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Property development nightmares - help to avoid unwanted site surprises

View profile for Dominic Whelan
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Dominic Whelan's article was first published in Construction News

Halloween is that time of year where we try to scare our friends and families with gruesome tales and surprises.  Developers often have their own scare stories to pass on to the unsuspecting. 

Unwanted surprises in development projects come in various forms and are never far away!


Finding bats on a site can scare even the most hardened developer!  They are found not only in rural developments, but also in urban areas especially when converting outbuildings. 

If they are suspected to be on site, the starting point is to commission a survey to confirm their presence and how the development will affect them.  Mitigation steps must be agreed to protect their habitat (normally as part of the planning process).  A bat activity survey is likely to be a planning requirement and has to be carried out during the summer period of May to September.  The need to preserve the bat roosts may require some minor design changes.  Often it is a case of incorporating bat boxes to replace lost roosts.  However, it is possible that these nocturnal mammals might dictate the positioning of the buildings so that their new roost is as close as possible to their existing location.

The real nightmare scenario is when bats are found only after development has started.  This is likely to result in having to stop work until an ecologist has surveyed the site and come up with mitigation proposals. 


Newts have always provided great headlines when stopping major projects in their tracks.  The images of these small amphibians bringing developments to a halt are amusing for everyone other than the developer!  If a site includes a pond or other water body where newts could be present, then the planning authority are likely to require a newt survey to be carried out.  Timing is an issue again as the survey can only be carried out between March and June (which are the months that newts are most active and is their breeding season). 

It is illegal to catch newts without a licence or to cause harm or disturb their habitat. A mitigation statement will be needed in order to protect their habitat or to safely relocate them.  This can include further more detailed surveys, installing special fencing to safely protect the newts from the adjoining development or creating a new pond for the newts to be moved to.  Contractors may have to be supervised to ensure these little newts are safe whilst the works continue.  An ecologist will no doubt be required. 

Japanese Knotweed

Like something from your worst nightmares, Japanese Knotweed is the plant famous for its speed of growth (up to 20 centimetres a day!) and its strength (it can cause structural damage through its rapid growth).

There is no hiding from this invasive monster not least as its unlikely any mortgagee will consider making any advance without it having been exterminated.

A heavy duty weedkiller is required but this needs re-applying over three or four seasons.  The process must follow the statutory requirements in terms of its removal. The alternative is a “dig and dump” strategy whereby the offending plant is dug up and removed by licenced contractors.  This can be a far more expensive option but one that may be required if the timing of the development means that you just need the horror to be over.

Ancient monuments

Ancient (or “scheduled”) monuments are historic buildings or sites (which can be either above or below ground) that are deemed of national importance and so are  included in a schedule maintained by Historic England (on behalf of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport). A haunting find for an unsuspecting developer.  Their protected status should be revealed as part of the due diligence process.  A separate consent will be needed before any development can take place and is issued by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.  It is a criminal offence to disturb a scheduled monument without such consent.  If a site includes a scheduled monument it is likely to have to be carefully monitored by an archaeologist. 

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This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice. If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.