DEVELOPERS have been ordered to stop work on 125 new homes amid fears for the safety of snakes and lizards.

House builder Crest Nicholson was ordered to make ecological allowances for protected adders, grass snakes, common lizards and slow worms when it was granted permission for a new estate in Mile Oak.

But police were called and Brighton and Hove City Council has ordered an investigation after bulldozers moved in before the hibernating adders were safely rehomed to Whitehawk.

Angry residents branded the housebuilder, which is also behind the King Alfred development “environmental vandals”.

Crest Nicholson was initially denied planning permission for the site, but on its second application secured permission on the grounds it would protect rare native species, including Sussex’s only venomous snake.

Last week the developers sent neighbours a letter promising that when work started, “low impact machinery” would be used under the supervision of an ecologist. However heavy machinery moved in on Tuesday last week. Ward councillor Peter Atkinson called in the county ecologist, who sought advice from Sussex Police before threatening legal action.

Work on the site has now been halted until the developers can provide their plan for protecting the site.

Councillor Atkinson said: “It was a condition of their planning application that they would protect the ecology. They are not acting like they have any respect for their neighbours or planning policy.”

A spokesman for the city council said: “We were alerted to work taking place on this site last week by one of the ward councillors and concerned local residents. We immediately contacted Crest Nicholson and told them to stop any further work until the condition of their planning permission regarding wildlife and ecology takes place.

“The council will now be carrying out a full investigation into this situation, and everything will be done to ensure the animals are safely protected or removed from the site before any work commences.”

Crest Nicholson spokesman said: “In September 2017, Crest Nicholson was granted outline planning permission for the redevelopment of land at Overdown Rise with 125 dwellings.

"In recent weeks, we have begun basic maintenance works to reduce the level of scrub and protect existing wildlife on the site. This work has been carried out under the supervision of an ecologist.

"We have been working closely with the local authority and Aspect Ecology, an expert ecologist, to ensure that potential hibernation spots around the development remain undisturbed and that local wildlife is protected.

"There are also a number of other ecological measures that we have taken to protect wildlife whilst these sensitive works are carried out. Reptiles will be translocated from the development site to one of two release areas including an off-site Local Nature Reserve, to ensure they are protected throughout construction.

"We will continue to work proactively with the local authority to prepare the forthcoming reserved matters application and will be presenting these proposals to residents over the coming weeks.”