Nightingales may stop 5,000 Chattenden homes

Jane Chitty

Plans for 5,000 homes on land in north Kent have been thrown into doubt after it was found to be a nationally important site for nightingales.

Natural England wants to designate Lodge Hill, in Chattenden, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The former military training ground has been found to support 84 male nightingales and a rare lowland meadow.

Medway Council said it was deeply unhappy with the decision and would consider whether to object.

The council said it was now in the "absurd situation" of Natural England, a government agency, stopping the Ministry of Defence, a government department, from proceeding with its plans.

'Most important'

Proposals to build homes at Lodge Hill, which Medway said is believed to have unexploded ordnance, have been in the pipeline since the mid-1990s and outline plans have been submitted.

Natural England said a survey carried out last year by the British Trust for Ornithology found it had 1.3% of the national population of nightingales.

"The nightingale population in this part of the world is the most important, the single largest place for nightingales in the country," said RSPB spokesman Paul Outhwaite.

Image caption The RSPB said the Lodge Hill site supported 1.3% of the national population of nightingales

"It is really important and absolutely appropriate that it is designated an SSSI.

"Using that status and recognising that importance is critical when you are making development decisions, whether it's for houses or any other sort of development."

Councillor Jane Chitty said the proposed development would help fulfil housing need in Medway.

"If that fails then we have very serious problems indeed in terms of housing," she said.

"This is a very, very serious development and it will have very far-ranging implications."

Objectors have four months to register their opposition to the SSSI. Natural England then has nine months to decide whether it will be confirmed.

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