A Bath councillor is hopeful controversial plans for 37 homes on a site boasting important ecology can be reconsidered.
Nearly 4,000 have now signed a petition calling on Bath and North East Somerset Council to save the “tufa field” in Englishcombe Lane from the “grave threat” of its development proposals.
The issue boiled over at last Thursday’s full council meeting, when the Liberal Democrat administration was accused of “either failing or [being] guilty of gross hypocrisy” on the ecological emergency.
Speaking at the meeting on 21st January, former Conservative councillor Bob Goodman said: “Councillor Jess David [who proposed the ecological emergency] has failed at the first hurdle, showing scant support for tufa fields.
“Cllr Sarah Warren [cabinet member for the ecological emergency] refused to say this field must not be developed.
“The one person who can stop this development is of course [council leader Dine] Romero. She needs to say this isn’t going to develop. This council has failed themselves, residents and our children’s future. It’s not too late.
“Start by declaring tufa fields safe from development.”
He said council’s in-house investigation into the alleged “massacre” of slow worms on the site had been a “whitewash”. It found that there was no evidence of harm to the protected reptiles when ecological mitigation works were underway.
Labour’s Cllr Grant Johnson joined the criticism, saying: “It would seem that the declaration of a climate and ecological emergency was just words, with very little substance.
“There is really little point in declaring these emergencies without the follow up and urgent action that is required to defeat them.”
Conservative group leader Paul Myers said the tufa field development showed the administration was “either failing or guilty of gross hypocrisy”.
Lib Dem councillor Tim Ball, who replaced Mr Goodman as the cabinet member for planning, asked if his predecessor accepted some responsibility – plans for housing on the tufa field were first drawn up while Mr Goodman was in post in the previous Conservative administration.
The former Combe Down councillor replied: “I accept that totally but there was not an ecological emergency – there is now an ecological emergency and that comes to the fore.”
But Cllr Warren disputed that position, saying the “parlous state of UK ecology was well known” in 2017 when Mr Goodman “proudly” presented the proposals.
She said: “None of us wants to see any site of nature conservation degraded and we’re working on strong ecological protections across the district.”
Tufas are a rare geological phenomenon that the plans propose to relocate from Englishcombe Lane to another field in Pennyquick.
The application was approved despite the council’s own ecologist casting doubt on whether the habitat could be moved.
The tufa field is in Cllr David’s Moorlands ward.
She told the meeting: “I’m delighted that we’re taking action to update the Local Plan so that its policies more fully reflect our commitment to the environment.
“Regarding the planning application for the tufa field, I share the concerns of many residents. As a site of nature conservation interest I hope this administration will still be able to reconsider plans for this site.”
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter