A COUNCIL has sought to allay fears that a large housing estate it hopes to develop on a greenfield site will cause significant ecological damage that cannot be put right or compensated for.

Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet members for housing and economy, councillors Kevin Nicholson and Alan Marshall, were speaking after residents and opposition members said they had been alarmed by the findings of a study commissioned by the authority as it aims to build 449 homes on land off Neasham Road.

The ecological appraisal states the “development of the site would result in a permanent net loss of green space” across some 13 hectares “which cannot be mitigated for and which could contribute to further declines in biodiversity across the UK in line with current trends in various biological indicators”.

The Penn Associates study states the development would affect “the status of UK priority species and insects of the wider countryside and farmland, woodland and wetland bird species”. Objecting to the development, resident Shona Thomas highlighted how another survey for the proposal had identified eight breeding bird species at the site listed as a priority for conservation in the UK under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act.

It is claimed species that would be affected include lapwings, linnets, skylarks, tawny owls, hawks, kestrels, five species of bats, plus toads and newts.

Ms Taylor said: “We must protect the natural habitat we all need. That’s why these guidelines and protections exist. Ignoring them and nibbling away at the environment bit by bit with inappropriate developments allowed here and there all adds up to massive irrecoverable loss and extinctions.

The council’s Green group leader Councillor Matthew Snedker said the development went “quite clearly against the presumption of net ecological gain” and suggested the authority was putting potential profits from the development ahead of the environmental impact.

However, the cabinet members said the council would ensure that ecological matters were given full consideration before any decision is taken.

Cllr Marshall said: “The submitted ecological report in support of the application has been the subject of independent assessment which has concluded that further ecological improvements should be made to the scheme. This has been reported back to the agent and their response is awaited.”

Cllr Nicholson added the council had seen successes in mitigating ecological issues at the West Park development and the planning committee would consider if the benefits of the scheme outweighed any negative impacts. He said the council wanted to work in collaboration with residents on the scheme which would have many green features. He said: “The area will be protected and from what I have seen enhanced.”