Plans to reclaim a long-defunct former Derbyshire mining site and replace it with hundreds of homes were hampered by fears that rare butterflies would be put at risk.
The proposals, submitted by The Welbeck Estates Company Limited, feature the former Whitwell Colliery site north of Bolsover – which covers 116 acres.
Welbeck intends to fill the former coal mining site and clean up contaminated soil and build 450 homes, a huge country park, new wetland areas and 15 acres of space for businesses.
It has filed plans to Derbyshire County Council for the colliery reclamation and to Bolsover District Council for the housing and business unit proposals.
Yesterday (Monday, July 8), in a meeting of the county council planning committee, councillors approved the reclamation project, setting the stage for houses and business units.
However, much of the debate focused on the potential impact to a range of rare butterfly species which have made the site their home since mining ceased 33 years ago.
East Midlands Butterfly Conservation had lodged strong objections to the scheme.
It said that the area close to Millash Lane and Southfield Lane is home to the dingy skipper, small heath, common blue and brown argus.
The group fears that construction will lead to much of the butterfly habitat being damaged.
Darren Ridout, speaking on behalf of Welbeck, said: “It is important for us to reach a resolution with these groups – there is a lot more at stake here than just some butterflies.
“I don’t want to belittle them, but they are quite small.
“This site would include much-needed housing and employment units.”
Cllr Dianne Charles contested: “I am aware that butterflies are small, but they are significant.”
Mr Ridout said: “We are just trying to look at the bigger picture here and we can’t stake the whole site and make the whole site work for them (the butterflies).”
The former colliery site, west of Creswell Crags and north of Whitwell Quarry, has been vacant since 1986 and has become overgrown.
Welbeck’s plans include a drop-off area for the neighbouring Whitwell railway station, along with a new bus stop.
The firm says it has been fleshing out plans for the site for four years.
Derbyshire County Council, in approving the plans, ensured that the developer committed to 25 years of management of all of the site’s open spaces and country park.
It says it would usually only ask for five years.
This is to alleviate the concerns of the butterfly group and also the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, which also fears the loss of vital habitats.
David Arnold, the council’s head of planning, said he was convinced that there would be no net loss of biodiversity and that half of the site would be kept as public open space.
He said: “This is a comprehensive reclamation scheme in what would otherwise by an incongruous landscape.
“This would contribute to the district as a whole and the reclamation of the previous mining heritage.”
Planners from Bolsover District Council spoke at the meeting to urge the county authority to approve the plans.
They said: “We hope this will come forward quickly. This site has been there a very long time.
“It is a shame that the mining has gone but we know it is not coming back. The site has been seen as an eyesore by many for some time, and this could change that.”
Bolsover planners confirmed that they were due to decide the house plans soon and that only up to five per cent of the 450 homes would be affordable housing – 22.
Part of the proposals include the possible demolition of a bridge over Millash Lane, to the south of the plan area.
In total, 500,000 cubic metres of soil and other material on the site would be redistributed to fill the site.