Fareham luxury homes developer Knightsgate fined £40,000 after destroying habitat of rare dormice

A LUXURY developer selling homes to the ‘most discerning clients’ has been slapped with a £40,000 fine for destroying a dormice habitat.

By Steve Deeks
Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 1:13 pm
The aftermath after Knightsgate UK allowed the destruction of habitat of dormice whilst clearing land ready for development in Swanwick, Hampshire. The company allowed the land to be cleared by heavy machinery even though it received an environmental consultant's report which made it clear that protected species were onsite. Picture: CPS Wessex

Portsmouth Crown Court heard Knightsgate UK Ltd spent more than £1m on land at Botley Road, Swanwick, with plans already greenlit for six homes to be built.

But the developer tasked a tree surgeon with clearing the land with a digger and in a bonfire despite planning permission insisting dormice habitats must be protected.

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A dormouse at Swanwick, Hampshire. Developer Knightsgate UK allowed its habitat to be destroyed. Picture: CPS Wessex

The court heard reptile habitats were also destroyed by Knightsgate - a firm with a turnover of around £15m that currently owes HMRC £1m which it is seeking to pay back.

Mitigation measures costing just over £69,000 were also supposed to be put in place following the destruction of the site as there were seven nests and young dormice living in hedgerow and shrubbery.

At the sentence hearing, Knightsgate was also given a confiscation order to pay back £69,392.80 it gained from destroying the land rather than following the environmental mitigation measures.

Judge Timothy Mousley QC said: ‘It was a deliberate offence - it was flagrant and blatant. I find that Knightsgate was fully aware of the land habitat for a protected species including dormice.

‘(The destruction) had a long lasting effect on animal health and life and long lasting effect on biodiversity.’

He added: ‘There is a national decreasing habitat for dormice and the actions of the defendant company had an affect on more than one species.

‘It was to be a significant development of size on an area of land that was substantial.’

Prosecutor Amy Oliver had asked the judge to consider if the firm acted in a way ‘worse than negligence’ following the ‘speed with which the work was carried out following the sale’.

Richard Heller, for Knightsgate, argued his client is a ‘large reputable company’ and added the crime was not carried for financial gain or deliberately.

Mr Heller said the clearing was ‘an error’ and as a result of the order to clear the land being ‘given prematurely’.

Previous land owner Foreman Homes – which was not involved in the court case – won planning permission from Fareham Borough Council for six homes at 112 Botley Road in January 2019.

The site was then sold two months later to Knightsgate, and on March 14 the worker was asked to clear the land.

The court heard Knightsgate has developed 27 sites in Hampshire, building 109 properties - with some of those under shared ownership.

Sam Heathorn, chief executive and founder, boasts on its website the firm will ‘go the extra mile’.

Knightsgate UK Ltd admitted damaging or destroying a resting place of a wild animal of a European protected species - dormice.

Mark Gammon, CPS Wessex senior crown prosecutor and wildlife lead, said: ‘Dormice are a legally protected species whose populations have undergone a severe decrease in the UK over the last century.

‘This is due, in part at least, to the destruction of their habitats and resting places for the purposes of development.

‘Knightsgate UK Ltd completely disregarded the advice they had been given and destroyed the dormouse habitat entirely.

‘Destroying or damaging the habitat of protected species is a criminal offence that we will always seek to prosecute where there is evidence of it.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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