The developers behind a controversial decision to remove hedgerows at a major housing project at Knaresborough have spoken out.
Linden Homes West Yorkshire, who have begun development on the 600-home Manse Farm project off York Road in conjunction with Taylor Wimpey UK, denied any wrongdoing during clearing work undertaken so far.
It comes after their removal of hedgerows at the site earlier this month drew widespread outrage from Knaresborough locals due to it occuring during bird nesting season, which runs from March to August.
A spokesman for Linden Homes West Yorkshire said: “A tree officer at HBC was aware of the intended work, and hedgerows/ trees which have been removed were indicated for removal in the development proposal that has been granted planning approval".
Locals outraged over Knaresborough hedgerow removals
"We are aware that this is the nesting season and ensured that an ecologist was on site to survey the areas and advise us – any areas found to have nesting birds were left untouched."
"The work was completed on Thursday 9 May and further works are planned for later in the year once the nesting period has passed.”
The emotional impact of the hedge removal was heard at a Harrogate Borough Council planning committee on Tuesday, when Knaresborough resident Shan Oakes addressed councillors about a development proposed for land adjacent to Manse Farm.
Carrying a basket of chocolate eggs which she said represented those of nesting birds, Ms Oakes said she feared more hedges being ripped out in the same area, and questioned the timing of their removal.
“I'm here on behalf of hundreds of outraged, tearful residents of Knaresborough,” she said.
1000 homes could be built on Knaresborough's York Road if latest plan goes ahead
“Taking this hedge out in May is like bombing a city full of nurseries and schools in wildlife terms.
“How crazy are we expected to be to accept that?”
“The irresponsibility of this is beyond belief.”
Harrogate Borough Council said earlier this month that all work done at the site had been overseen by an independent ecologist, as legally required.
Councillor Rebecca Burnett, cabinet member for planning, confirmed the hedge removal had been carried out in accordance with the planning conditions stipulated, but conceded removing the hedgerows at this time of year isn't "best practice".
402-home plan at Knaresborough deferred over education concerns
“Following a site visit from our planning enforcement team on Wednesday (May 8) and our own ecological officer on Thursday, we can confirm that any hedgerow removal on site has been carried out with the assistance of an independent ecological consultant as per the planning conditions," Coun Burnett said.
“Although removing hedgerows between March and September is not best practice, it can be done if checked by a qualified and experience ecologist – which this has.”
A spokesperson for fellow developer Taylor Wimpey UK confirmed their organisation removed a section of hedgerow around their part of the Manse Farm development in early March.
"This work was carried out under the supervision of an ecologist who confirmed that no nesting birds or other wildlife were present," the spokesperson said.
"We have not not netted any hedgerows on the Manse Farm development and any hedgerow removal work which may have taken place since March is not associated with the Taylor Wimpey part of the development.
"Any further hedgerow removal or trimming work on our part of the development will be carried out after the bird nesting season."
"Preserving and enhancing local wildlife is a key consideration when we plan and build new developments."
The Knaresborough incident is the latest in a series of hedge removals around the district that have attracted public criticism in recent years.
In one case, developer Persimmon Homes PLC was fined £34,000 for unlawfully removing hedges at a housing development on Penny Pot Lane in 2017.
Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter