Work to clear a row of hedges at a Knaresborough housing development has been halted until after bird nesting season, raising questions as to why the removal proceeded in the first place.
It comes after developers on Tuesday commenced work to clear hedges at the Manse Farm site off York Road, where planning approval for 600 homes was granted in 2018.
With the main bird nesting season running from March to August, it led to nearby residents contacting Harrogate Borough Council with concerns that the hedge removal was potentially destroying nest sites.
In response, Harrogate Borough Council confirmed via their planning enforcement team that independent ecologists were on-site since the start of the removal on Tuesday.
"The hedgerow was checked for nesting birds by an independent ecological consultancy prior to any removal. Although not a planning condition, they plan on sending a report to us," the response from the council stated.
400 home development proposed for Knaresborough
The council also confirmed its own principal ecologist met with the developer and the independent ecological consultant earlier this week.
"It has also been agreed that the remainder of the hedgerow removal is to now not to take place until outside the bird nesting season later this year," they stated.
The developers involved in the construction include CEP, Taylor Wimpey Ltd, Linden Homes Ltd and Home Group Ltd.
According to the conditions attached to the approval of the work, the sections of hedgerow proposed for removal are "likely to support nesting birds", and hedgerow removal should be undertaken outside of the main nesting season to avoid breaching laws surrounding land clearance and environmental protection.
However, a pre-commencement check by a "suitably experienced" ecologist demonstrating that no nesting birds would be harmed by clearance means the work can go ahead.
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".
“Following a site visit from our planning enforcement team on Wednesday 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.
“Feedback from the independent ecological consultancy will be provided and the report will be published on the planning portal (application 17/05491/REMMAJ) in due course.
“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.”
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