Fears for endangered bird fail to stop Norfolk housing plan

PUBLISHED: 16:34 12 January 2013 | UPDATED: 16:34 12 January 2013

A Stone Curlew pair at Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Weeting Heath

A Stone Curlew pair at Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Weeting Heath

Archant

A top judge has refused to block controversial plans for 5,000 new homes to the north-east of Thetford despite concerns for the welfare of an endangered bird.

The Shadwell Estate, just outside Thetford, had challenged the Thetford Area Action Plan (TAAP), a blueprint for growth for the area drawn up by Breckland Council.

The estate, which owns a large tract of agricultural and equine land in the area, had argued that the plans were a clear threat to Norfolk’s rarest visitor, the stone curlew, which had its own special protection area to the south and east of the town.

It also argued a 1,500m “buffer zone” around the special protection area, in which development would be banned, was inadequate and that the birds nest up to 2,500m out of that area, on the Kilverstone Estate, which owns much of the disputed land.

Dismissing the case, High Court judge Mr Justice Beatson said the council had carefully taken into account the potential impact on the birds and its plans had the “strong support” of Natural England and bird protection charity, the RSPB.

He said any evidence that the birds nest outside the special protection area was considered “anecdotal” by the RSPB and “considerable weight” had to be given to the endorsement of the 1,500m buffer zone by the charity and Natural England.

He concluded Shadwell had not provided “cogent and compelling reasons” for doubting those views and there was no evidence of sufficient breeding attempts by stone curlews on the Kilverstone Estate to justify it being placed within the buffer zone.

Chris Kennard, finance director at Shadwell Estate, said: “We are surprised and naturally disappointed by this judgment. It should be remembered that our challenge would not have been made without the backing of Thetford Town Council and many people in the town, who will no doubt share our disappointment. We have already been advised by our lawyers that there may well be grounds for appeal and we are therefore considering our position. We were attempting to secure a future for Thetford that is in the best interests of its citizens. This remains our aspiration.”

Mark Kiddle-Morris, Breckland Council executive member for assets and strategic development, said: “We are delighted that the judgment from Lord Justice Beatson has validated the soundness of the Thetford Area Action Plan. This provides certainty for the future regeneration and growth of Thetford, which is a priority for the council.”

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