Lack of bat survey comes home to roost

Bats - a European protected species.
Bats - a European protected species.

AN appeal against the refusal of plans for a house on the edges of St Andrews has been rejected, amid concerns that it could adversely impact on bat roosts.

The application by a Kirkcaldy couple for planning permission in principle for the detached property and double garage – including the demolition of existing outbuildings formerly used as a sawmill – at South Balone, Craigtoun, was refused by members of the north east Fife area committee.

Now, an appeal against that decision has been upheld by Iain Urquhart, a Reporter appointed by the Scottish Ministers.

He ruled that the determining issues were the acceptability of a house at the location, its effect on road safety, and the impact of the proposal on bats, a European protected species.

He said the development of a single house would not prejudice strategic green belt, have no impact on the setting of St Andrews or on the special character of its historic core while, in addition, the proposal was sufficiently small scale and well screened and would have no adverse impact on the local landscape.

Mr Urquhart also considered that the scale of development would be appropriate to its setting, would result in the removal of vacant timber sheds with a rundown appearance and the visual and environmental enhancement of the immediate area and was an opportunity to improve local infrastructure and create a development of high-quality design.

The Reporter said that he did not share the council’s concerns regarding vehicular access to the site and the proposal met the objectives in relation to road safety.

However, he added that he had concerns about the protected species (bat) assessment carried out on behalf of the appellant.

Mr Urquhart noted that a bat survey concluded that while there was no evidence of bats roosting within the existing timber buildings on site, the buildings have high potential as a small, non-breeding roost and Scottish Natural Heritage recommended that bat activity surveys be carried out to conclude that the buildings are not bat roosts. However, the activity surveys were not carried out.

He concluded: ”On the basis of the survey evidence I cannot be satisfied that the proposed development will not impact adversely on any European protected species on the site. If there is a suggestion that a protected species may be affected, its presence and potential impacts must be established before planning can be granted.

“I do not accept the appellant’s argument that, as there is only the possibility of bats roosting in the existing timber buildings, it follows that the buildings can be demolished.

“Therefore, despite policy support for development on the appeal site, I am bound to conclude that the absence of proper survey information in relation to the presence of bats, a European protected species, is a fundamental concern that outweighs all other considerations and leads me to refuse planning permission in principle.”