@gn.apc.org>

> Dear Mr Rose,

> Thank you for your below email, which I have now forwarded onto the Development Control team who are responsible for managing the planning application process.

> Kind Regards John Luckhurst

> Strategic Planning and Growth, London Borough of Bexley,  Civic Offices, 2 Watling Street, Bexleyheath, Kent DA6 7AT

> —–Original Message—–

> From: chrisrose@gn.apc.org

> Sent: 08 August 2016 12:23

> To: Hambrook, Fiona

> Subject: Biodiversity management plan, Erith Quarry.

> Dear Fiona,

> I sent the following  last Friday. I had an auto response from the Steve Bell address saying he is no longer with Bexley, and another from Ben Thomas’s saying he is away until 22nd August but to contact yourself in the meantime. I hope you are able to assure us that ‘development’ work has not started before we have been consulted, as promised, on the biodiversity management plan, and that you can give us some idea when we will be and also address the other issues raised.

Thanks. Chris Rose, Bexley Natural Environment Forum

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Dear Mr. Bell,

Reference your e-mail of 8th September 2015

>> On the issue of the management plan to be submitted in relation to the ecology area, I am aware that the applicant’s ecology consultant is currently working on this but this has not yet been submitted for approval. I can confirm that you will be consulted together with LWT when it is submitted for approval.

it was being claimed on a locally-run blog (at the end of July) that construction works of some sort have begun (though I haven’t had time to go and look myself). According to condition 33, details relating to the provision and management of the proposed ‘ecology area’ were to have been provided to and approved in writing by Bexley Council prior to ‘any work’ > being undertaken on the site.

Have ‘development’ works begun? Has any such plan been submitted and signed off?

If so, we have not been consulted about any such plan. If works have not begun and there has been no plan submitted yet then what is your best estimate of the timescales/dates for such consultation, and what will the process be?

We note with concern that two breeding seasons have passed since the developers’s agents corralled large numbers of reptiles into an area of 1ha, with a view to then letting them out into the meagre 3.25ha area of the site that is being spared from destruction.

– Can someone confirm whether they have indeed been set ‘free’ into the 3.25ha area yet?

– Will you confirm that 3.25ha is less than half the amount of suitable habitat required according to their own site population density calculation (which excluded juveniles), and tell us what is going to be done to rectify this?

– We contend that since the developer’s agents will not have captured every last animal, those outside the artificial fence will have increased in numbers in the meantime such that a destructive search will not be appropriate, and any ‘development’ works without a further round of captures will leave those responsible open to legal action on a deliberate killing and injury charge. What advice is Bexley Council giving appropriate persons about this?

– Given that Bexley Council has a so-called policy of protecting and enhancing biodiversity, and that according to DEFRA this includes populations and not just lists of species, and given the attacks on several other reptile habitats since the Erith Quarry approval, the sensible thing to do in these circumstances would be to capture ‘surplus’ animals outside (or even inside) the exclusion fencing and use them to found new populations elsewhere. We might be willing to support that. Unfortunately in order to justify an expedient and bodged translocation from the Howbury site to an unsuitable part of East Wickham Open Space (and contrary to national guidelines) the Council now has a document saying that there are no suitable unoccupied reptile habitats in the Borough, though we are not entirely convinced that that this is the case.

If it is, then it is surely time to stop voting to destroy all or significant parts (Crayford Rough being the latest example) of the ones we have and to ALSO look at changing vegetation management regimes elsewhere.

Will the Council take a proper look at what it is going to do about this rather than hiding behind the unsubstantiated mantra that there will be no significant negative biodiversity impacts (where significant is nowhere defined) from these various developments?

Thanks, Chris Rose.

Vice-chair, Bexley Natural Environment Forum.

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