Dozens of residents have signed an open letter urging the leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council to withdraw development plans and prevent an “ecological crime”.
The signatories say they are “angry and disappointed” at recent works on the Englishcombe Lane field that “slaughtered” slow worms, a protected species – an “embarrassment” when the authority has declared an ecological emergency.
They urge Councillor Dine Romero to “be true to your word” and pause or revoke the planning permission for 37 homes.
The council leader responded by confirming that the development had been put on hold while investigations are carried out.
The open letter says: “The development and subsequent destruction makes no sense when set against the council’s own declarations of both climate, and more recently ecological emergencies for Bath.
“The continuation with this development is illogical, and is hugely embarrassing for the council as a whole.”
Ahead of August’s planning committee meeting, councillors were told that tufa flushes, a rare geological phenomenon, are a vulnerable and increasingly rare habitat, formed from springwater passing through limestone.
Those present in Englishcombe Lane are of county-level importance, home to numerous species.
The council’s housing plans proposed creating new tufa springs in Pennyquick Lane by controlling the water flow from a stream.
Councillors were told the council’s ecologist was not certain the habitats could be recreated but a university professor was “comfortable the strategy should work”.
They approved the application after being told biodiversity would be boosted overall.
Weeks later, photos showed the field being ploughed. Residents alleged “most if not all of the slow worms” on the site were “slaughtered” in the process.
The open letter continues: “The approval is hugely out of step with current thinking on ecology, including the thinking of B&NES Council.
“You have publicly stated that ‘We want to be seen to make a difference in how the council is dealing with the climate emergency’.
“There is a golden opportunity here to do some good, to restore credibility and restore habitats for future generations and the health of the planet.
“You have the power to halt this development and be true to your word.
“The council can pause or revoke the approval. Such an act takes courage but would be in keeping with the council’s declared ecological emergency and be hugely popular.
“We urge you to use that power as a force for good, not to be part of an ecological crime.”
In response, Cllr Romero said: “This development has been paused while investigations are being carried out. A further statement will follow when that is concluded.”
Avon and Somerset Police confirmed that officers are investigating “following a report from a member of the public about destruction of a protected species”.
“Officers are currently liaising with B&NES Council and consulting specialist ecologists as part of their enquiries,” the spokesperson said.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter