Rare species of bat becomes a major point of debate in planning appeal over Racecourse Plantation

Barbastelle bat. Pic by Hugh Clark / Bat Conservation Trust

Barbastelle bat. Pic by Hugh Clark / Bat Conservation Trust - Credit: Hugh Clark / Bat Conservation Tr

The long term welfare of a species of bat could determine whether a decision to reject a planning application for 300 homes on an area of woodland is overturned.

Autumn in Racecourse Plantation in Thorpe St Andrew.Photo by Simon Finlay

Autumn in Racecourse Plantation in Thorpe St Andrew.Photo by Simon Finlay - Credit: EDP pics © 2011(01603) 772434

The roosting and foraging habits of the barbastelle bat are one of many factors for a planning inspector to consider, when deciding the fate of a proposed development on Racecourse Plantation in Thorpe - turned down by Broadland District Council last year.

Defending its decision, the council argued that Thorpe Woods - which the site is a part of - is an 'important component of the core sustenance zone (CSZ) for the barbastelle bat'.

Harriet Townsend, representing the council, said: 'Racecourse Plantation is well within the CSZ of the barbastelle and an appropriate habitat both for roosting and for foraging.'

Christopher Katkowski, representing developers Socially Conscious Capital, though, argued it was 'obvious already that barbastelle can and do co-exist with peoples' homes, indeed with settlements, and forage in woods close-by'.

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The inquiry heard evidence of several different surveys in the species, including one carried out in 2012 during the planning of the Northern Distributor Road and another, carried out this year by Tim Goodwin, an ecologist representing the planners.

Mr Katkowski added: 'The data clearly shows a much greater incidence of activity by barbastelle in the wooded area within the eastern part of Racecourse Plantation, rather than within the proposed building zone.'

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The inquiry also debated the overall impact of the development on the biodiversity of the site, which would stand to lose around nine hectares of woodland if planning permission is granted.

Mrs Townsend submitted these nine hectares have 'inherent ecological value'.

She said: 'Immediately, the extent of loss and the proportion of the overall county wildlife site are striking given that its biodiversity value is found throughout the site.'

David White, giving ecological evidence on behalf of the council said: 'There are a large number of rare plants. The value of the site will be significantly affected and rare plants may be lost.'

With the inquiry now closed, an independent planning inspector must decide whether to accept the appeal.

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