HOUSING chiefs say “no evidence of otters” has been found at the Tarryholme development site - despite eyewitness accounts from residents.

Bosses at Irvine Housing Association, backed by planning chiefs at North Ayrshire Council say a “specialist inspection” was carried out last week and found nothing to suggest otters are in the ponds there.

However Tarryholme residents have called the findings in to question after numerous dog walkers claim to have seen the otters – with one resident even taking pictures of an otter enjoying the pond.

One resident, Darren McMahon was walking his dog on Thursday and says he “spoke at length” to the people carrying out the otter survey and they told him there was “definite evidence of otter activity” in the pond.

He told the Times; “I spoke with them for ages about the otters and the other wildlife in the area.

“We spoke about the development in general and I asked if they thought there were otters there and the exact response I got was “there is definitely signs of otter activity on the site”.

“So for Irvine Housing and North Ayrshire Council to be saying the exact opposite of that just a few days later is quite unbelievable.

“People have actually taken pictures of the otters in the pond, yet they are still claiming there’s no signs of otters? And I know there are lots more who have seen them with their own eyes so how can it be that they have found no evidence?”

Irvine Housing bosses refused to name the “specialists” who carried out the survey, despite being asked by the Times.

However they insisted they have followed procedures correctly and said work was already underway to start building the houses.

Paul Hillard, Managing Director of Irvine Housing Association, said: “We have fully complied with statutory planning procedures. We carried out a full investigation on the site including an Ecology and Habitat survey that found no evidence of otters living there.

“However, as a responsible social housing provider and in response to residents’ concerns a further specialist survey was carried out last week. The independent ecologist verified that no otters are at the site or in the drainage pond.

“If in future there are signs that otters have moved on site, then we will apply for Mitigation Licence and ensure that their habitat isn’t disturbed.

“Work is now underway to prepare the site ready to build the 87 affordable homes for rent as granted by North Ayrshire Council, and an environmental expert is on site to ensure no wildlife is affected. The much-needed development will help the housing need for people in the area, as identified by the North Ayrshire Local Housing Strategy 2017-2022.”

A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson added: “We are satisfied that the proposed development at Tarryholme is fully in accordance with all statutory planning procedures.

“We are aware that a specialist inspection has been carried out in the past few days which concluded there is no evidence of otter activity in the pond adjacent to the site. We will continue to liaise with the developers throughout the process.”

Under British law otters are a European Protected Species – which means it is a criminal offence to deliberately or recklessly disturb or ruin their habitat.

Last month, the Times revealed Irvine Housing Association had not carried out a mandatory otters survey – despite otters previously having been discovered in the River Irvine and Annick River - both of which feed into the Tarryholme ponds.

Planning chiefs at NAC had given the development the green light, insisting all the appropriate environmental checks had been carried out before the application was passed, claiming the otters must have “moved in” afterwards.

However these claims were heavily disputed by environmental expert Stuart Brabbs, trust manager and chief biologist for Ayrshire Rivers Trust who said: “Otters have always inhabited the River Irvine and the Annick River. They have not just been discovered or ‘moved in’.”