Hopes that roosting bats might save Russell House from the bulldozer have dashed after a report recommended the 115 year-old building could be demolished if bat boxes were erected.
Eastleigh Borough council now face the planning inspector at an appeal this Tuesday rejected a planning application from builders Churchill for 35 retirement flats on the site
The Victorian building that fronts Romsey Road was until recently used by Hampshire County Council social services.
The proposed Block of flats would be adjacent to an existing block (Fairholm Court) and another similar development by McCarthy & Stone nearby (Catherine Court) is nearing completion.
During the planning hearing last November both independent and Lib Dem councillors on the Local Area Committee spoke out against the plan and followed planning advice to refuse it on no less than 10 separate grounds – criticising the design, size, parking, sustainability and location.
The council were also disappointed that the developers had not made adequate provision for affordable housing.
Current EBC policy is that only 65% of any development over 15 dwellings should be unaffordable.
The developers insisted that in this particular case the arrangement was unviable and used case law to argue that their development should be 100% unaffordable and launched their appeal
The council also took into account the findings of a bat survey to argue that the development would mean the destruction of the little critters hideout.
Bat shit crazy
A report into bat activity on the quarter of an acre site – published after the planning meeting – recounted how a team of bat boffins had explored the labyrinthine loft space hunting for bat droppings or to see if they could spot any bats dangling from the rafters but found no droppings or nests or bats – but plenty of cracks and holes where bats could be roosting – which led to a planning objection.
The team later staked out the building car park for four nights at dusk and dawn using sensitive bat detection equipment but only saw one common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) on two of the nights entering or leaving.
The team also heard the squeak of a noctule nearby and the brief plaintive cry of a solitary soprano pipistrelle as it foraged in the gardens of Newtown.
Subsequent to the council’s refusal and the publication of the full bat survey EBC’s bio-diversity officer removed her objection to the flats provided Russell House – which is also a home to nesting sparrows- was not demolished during the bat hibernation period; that bat boxes were erected in the remaining trees and bat entry points on the building were provided by the developers.
Tweeting on the appeal Cllr Chris Thomas, Chair of the local area committee, said:
“The application was turned down by EBC on valid planning grounds”
Adding that the appeal will “be interesting as planning law has changed”
The planning appeal, which is open to the public, will be at the Civic Offices on Tuesday May 22 at 10 am.