Councillors acted reasonably in insisting a squirrel bridge be constructed over a new road in St Andrews, Fife Council has stated.
Despite only one red squirrel being found before construction of the road from the A91 to the new Madras College, the north east planning committee refused to drop a requirement for the structure.
Trees were felled in the North Haugh to make way for the route, which will also serve the planned St Andrews West expansion.
The bridge, possibly a rope suspension, was among mitigation measures including mammal tunnels required to protect wildlife, also including otters and badgers.
St Andrews West LLP, the consortium building the road, has appealed to the Scottish Government to vary planning conditions, which will remove the need for the crossing.
Amid fears red squirrels had already been displaced but could return, the committee went against the advice of the council’s own planning officers in refusing to allow changes to the conditions.
In its response to the appeal council solicitor Steven Paterson said the committee’s decision was predicated on sound and proper planning grounds and it was its prerogative to go against the recommendation.
He said: “Overall the committee, within the limits of the authority delegated to them, differed in the conclusions to be drawn from the planning issues and the weight to be accorded to various factors.
“That was the right of the committee which has the authority to determine the application as matter of judgement, however, the decision was for the committee to make and in doing so the committee acted reasonably.”
In its appeal, St Andrews West LLP, which comprises St Andrews University, Headon Developments and landowners, said Scottish Natural Heritage and the council’s own ecologist were satisfied with its proposed alternative mitigation measures.
It intends to undertake squirrel monitoring for five years and suggested further measures could be adopted if a population became established in the area.
Planning consultant David Wardrop quoted a report which said: “The squirrel bridge would not have any benefit or provide suitable mitigation given the very low numbers of squirrels surveyed in the area both pre and post commencement of the road.”
He also said there was the potential for the bridge to allow grey squirrels into the nearby Strathtyrum area where there are red squirrels.
The appeal will be determined by government-appointed reporter Alison Kirkwood who will conduct a site inspection after movement restrictions are lifted.