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College car park and sports pitch given green-light in Thurston despite concerns for a threatened bird species

Controversial plans for a car park, drop-off area and multi-use games pitch have been given the go-ahead, despite concerns it will mean the loss of breeding habitat for a threatened bird species.

Suffolk County Council want to build a 60-space car park, drop-off point, cycle parking and a pedestrian footpath on land off Ixworth Road, followed by a new 3G synthetic sports pitch to serve both expansion plans for Thurston Community College and wider community.

Thurston is set to see more than 1,400 new homes being built with six agreed developments in place and a 210-home estate granted last week after a three-hour long meeting.

Site map for the new car park, drop-off area and 3G sports pitch. Image Suffolk County Council
Site map for the new car park, drop-off area and 3G sports pitch. Image Suffolk County Council

At the council's development and regulation committee on Wednesday, the car park and sports pitch plans were voted through unanimously by county councillors, but subject to conditions.

These include details around landscaping, protection of trees, vehicle access, parking, lighting and a better defined plan with regard to new plots being found for breeding skylarks which frequent the area, and caution with regard to lighting to protect a 'bat corridor'.

Thurston Parish Council also supported the development subject to the conditions.

A picture of a skylark in Thurston was considered as part of the decision process. Picture by Paul Smith
A picture of a skylark in Thurston was considered as part of the decision process. Picture by Paul Smith

At the meeting on Wednesday the contentious environmental nature of the proposal provoked concern from Sarah Chandler, who spoke on behalf of a group of Thurston residents and the Bury St Edmunds branch of campaign group Extinction Rebellion. The development attracted 56 objections in total.

She said: "Skylarks and biodiversity were the two most cited reasons for objections.

"There is no plan to allow the survival of these breeding pairs of red-listed skylarks, and grey partridges, despite the use of the term mitigation."

Councillors heard that the development will mean the loss of 1.9 hectares of habitat, which can support up to four pairs of breeding skylarks - but that talks were underway with ecologists and Suffolk Wildlife Trust to locate similar habitat elsewhere.

The meeting heard discussions are already underway regarding a site in Hadleigh and that Suffolk County Council were also in talks with with local farmers, as 'recent as this week'.

Head of Suffolk County Council planning, James Cutting, told the meeting that the plans in fact offered a chance for a 'net-biodiversity gain' and that any concerns were covered in the planning conditions, which county councillor Jessica Flemming stressed must be adhered to.

Thomas Jarret, finance manager at Thurston Community College, stressed a need for both the parking and multi-use 3G synthetic sports pitch for the school and community.

The development is designed to help the college expand from 1,500 to 1,800 pupils.

"The college supports the proposal for three main reasons," he said.

"Firstly the urgent need for a safe drop-off area and car park for parents. The college is working with Suffolk County Council on the future expansion of the school to meet increased pupil demand from new housing growth in Thurston and the wider school catchment area.

"Secondly, the benefits a floodlit artificial pitch bring to the college would significantly enhance the college's existing sports facilties.

"This would facilitate a broader and more varied programme of activities for PE lessons and enable the expansion of our extra curricular programmes.

"Finally, the longer terms benefits this would bring to the college and wider community.

"The case has been made for need for the greater community to have access to more sports facilities, and there are additional benefits from dual use facility and partnership with Thurston community college.

"Environmentally, a dual use sports facility has a much smaller impact than if we had two most likely smaller facilities."

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