CAMPAIGNERS have vowed to continue their fight after controversial plans for a country park in Stratford were given the green light.
The Stratford District Council (SDC) planning committee approved the Riverside Project to develop the Lench Meadows and the adjacent Fisherman’s car park off Warwick Road.
Under the plans – developed by the council and Stratford Town Trust (STT) – access off the main road will be improved and extra paths and cycleways will be created, including new bridges to allow better access for wheelchair-users.
Plans are also being devised to manage the wildlife area to earn a local nature reserve (LNR) status.
SDC leader Tony Jefferson said: “This project will deliver a great natural asset for the town, which will open up a riverside area to more people.
“The Lench Meadows are designated as a local wildlife site but without active ecological management, this area has declined in ecology and a key driver of the current proposals is to restore this.”
STT chief executive Sara Aspley added: “We’re thrilled that planning has been approved as it takes us one step closer to securing Local Nature Reserve status for The Lench Meadows. This will help us achieve our goal of protecting these lands for wildlife and the community for generations to come.”
But campaign group The Friends of Lench Meadows are sceptical of plans for a 30-year-management programme needed to secure the status they believe to be a side-note to the project.
Spokesman Richard Price said: “The Friends of Lench Meadows remain resolved to continue our fight for the increased protection for the wildlife that would be afforded by a re-designation of the site as a Local Nature Reserve. Sadly, this ambition received scant attention from many on the planning committee although we had hoped that, as previously intimated, this might be a condition of planning approval.”
They also fear new facilities – including a drinks kiosk and toilet block – sited in the nature areas near the car park will be detrimental to the surrounding wildlife.
He added: “While increased accessibility for wheelchair users and pushchairs are welcomed, other issues remain over the inappropriate siting of the proposed toilet block and refreshment area in the middle of the green space. The group is taking time to consider its options and will continue to put the currently vast array of wildlife on the site at the heart of its fight.”
Some 100 objections were raised against the project including concerns over disturbance to wildlife, increased car use, highway safety, conflict between cyclists and elderly users, that it is more for tourists and, as a former landfill site, that the area may be contaminated.
But Environmental Health said contamination levels of tested soil did not exceed assessment criteria and asbestos – a chemical of particular concern to residents – was not detected.
Mr Price argued there were ‘reliable testimonies’ from residents who recalled dumping of asbestos dust and chromium when such actions were not regulated.
And the group remains sceptical of the committee’s reassurance that excavation of the sites was not necessary for development works.
Works are expected to start early next year with the bulk expected to be completed by the end of March.
The council also assures work will start on the maintenance plan required to support the LNR application.