Campaigners fighting the development of a £60million wellness park in East Ayrshire say that a report on its environmental impact proves the site needs to be protected.

A 2020 report attached to the Barony Eco Therapy Park planning application makes reference to the entire site being stripped of vegetation, with the loss of all habitats that have developed on the former mine site.

But the developers say that the report was an early preliminary assessment, commissioned soon after they acquired the site and that it bears little resemblance to their current plans.

READ MORE: Wildlife charities hit out at plans for 'wellness park'

Barony NP submitted a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal, Protected Species Surveys and Breeding Bird Surveys from October 2020 as an appendix on an Environmental Impact Assessment scoping assessment earlier this year.

It stated: “To facilitate the development, it is proposed to clear the site of all vegetation in advance of the construction and landscaping works."

It also stated "the site is to be cleared and levelled prior to development and re-planted with non-native redwood tree species".

This would, it claims, result in the "loss of all the habitats present on site" with a "significant negative impact in the medium term in respect of loss of habitats".

However, the scoping assessment does point out that another ecology appraisal had subsequently been undertaken.

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In February, the East Ayrshire Council’s planning committee voted to refuse the application, citing concerns around the effect on the various rare species.

In 2021, planners had told National Pride that they would not require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), despite the significant habitat that had built up in and around the former mining site.

However, when it came to a decision, a number of councillors wanted more detail around the environment and refused the application.

Campaigner Paul Cobb said that the report raised questions around the developer’s plans, adding that it also  showed the area met the criteria to be designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

He points out that the EIA shows there are numerous invertebrate species considered rare and local.

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He adds: “It also states notable species were found to be associated with all the areas sampled, which implies there are no parts of the site that are not important, and no parts of the site that can be built on without harming biodiversity.

“This means the Barony is even more important than anyone realised. 

"There is no justification whatsoever for any development at all on a site of SSSI quality, no amount of mitigation could compensate for the inevitable damage that would be caused.

“Had it been known previously that the Barony was this important it would have been on the council’s list of local nature conservation sites, and could never have been allocated as a potential development site.

“It can no longer be regarded as a development opportunity site.”

But a spokesperson for Barony NP said the ecology report was "outdated", having been made for a much larger development, although it had been submitted as part of an approved application in June 2023.

They said: “The Preliminary Ecology Assessment (PEA) being referred to dates from October 2020 and is outdated. It was appended the Scoping Report for information on the baseline position of ecology.

“The PEA was updated for the new application and stresses the intent to limit vegetation clearance as far as possible.

"This is the relevant version and any reference to back to the former version is misdirection.”

They argued that the design of the development "minimises the loss of habitats and that a Landscape and Ecology Management Plan (LEMP) would be developed to support the upcoming application".

The spokesperson added: “The aim of the LEMP is to ensure the site is capable of supporting the key species and groups identified in this report in the longer term by creating a mosaic of habitat types within the development for the benefit of local wildlife.

“The layout has been sensitively designed to limit the areas of woodland and grassland habitat to be cleared on site to facilitate the development.

“Where habitats can be retained, they will be enhanced with the aim of creating suitable habitat for the diverse range of protected species, invertebrates and rare plant species currently known to use these habitats.

“It was never an intent by the developers to drastically alter the composition and character of the site.”

They added that there was no existing habitat maintenance on site, and claimed that the habitats would, in the long term, be "lost to scrub encroachment" resulting in "slow decline of biodiversity at the site".

The planning in principle application will be considered by East Ayrshire Council’s planning committee in the next few months.