Newts scupper work

THE presence of one of Britain's rarest creatures has stopped work on a major Lowestoft building project … the third time in recent months, it was discovered this week.

THE presence of one of Britain's rarest creatures has stopped work on a major Lowestoft building project … the third time in recent months, it was discovered this week.

The great crested newt is on the endangered species list as the amphibian's numbers have suffered a major decline over the last century.

However, there have been sightings at three separate areas of Lowestoft and building work has had to stop while experts carry out surveys.

The latest project to be affected is a plan to extend Gunton Primary School as part of the reorganisation of Suffolk's education system.

The county's education authority is scrapping middle schools as it opts for a two-tier system for Suffolk with primary and high schools.

As part of the plan in the Lowestoft area Gunton Primary would be extended to accommodate Year 5 and 6 pupils currently at nearby Foxborough Middle School. The plan would also include alterations to the staff car park and provision of cycle storage.

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Education chiefs submitted a planning application but have had to withdraw it as great crested newts have been found.

In a letter to residents county planning officer Penny Anson has revealed that the planning application has been found to be invalid because of a 'non submission of a biodiversity survey and assessment'.

She says in the letter: 'There is now a record for great crested newts on Gunton Meadow Nature Reserve to the north and in Gunton Wood Local Nature Reserve which immediately abuts this proposal.

'A formal great crested newt survey (in accordance with Natural England guidelines and to required standard) and assessment must accompany this planning application.

'The applicant has withdrawn the application. Any resubmitted application would be subject to publicity in accordance with the county council's development control charter.'

Yesterday a county council spokesman confirmed the present application has been withdrawn.

'As great crested newts are a protected species we are legally required to wait until the necessary environmental survey has been carried out before resubmitting a planning application taking into account the findings of the survey.

'The survey will be carried out at the earliest possible opportunity, which is February next year.'

The spokesman continued: 'The changes approved as part of the School Organisation Review for Gunton Primary School and other schools in the area will take effect from September 2011 as planned.

'Work is currently underway to ensure sufficient accommodation is available at Gunton Primary for September 2011.'

Across Lowestoft there is a similar situation at Pakefield where the county council wants to build a new high school as part of the educational changes.

Last month the county council submitted plans for the �26.5m development but these were withdrawn when great crested newts were discovered on the south Lowestoft site.

Again, a survey has to be carried out in February to make sure the amphibians would not be harmed by the project.

Last year work on the �2.3m Travelodge hotel in Leisure Way, off Yarmouth Road, was halted for several months after the discovery of great crested newts.

Bosses at the hotel chain had hoped to be open in time for Christmas 2008 but were unable to open the doors for business until March this year.

Natural England amphibian expert Jim Foster confirmed there has been a worrying decline in the numbers of great crested newts across the country mainly due to a loss of its breeding sites through drainage of wetlands and ponds.

'Sites, such as the ones at Lowestoft, are therefore vital in the survival of this species,' he said.