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Work to Expand York Shopping Park Delayed by Newts

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3:16pm 4th January 2013
(Updated 3:19pm 4th January 2013)

Work to expand a York shopping park has been delayed because of newts.

The wet summer has seen the number of newts at Monks Cross go up from just 5 to more than 300.

It means work on the new John Lewis and M&S at Monks Cross will not now start until the spring because of an unusually successful breeding season for protected newts on the construction site.

The number of newts – which have to be individually caught and rehomed to a specially created £300,000 wetland habitat on land next to the Park and Ride - has rocketed from just five to over three hundred in a single season.

Under rules laid out by Natural England – the authority that issues ‘newt licences’ and enforces the species’ protected status – developers have to lay humane traps to catch newts, checking them every day during the capture period. All newts caught then need to be transferred to the designated habitat. Only when five consecutive days have passed without any newts being caught, can the rehoming be considered complete.

Dr Mark Hampton, principal ecologies, whose job it is to safeguard the newts during their relocation, attributes the newts’ success on one of the wettest summers on record: “The two males and seven females, which have been found both this year and in previous surveys of newts at the Monks Cross site, have been using the trenches dug as part of an archaeological dig in 2005 for breeding. These trenches usually dry up in May and, because newt larvae need wet conditions to survive, this small newt population hasn’t successfully bred before.

“However, because 2012 was the wettest summer in 100 years, the trenches have remained wet and the newts have had an exceptionally successful breeding season.”

“And now that great crested newts are hibernating, we will have to wait until they are out of hibernation before we can start catching them again.

“We can’t say exactly when this will be: it depends entirely upon the weather. They usually start emerging again when temperatures are consistently above five degrees Celsius. So at the moment, it’s just a rather frustrating waiting game.”

Richard France, director of Monks Cross (Oakgate) Ltd, said: “Naturally, I’m disappointed that work cannot start as early as we would have liked it to. However, as developers, we take our responsibility to the environment seriously and are making sure that all the newts are appropriately rehomed in line with our legal requirements.

“This delay does of course mean that John Lewis will no longer be able to open in 2013 as previously hoped for. However, assuming everything goes to plan, we expect the retailers to be open for trading in spring 2014. The timeline for the construction of the community stadium, being led by City of York Council, is unaffected.”

“Once we get to start, our first task will be to prepare the site for construction, begin building the necessary infrastructure and then to commence building the new retail units, which include the new John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Next stores.”

Talks with potential restaurant and kiosk operators are progressing well continuing and Oakgate (Monks Cross) Ltd hope to be able to make announcements on these soon.

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