Roman snails may not slow down Harpenden access road project

The Westfield site

The Westfield site - Credit: Photo supplied

THE presence of protected Roman snails on a former allotment site in Harpenden may not be enough to stop the building of a new access on a neighbouring playground, which residents fear will pave the way for a future housing scheme.

Harpenden town council (HTC) has asked St Albans district council (SADC) for approval to build a 3m-wide, and nearly 60m-long, gravel track across Westfield recreation ground.

Objections have been raised against the scheme, which has been called-in by Cllr Simon Grover and is to be considered by the planning development control committee on Monday, February 18.

But SADC officers appear to have snubbed local opposition and have recommended that the committee approve the accessway.

When the district council transferred ownership of the site to the town council last year, it extinguished a right of way onto the recreation ground from Beeching Close.

Closing that access resulted in the town council seeking approval from SADC for an alternative route, from Willoughby Road, for maintenance vehicles.

However residents were outraged when they discovered that not only had HTC applied to knock down trees and build a track across the open space, but also wanted to dump excavated soil on a wildlife site, the neighbouring former allotment land, where Roman snails have been discovered.

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Residents said the scheme was a “blatant attempt to obtain an access point for future housing development, a situation manufactured by HTC and SADC”.

The town council has previously signalled that it is keen to eventually have the former allotment site developed into affordable housing.

Also objecting to the proposed new access was Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, which said: “Construction of this development without appropriate mitigation is likely to result in killing and injuring of individuals [snails].”

The trust has advised that a survey be carried out on the snails.

The Conchological Society also objected, “because it has the potential to cause damage or possibly the complete loss of a population of protected Roman snails”.

Hertfordshire Biological Records Centre said the playground was near a former railway line with banks that supported a colony of Roman snails, which until recently was a county wildlife site.

The centre warned that spreading soil from the playground to the former allotment site “would be liable to kill Roman snails present which would be unlawful”.

The Open Spaces Society has also objected, with a case officer saying she was concerned at the scheme’s timing as a decision on an application to register the recreation ground as a town green, following a public inquiry two months ago, has not yet been announced.

She said: “We would urge that no decision is made until the application has been determined. If any development goes ahead and the [town] green application is successful, such development would be unlawful and could be ordered to be removed through the courts.”

The Herts Advertiser will publish the committee’s decision on the access application next week.