Newcastle United’s plans to upgrade the club’s training ground have potentially moved a step closer after no bat roosts were discovered on site.
Newcastle’s owners intend to build a state of the art facility in the long-term, but the Magpies have submitted an application to North Tyneside Council to revamp the club’s Benton base in the short-term after admitting that the current facilities ‘fall significantly below the Premier League and perhaps even Championship standards’. The plans to revamp the dated 2002 facility include hydrotherapy and plunge pools; improved changing rooms; new doctor and physio rooms; an updated presentation room; a modern players’ lounge; and an extended dining area
ChronicleLive understands the council’s planning committee are still working towards a target decision date of June 28 but, before the green light can be given, or not, a series of surveys have had to take place. A previous draft ecological impact assessment submitted by Total Ecology consultants in April, for instance, noted that the main building at the training ground, which Newcastle wish to extend, had several bat roosting opportunities.
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Bats are protected by law and the assessment recommended a minimum of two activity surveys to establish whether there were any of the mammals on site. These assessments have since been carried out by a combined 16 surveyors armed with EM touch bat detectors and night fox night vision binoculars.
During the first nocturnal survey, on May 12, no roosts were discovered and no bat activity was observed while a Common Pipistrelle and a single Noctule were heard but not seen during the second outing on June 1. Although there were a number of external features suitable for roosting bats, including displaced roof tiles and mortar cracked on roof edges, crucially, no direct evidence of bats was found inside the lofts or observed externally. Therefore, the risk to bats within loft voids was considered to be very low and because no roosts were discovered, ‘no avoidance or mitigation was proposed in relation to the species and their roosts’.
When it comes to other wildlife, the ecological assessment found the site is suitable for supporting nesting birds as there are features present on the buildings they can utilise as well as ‘mature vegetation present along boundaries and foraging opportunities associated with the vegetation and the playing fields’. A pigeon nest was spotted by the surveyors in a Scots Pine tree, but it is important to stress this would not be affected by the proposed extension.
The report, nonetheless, recommends building work taking place outside bird nesting season, which is between March and August inclusive, and that active nests are left ‘undisturbed until eggs have hatched and chicks have fledged’. However, it is worth noting that, if planning permission is granted, Newcastle could start before then provided a survey by a suitably qualified ecologist has confirmed the absence of nesting birds immediately beforehand.
Finally, the site was surveyed during an ecological walkover for the presence of invasive non-native species. Japanese Knotweed and Cotoneaster were both found and it has been recommended that a specialist company remove them.