Angry residents have condemned the clearance of a wildlife area as an ‘ecological tragedy’.
The site in West Hill Road, St Leonards, has been earmarked for housing development.
People living in the area are upset over the destruction of plants and wildlife, which they said has developed over many years.
The site used to be occupied by Malmesbury House, a former children’s home, which was knocked down almost 30 years ago.
Developers were granted planning permission in 1989 to build 117 new homes.
Maze Hill ward councillor, Andy Patmore, said: “This site contained wildlife, slow worms and wild orchids and had been left untouched for many years and then without notice or thought for the legal implications, the land was cleared within days.”
West St Leonards ward councillor, Matthew Beaver, said: “It is quite astonishing a development like this given planning permission in 1989 and a certificate of lawfulness in 2005 does not need to come back before the planning board unless there are any major changes to the development, which means the application in itself is nearly 30 years old.
“Given the state of the cliff face and the fact we have had a number of very wet winters over the last few years would surely mean a further survey should take place on the cliff to ensure the safety of the cliff itself and the residents’ property below.
“Developers have clearly shown no concern for any flora or fauna, protected or otherwise, that may have been there before the site was decimated. This in itself is an ecological tragedy.”
Ex-councillor Maureen Charlesworth, who lives below the site, said residents were ‘very worried’ over the development as it would involve digging into the cliff to create two layers of underground parking.
She added: “We have already experienced cliff falls over the last few years and this will only make it worse.”
A spokesman for Hastings Borough Council said: “The works that are proposed to be carried out were granted outline consent in 1988 for the development of 117 residential units at 123 to 125 West Hill Road and a reserved matters was subsequently granted consent.
“An application for a certificate of lawfulness was later submitted and permitted.
“That application provided evidence to show the development approved by the planning permissions had commenced. The council agreed the development had commenced and as such the certificate of lawfulness was issued.
“Normally when an application is approved, a standard condition is placed on the approval advising that development must commence within a certain timeframe. If development doesn’t commence in that timeframe then the permission lapses and another planning application must be submitted for the same thing.
“There are cases where a developer part implements their consent and where this happens there is no time limit by which to complete the development and the permission remains live. This has occurred here.
“The approval of the certificate of lawfulness confirmed the council’s agreement that the development approved by the applications had lawfully commenced. The council remains of this view.
“All the conditions attached to the permissions have been complied with and therefore there are no outstanding actions the developer must undertake in respect of the planning permission before developing the site.
“There are no ecology conditions attached to the planning permissions granted in the 1980s. The developer is not required to submit any ecology information prior to works starting.
“After being advised in early July that site clearance could be causing harm to protected species, the council notified Sussex Police. When it became clear this work was continuing, council officers and Sussex Police visited the site in early August.
“The developer was advised then to stop work until they had sought advice from a professional ecologist. It is now understood all substantive works on site have stopped, pending this advice.”
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