ENVIRONMENTAL charities say development plans for a nature reserve are “completely unacceptable”.

Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Campaign To Protect Rural England are backing residents campaigning against the proposal for 217 flats on the Whitehawk Hill reserve in Brighton.

They are asking Brighton and Hove City Council Council to “ensure that this important site is not destroyed”.

The council has partnered with housing group Hyde Housing to build “affordable” homes on the site.

In a statement to the council, Kia Trainor, director of CPRE Sussex and Tor Lawrence, chief executive of Sussex Wildlife Trust, said: “The need to act now and stop this scheme from going any further is imperative. We urge you to do whatever you can to halt the council’s dangerous plans to develop housing on Whitehawk Hill Local Nature Reserve.”

The charities said the area was a “green lung” with “valuable access to nature in terms of health”.

They said they understood the need for social housing in the city but this should not be at the expense of one of Brighton’s valuable wild spaces.

They said: “At the time of high levels of obesity and poor mental health, the council is showing little regard for the value of Whitehawk Hill to local residents.”

Councillor Daniel Yates said: “The city is urgently in need of more low cost homes. There are currently nearly 12,500 households on the city’s joint housing register, over 1,800 households in temporary accommodation and rising homelessness.”

He said the new homes project was one way of trying to supply lower cost housing.

He said the council assessed a number of urban fringe sites and this site was identified as suitable for residential development.

He said: “An archaeological assessment will be undertaken as part of the development process.

“We have commissioned ecological studies to inform the development proposal. The team will use the results to ensure that the impact on wildlife and ecology is minimised in line with Natural England guidelines.”

Mr Yates said the project would “protect and enhance the wildlife habitat and natural environment of Whitehawk Hill”.

He said: “The proposed scheme will also include improvements to footpaths to allow greater access to the wider landscape.

“We are currently reviewing the feedback received from the first round of consultation in October and looking at technical issues on the site, and will provide further updates on the proposals next year.”