A LONG-awaited legal report on development work being carried out on Hellifield flashes has dashed hopes for enforcement action.

A public meeting held in Hellifield last year and attended by Craven District Council chief executive Paul Shevlin offered hope to residents when they were promised an independent legal adviser would be appointed to scrutinise the work taking place on site as well as the planning consents awarded in 2003 and 2005.

Excavation work began in May last year on the site at the village’s main flash, known locally as Gallaber pond.

Permission to develop a complex including a hotel and rural regeneration centre was granted in 2005.

But work only began after a subsequent application for a larger complex to the south of the site was refused last year.

Locals have expressed dismay claiming unauthorised work to the flash has permanently damaged the breeding and feeding grounds for birds.

The legal adviser's report is to be made public soon.

Meanwhile, a statement from Paul Shevlin read: "As promised at a public meeting last year, we sought external legal advice in order to examine the whole Hellifield Flashes case fully, and to address any concerns raised.

"The Council has carried out a significant amount of work investigating the Hellifield Flashes site in response to complaints. This is a site with a very complex planning history. During all the investigations so far, we have found no breach of the terms of the planning permission that would warrant formal enforcement action.

"The independent legal adviser has now issued her report and has concluded that although the Council is likely to have made a technical error in 2002, by not conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment when one was required, the adviser has made clear that such an approach was common amongst the local government sector at this time, when the actual reach and scope of Environmental Impact Assessment requirements were widely misunderstood, even by official UK Government guidance.

The adviser concludes that the prospect of a legal challenge to the original planning consent in 2003 or the reserved matters approval (which was granted in 2005) being successful is ‘vanishingly small’.

"The adviser contends that the view taken by the Council, that as yet there is no breach of planning control to enforce against, appears to be lawful.

"We will be sending the independent report to interested parties over the next week and it will also be published on the Council website, with an invitation to submit questions from interested parties. These questions will be considered by the independent adviser and answered during a Special Planning Committee, which is due to be held on October 26.

"We will continue to monitor the Hellifield Flashes site and examine all the evidence before us."

Cllr Andy Brown, a member of the Green Party said: "Any reasonable person taking a look at Hellifield Flashes before and after the recent development work could only come to one conclusion. Significant damage has been done to the site as a wildlife resource. It is therefore disappointing in the extreme that Craven District Council has come to the conclusion that legally it can take no action.

"Every agency that is charged with protecting local wildlife has failed to do anything meaningful to protect this site. We are blessed with a wonderful natural local environment. How long will that remain the case when the various agencies that the public expects to act to protect that environment prove unable to take action?"