First came great crested newts and now it appears that otters could call at least a temporary halt to plans for an M6 link road.
Campaigners say up to 14 otters living by the River Lune near Halton could be under threat if a controversial new bridge is built.
As part of objections to the road put forward by Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe (TSLM), it was identified that otters, possibly up to 14 but at least seven, were present on the Lune near Halton where engineering work could take place.
The proposed work would include a new bridge over the river, around 80m west of the existing motorway bridge.
The otter, a protected species under European law and one of the UK’s best-loved mammals, suffered serious decline throughout Europe in the 1960s following the widespread use of pesticides. Its comeback around 10 years ago was based upon a combination of factors including better water quality, local improvements in fish stocks and changes in riverbank management.
Andrew Gardner, director of Kendal-based ecological consultants Envirotech NW Ltd, which was commissioned by TSLM to do an otter survey for the public examination, said that even seven otters living in the river was nationally significant.
Mike Jacob, Halton resident and TSLM member, said: “We’ve put it to the inspector that no proper survey has been done by the county council, and without this, it’s impossible to judge what the negative effects on the life of otters in the river will be. Therefore it is impossible for the county council to design mitigation methods.
“The county council has a biodiversity action plan, but the advice the council is giving itself is not being followed. They should be extending this habitat, not destroying it.”
Lancashire County Council said it had conducted an “adequate” survey for otters in the River Lune, which had been agreed by Natural England.
County Coun Michael Green, cabinet member for highways, transport, economic development and planning, said: “The presence of otters on the River Lune has always been acknowledged but this in itself does not prevent engineering works from being carried out.
“Discussions have also been conducted with the Environment Agency and this had led to an agreement to construct two new resting places, one on either bank of the river, which will enhance the area for otters after the end of construction.”
County Coun Green added: “The Heysham to M6 Link Road will make a real difference to our economy and, along with complementary measures including the park and ride, ease congestion in Lancaster.
“We’re looking forward to getting the scheme underway and particularly seeing the regeneration benefits as a result of the 3,000 people who will be employed and the at least 100 local unemployed people who will receive training and jobs during construction alone.”
The public examination into the controversial £123m Heysham–M6 Link Road closed on September 20, and examiner Mr Peter Robottom now has three months to prepare his report to the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin.
Lancashire County Council said that it expected the Secretary of State’s decision in March 2013.