Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Police HQ work halted by newts

Durham Constabulary began work on their new base last October

The construction of a new multimillion-pound police headquarters has been halted to protect a newt that is hibernating on site.

Durham Constabulary began work on their new base last October but work has come to a standstill after a great crested newt was found.

The endangered creature's population has dramatically declined during the last century and it is protected by law.

But police chiefs have expressed their frustration at the hold-up as the new headquarters is expected to save them about £2,000 a day in running costs.

Temporary Chief Constable Mike Barton said: "We are an organisation that enforces the law so it's obvious that we've got to follow the law as well. We're comfortable with that. But there's a slight degree of frustration. I want to get into the new headquarters, so we can start making the savings from having a much smaller building."

The new site, in Aykley Heads, Durham, is expected to cost £14 million to complete and was given the go-ahead last June.

But Natural England, the body that seeks to protect the nation's environment, has said that no work to move the newts could take place until May, when the creatures come out of hibernation.

Adrian Vass, Natural England's area manager, said: "This case is the highest priority for us and we're working flat out to ensure that the great crested newts can be safely moved while development takes place.

"The application to move the newts was initially received in September last year but unfortunately the survey information that accompanied it was incomplete and inconsistent. The application was resubmitted in December and we're doing all we can to complete the assessment of the new information within the next few days.

"Great crested newts hibernate underground in winter so the earliest that full-scale development work could legally go ahead would be May 2013. It is an iconic native species whose numbers have plummeted across Europe in the last century, resulting in their protection under European law."

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