MOVING just 56 newts cost the taxpayer £414,000 during the building of the Shavington Bypass, it has been revealed.
The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that 56 great crested newts which lived on land affected by the building of the £28m A500 bypass needed special fencing erected to keep them enclosed while work to install a sliding bridge across the West Coast mainline was under taken.
But the cost of the measures taken to protect the newts, including erecting a perimeter fence to keep them hemmed in, ballooned from an anticipated £84,295 to £414,479 - £7,400 for each of the 56 newts protected.
Conservative leader of Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council Brian Silvester said the cost of the scheme was a waste of tax-payers' money, and that other measures to protect the species, such as building reserves elsewhere, would have been much more cost-effective.
He said: 'The actual spend ended up five times the original figure, but it would have been far more cost-effective if a fraction of the money spent on miles of plastic fencing was spent on creating and enhancing really good habitats for them.
'Unfortunately, the current law will not allow for that to happen.'
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Government agency English Nature require that species which could be put at risk by such projects are trapped and relocated before work can begin.
During the preliminary surveys carried out for the scheme, it was shown that many of the ponds in the Basford, Hough and Shavington areas contained great crested newts.
However, because of the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth dis-ease, the project was delayed, which meant that no surveys could be done, making it impossible to know which areas would need fencing, so the fencing was put in place around the entire site.
Cllr Silvester added: 'Even conservationists believe so much money being spent on so few newts is a colossal waste of public money.
'It's a bit like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut.'
A spokesman for English Nature said: 'Great crested newt numbers have plummeted and we've lost about 4,000 breeding ponds in the last 40 years because of agricultural intensification as well as developments such as the bypass.
'Britain is a stronghold for the great crested newt and we have a responsibility to protect them wherever they find them.'