AN MSP has urged residents of Tarryholme to be vigilant in order to protect wildlife from a controversial housing development.

Green MSP Ross Greer has called on people in Irvine to keep their eyes peeled for otters and other protected species after Irvine Housing were given the green light to build 87 new homes in the estate in phase one, with a further 113 planned for phase two.

Residents objected to the development for months, but North Ayrshire Council’s planning bosses approved the application anyway.

In March it was claimed that neither NAC’s planning department or Irvine Housing bosses carried out an Otter Survey to determine whether building houses would disrupt the otters’ habitat – before the application was given the green light. However, both organisations insisted they had carried out all the surveys required.

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.

After our initial story, the housing group and the council said they had carried out another survey and that, again, “no evidence of otters” was found. However, despite repeated requests they have refused to reveal who carried out the survey on their behalf.

Now Green MSP Ross Greer has stepped in to lend his support to the residents and went to the site last week to meet with them.

Mr Greer, who has also been in discussions with Scottish Natural Heritage, has issued a plea for locals to keep a look out.

He said: “The signs of otter activity on the site are clear and well-established and for anyone to deny that is just bizarre. However, if it’s just otters “passing through”, the site isn’t protected by law as there needs to be evidence of places of rest or shelter. It’s an offence to destroy holts or couches, so I encourage anyone walking in the area to check what they’re looking for, and report any sightings of otters disappearing into any holes or permanently resting on any features.

“Scottish Natural Heritage’s advice is to first report this to the developers and the council, but if a developer seem to be ignoring the evidence it’s a police matter.

“There’s been a lot of confusion as a result of North Ayrshire Council failing to ask for a sufficient habitat survey when the planning application was put in last year. The planning permission can’t be stopped, but any building work must be delayed if it’s likely to damage otters’ resting places.”

“It was useful to walk round the edge of the site and chat with local residents. Work is in full swing now so it’s really quite important that people report any possible sightings of otter habitats before they are lost.”

Paul Hillard, Managing Director of Irvine Housing Association, said: “Irvine Housing Association and McTaggart Construction are responsible organisations, and have taken the necessary steps in accordance with planning procedures and will continue to do so.

“We are committed to protecting the environment and its wildlife.”