ONE of the most divisive planning applications in Oxford's recent history is set to be decided a week from today.

But now residents have hit out at Oxford City Council over Seacourt Park and Ride yet again, this time claiming the authority has started clearance work for its proposed expansion before even getting permission.

Neighbours on Botley Road said council contractors last week 'razed' valuable wildlife habitat on the field where the city wants to create 650 new car park spaces.

The council, which owns the field, said it was actually trying to help wildlife – cutting down vegetation to make once last check for badger setts.

But residents who have fought the expansion said the council, by 'starting work' on the construction, was once again railroading over public opinion.

Botley Road resident Liz Sawyer said: "The decision of the council to raze this site to the ground seems motivated by its desire to build on it – but the planning application for the site has not even gone to the planning committee yet.

"There was no need to destroy this site, and it goes against the principles of the council to provide space and opportunity for wildlife where possible."

Ms Sawyer pointed out that the council itself made the land a Conservation Target Area in its 2015-2020 Biodiversity Action Plan.

She went on: "Even more importantly, it is a waste of council resources.

"There are much better things that direct services could be doing than destroying a greenfield, green belt site that is also a wildlife hotspot."

Julia Hammett of Oxfordshire Badger Group wrote to city council leader Bob Price personally complaining about the work.

She said: "This is an area which is important for wildlife, and to tidy it up in the same way as a park is rather heavy handed.

"After concerns expressed during the last 'clearing' one would have thought that residents might have been informed about the nature of the work before it commenced."

The council's cabinet member for planning Alex Hollingsworth said contractors had been clearing vegetation to make sure no new badger setts had been dug there.

He said: "This follows advice from three independent ecologists and environmental scientists, alongside advice from the Environment Agency and RSPCA officers, and will make sure that no badgers, bats or nesting birds are harmed during any construction work if the scheme goes ahead."

He also reiterated the 'compelling and urgent' case for expanding the park and ride, citing 'serious traffic congestion' on Botley Road and the new Westgate Centre opening.

The furore is the latest anger over the park and ride expansion plan: Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford Flood Alliance and the city's two MPs have all made objections.

More than 1,700 people have signed a petition against the expansion created by the badger group.

Oxford City Council's West Area Planning Committee is due to make a final decision on the plan at 6pm on Tuesday, December 12.