DETERMINED campaigners have vowed not to give up the fight over proposals for 300 homes on ancient woodland in Meon Vale.
Earlier this month Stratford District Council’s cabinet voted to approve an updated draft version of the Site Allocations Plan (SAP) – a reserve list of potential housing sites to safeguard the district from opportunist developers.
Primarily, the woods were identified as a ‘reserved housing site’ in the document. But in the updated version, the area’s status has been elevated to a ‘site specific proposal’.
And yesterday (Monday) full council voted to move the plan to public consultation.
A campaign group known as The Friends of Meon Vale Woodland Walk has since formed to fight the plans from developer St Modwen. Members describe the ancient woods as a ‘green lung’ and a ‘lifeline ‘ to residents, particularly during the pandemic.
Following the vote, a group spokeswoman said: “We are aware some Conservative councillors are unhappy to see the woodland destroyed. However, when the vote was announced and all voted for the housing allocation, it became clear politics was more important than the environment or the health and well being of the local community.”
The council’s deputy leader Daren Pemberton argued if the site was removed from the SAP altogether, it would be more vulnerable to development plans.
He said: “It is my view and that of council officers that the best way to preserve and potentially enhance the site is to demonstrate, through a focused and evidenced based public consultation, that there are much wider considerations at play. This will allow us to review responses and for resident groups to bring forward innovative proposals for the future of the woodlands.
“Public consultations carry far more weight than petitions or individual responses to planning applications. The result of the consultation will, after review and approval at examination by the planning inspectorate, ensure the public’s wishes are enshrined in our policies. It is for these reasons that I supported our officers in bringing this site into the public consultation round.
“Removing the site now would have fallen into the category of ‘be careful what you wish for’.”
He also accused some councillors, although mentioning no names, of ‘grandstanding’ by making up entirely new policies ‘on the hoof’ without supporting evidence.
He added: “The truth is that doing either of these things would have stripped away almost all protection from the site and would not stop a planning application coming forward.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Manuela Perteghella proposed an amendment for the area to be included, but as a protected ecological site because of its benefits to climate change mitigation and biodiversity and wildlife, among others. But the proposal was defeated by Conservatives in a subsequent vote.
She said: “This inclusion of this site as allocated to development is completely at odds with the climate emergency declared by this council in July 2019. The woodland is the last wild green space left on the old Long Marston Engineer depot. It cannot be reduced or fragmented without permanent damage to its biodiversity. That’s why I proposed a safeguarding policy for this site.
“The SAP with the woodland site still allocated for housing will now go to public consultation and I hope that residents will make their views known.”
Campaigners are urging residents to follow the The Friends of Meon Vale Woodland Walk on social media and to register with the district council so they can respond to the consultation launching on October 29 to December 18.