A PLANNED gravel pit is “fatally flawed” because birds could down RAF helicopters, opponents claim.

The county’s gravel plan, which includes digging five million tons from fields between Cholsey and Wallingford, were discussed by county councillors on Monday. Independent county councillor Lynda Atkins urged the committee to recommend Cholsey should not be used because the issue of birdstrikes — where birds get caught up in the engines — needed further analysis.

Ms Atkins said: “These are potential fatal flaws and should be addressed now.

“Once a great big hole is dug out that fills up with water and attracts birds, the proximity of RAF Benson means birds striking aircraft needs to be assessed. The flight path goes straight over the pit site and the problem has not been properly examined.”

Two years ago, there was an appeal for people in Benson to stop feeding red kites as it was feared large numbers of them were endangering helicopters from the RAF base.

But a report to councillors said: “The MoD has no fundamental concerns about the strategy and any concerns about potential birdstrike can be addressed as part of planning applications.”

But Ms Atkins added: “This is too important an issue to be left to the application stage.”

County councillor Patrick Greene, who represents Moreton, called for Cholsey to be removed from the gravel plan but this was refused.

He added: “We are sticking a gravel pit in an area of 10,000 people and it will damage the economy — we cannot allow this to happen.”

Henry Thornton, of CAGE (Communities Against Gravel Extraction), said: “A further 550 homes are likely to be built at Winterbrook in the next few years, close to the northern edge of the proposed pit, with their access on to the bypass at the same point as the gravel access.”

According to the county council’s minerals and waste plan, 1.2m tons a year could be dug up in Oxfordshire, from the Lower Windrush Valley, Eynsham, Cassington and Yarnton, Sutton Courtenay and Caversham, with Cholsey replacing Sutton Courtenay from 2020.

The council's cabinet will discuss the gravel plans on Tuesday March 13.

Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, county council cabinet member for infrastructure, has been cleared of any wrong-doing by a sub-committee of the council’s Standards Committee.

She was accused of “the appearance of bias” and failing to declare an interest by CAGE because of an association with Dorchester anti-gravel group PAGE, before she took up her cabinet role.