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Ascot Racecourse plans deferred after row over newts

James Bagley. Local Democracy Reporter

Ascot Racecourse cancels post-race concert due to high winds and stage damage

A row over a protected species of newt led councillors to defer plans for Ascot Racecourse to build a new pipeline.

Developers wanted to replace their old pipe works with a new one, connecting it from the racecourse’s reservoir, across the Royal Ascot Golf Club, and to the Great Pond.

Liz Pattinson, the head of property at Ascot Racecourse, pleaded with members on the Royal Borough Development Management Panel to approve their 'fundamental' plans.

She feared the old, leaky pipes can no longer pump enough water to their reservoir to support the site and will impact their 2021 COVID-19 recovery plans.

With more hot dry summers happening, the ground needs to be irrigated and if it’s not done to a satisfying level, Ms Pattinson said: “The ground will become too firm and will affect our field sizes.

“This is a significant knock-on effect on our income, which would be unwelcome after the impact of the pandemic.”

However, a spat broke out between the Ascot racecourse’s own ecologist, who has been advising them since 2004, and the Royal Borough’s ecologist on the impact this would have on the great crested newts that live in Great Pond.

The newts are a protected species and can be found in the Great Pond, where the developers want to connect their pipe.

The council’s ecologist said they don’t have sufficient evidence on what the impact will be on the newts and require a survey report on that impact – which the applicant hasn’t produced.

But the racecourse’s ecologist begged to differ and advised the applicant the pipework would be ‘highly unlikely’ to affect the newts.

This caused planning officers to recommend to panel members to refuse this application as they need a report with evidence showcasing what the knock-on effect the development would have on the amphibians.

While not against the proposal in principle, Independent councillor Neil Knowles (Old Windsor) said approving this application would put the council in a 'very difficult position' as protecting the newts is enshrined in law.

He said: “It is illegal to do anything to impede or destroy the habitat of the great crested newt – and I think this is where the problem lies with council and planning officers.

“They have to be 100 per cent sure that they’ve done everything they possibly can do to get the information they need to make a decision – and at the moment, they’ve not been satisfied at all.”

He added: “We’ll be voting to do something potentially illegal – which I think is a very dodgy situation to put ourselves, the council, in.

“For wanting to wait for a little bit and sorting new information and resubmitting, I don’t think it’s worth the hassle.”

Councillors unanimously decided to defer this application to give the applicant time to conduct further ecology survey to find out what the impact of the development will have on the newts and come back to the panel at the earliest opportunity.

The meeting took place on February 17 (Wednesday).

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