GREAT crested newts are once again delaying York's controversial Derwenthorpe scheme - heightening concerns that Government money for affordable housing might be lost.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation had been hoping that its proposals for a 540-home new village near Osbaldwick would finally be considered at a City of York Council planning meeting next week, following a site meeting this Thursday.

But the authority says the application cannot go on the agenda, partly because of a request from English Nature for a pond to be assessed to see if it supports newts, a protected species.

Assistant conservation officer Robbie Fisher said in a letter to the council that it had "been brought to our attention" that the St Aelred's pond, just outside the development site, had not been surveyed as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment.

He advised that it should be surveyed "at an appropriate time of year".

But his position appeared to change in a later email to the authority, it which he said the developer should be required to "produce an assessment of the potential of this pond to support newts, and the likely impact of the development upon these if they were shown to occur."

Adrian Wilson, of Temple Avenue, a leading opponent of the Derwenthorpe scheme, who brought the pond to the attention of English Nature, claimed a full survey was needed, which could not be conducted until the spring breeding season - meaning a six-month delay to the whole project.

But project director Ian Atkinson said the foundation believed a detailed ecological assessment of the site would be sufficient to meet the concerns of English Nature and the planning authority.

He also believed outstanding concerns by the Environment Agency over flood risks on and off the site, which had also led to the delay, could be resolved fairly quickly.

The foundation, which originally hoped its application would be dealt with by last Christmas, has warned previously that Government funding for the first phase of affordable housing, allocated for 2004/05, could be lost to York if the scheme does not have the go-ahead by next spring.

The project was held up earlier this year after great crested newts were found in a different pond on the site, since when the foundation has drawn up plans to provide a new pond where they can enjoy a better habitat.

A significant number of local residents are expected to attend the site meeting, which takes place at about 12.30pm this Thursday in Osbaldwick, at the junction of Osbaldwick Village and Metcalfe Lane.

Updated: 09:53 Tuesday, October 19, 2004