by Gareth Cross
Councillors this week voted to defer a planning application from a local farmer, due to the possibility of bats nesting in his building.
Stephen Montgomery wanted to demolish an existing building on his farm in Drumahoe and replace it with a new two story dwelling.
However councillors voted to defer the application after it was discovered that the site has the potential to be a bat habitat.
The information came to light at a meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council's Planning Committee in Strabane last week.
Bats are a protected species and cannot be harmed as part of a development.
A council officer said that 'insufficient information has been received to demonstrate that this proposal is not likely to harm a European protected species'.
Don Forest spoke on behalf of the applicant and said that there were no issues with the application apart from the possibility of bats.
He said that Mr Montgomery has expensive ecological surveys carried out and submitted these to the planning department.
Mr Forest told the meeting that the further studies required by council could not be carried out due to the time of year due to weather conditions.
He said that a report said there was "potential for bats, but there's a potential for bats in any building" and that it would be unfair to refuse the application for this reason.
DUP councillor Hilary McClintock asked why the applicant wasn't given the appropriate time to produce the surveys.
Responding, a council officer said that councillors had committed to protecting species like bats in the past.
The officer noted that if council deviated from standard practice in this case they would be leaving themselves open to challenges in the future.
The officer said that the application couldn't proceed without the required bat survey.
Mr Forest said that there was no evidence of bats but 'potential for bats roosting'.
Bat study required
SDLP councillor Angela Dobbins asked if the applicant would be willing to wait and carry out a bat survey next year.
She acknowledged that while it was 'highly unlikely' there were any bats there was 'no excuse for interfering with any bats'.
Responding, the council officer said that the ecology report showed that there was 'moderate potential for bats' and that the application would have to be withdrawn till next year.
The officer said that the onus was on councillors to make a decision with the information provided.
Cllr Dobbins said that this was an 'extreme circumstance' as a lot of money had been spent by council and the applicant.
She said that the application should be 'put on the long finger' until a proper bat study was carried out.
Alderman McClintock said there was a danger of being 'unfair to the applicant' as she couldn't see what more he could have done.
Cllr Dobbins proposed that the application by deferred and this was seconded by Alderman McClintock.
SDLP councillor John Boyle said that councillors 'have to be reasonable' and not negatively impact the bats or the applicant.
The application was deferred to a later date.
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