Newts’ home makes way for 600 houses as plan approved

European protected species the  great crested newt is very sensitive to changes in its habitat
European protected species the great crested newt is very sensitive to changes in its habitat
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A NEW 600-home development in West Lothian has been given planning permission despite concerns over an indigenous population of endangered newts.

Dozens of local residents objected to the proposal at Pumpherston, but the plan was waved through by West Lothian Council’s development management committee and the move has been welcomed by local councillors.

Full planning permission will be granted once a developer signs up to build the homes and agrees to provide affordable housing and improvements to schools and roads.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) did not oppose the proposal, after a ten-year plan to mitigate the damage to the great crested newts – a European Protected Species – was put in place.

Viv Gray, an SNH officer, said ponds which were key breeding areas would not be affected and that although surrounding land used by newts for hunting and hibernating would be destroyed, the loss would be offset by an improved habitat. But Dr John Wilkinson, a research officer at the wildlife charity Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, said mitigation measures agreed by developers did not always succeed.

“We are currently involved in a project to assess the effectiveness of mitigation projects for great crested newts affected by development,” he said. “The indications are that they are not very successful.

“They are very sensitive to changes in their habitat. Developers do try to do what they’re supposed to, but it may not always necessarily work.”

A developer would build the homes on farmland and open land previously used for industry. Plans to build a new primary school in the area were hit by delays after the newts were discovered in 2005. But Pumpherston and Uphall Station Community Primary School was finally opened by First Minister Alex Salmond this year.

A total of 20 letters were written to West Lothian Council to object to the new homes, with another 31 residents signing a petition against the proposals.

They cited concerns over air quality and noise during construction, increases in traffic and a loss of open space.

However, other have backed the plan. Councillor Frank Toner, who represents the East Livingston and East Calder ward, said: “I welcome this really positive news for Pumpherston and the wider economy. Six hundred homes will provide much-needed housing. Moreover, the development will bring jobs to the area which, I’m sure, local people and businesses will benefit from.

“This development augments the new school recently opened in the area and will enhance Pumpherston’s reputation as a thriving and growing village.”

Crest fall

GREAT crested newts are found at sites throughout the UK, although their numbers have dropped rapidly across Europe in the last century.

It is now a strictly protected species and it is an offence to kill, injure, capture or disturb the newts or their eggs, or to destroy their habitat.

They are the largest of the UK’s three native species, and can grow up to 15cm in length. The newts have just enjoyed their breeding season, which takes place in April and May.

During spring, male newts develop an impressive jagged crest on their backs and a white flash on their tail.