We are delighted to hear that an application to bulldoze ancient Bluebell Wood in Maidstone, Kent, has been refused. The plans put forward by developer Croudace were to build 500 homes adjacent to Bluebell Wood with associated access routes, but on 3rd July 2014 Maidstone Councillors voted unanimously to reject the proposals and save this precious wood. It is the right decision and we are really pleased to see decision-makers in Maidstone listening to local people and acknowledging the value of ancient woodland.
When the local community originally contacted us back in spring 2013 we were horrified – here were proposals to destroy yet more ancient woodland in Maidstone only a matter of months after 32 hectares of ancient woodland at neighbouring Oaken Wood were sentenced to be demolished. In a precedent-setting case of national significance, we saw ‘economic benefit’ triumph over ecological value at Oaken. For anyone concerned about the conservation of ancient woodland that decision was bad news. The outlook for Bluebell Wood based on this recent history was bleak.
Historical mapping suggests that Bluebell Wood once formed part of a wider body of woodland stretching across the area, providing an important corridor for wildlife. Now, although fragmented, it remains a living history, cherished by the local community and depended on by many surviving animals and plants including the spring time carpet of bluebells which gave the wood its name.
We’ve had quite a discussion here at the Trust about why we can’t call this excellent result a ‘success’. As our campaigner Katharine explains;
The decision is a step in the right direction by a forward-thinking council, and they should be commended for considering the value of this ancient wood and listening to the community. But a developer has the right to appeal a planning decision for six months after the decision has been made. Croudace has said it will appeal, which means the Council is going to be continuing the fight along with the community and the Trust will maintain our objection to the application and will submit further comments to the appeal.
Because of the right to appeal, the Trust never records a wood under threat as ‘saved’ on our database until that all important six months has gone by with no further activity; with this case now going to appeal it will be a while before we can say Bluebell Wood is truly ‘safe’ – and that’s assuming the developer’s appeal isn’t upheld for some reason. Plus, we understand from the local group that Croudace intends to submit two further applications for the same site while this appeal goes through, so it really is an ongoing battle.
Well done to everyone for all the hard work that has already gone in to protecting Bluebell Wood! We will continue to work with New Allington Action Group (NAAG) which has campaigned tirelessly so far. Diana from NAAG has this inspiring message to other campaigners fighting to save the woods and trees they care about:
“…Never give up, keep digging, nag local Councils for support, lobby as many as possible, become a pain and raise public awareness, through various ways, including ‘Road shows’, local papers, posters, leaflets, newsletters, website, Facebook, protests, demonstrations. Keep the story active and alive with regular posts to keep in people’s minds.”
You can find out more about NAAG’s campaign and how you can help: sign up to newsletters on their website http://www.naag.kry4help.co.uk/schemes.html.
We’re not out of the woods just yet in Kent, but our branches and twigs are crossed that with your help and a little campaigning perseverance, this appeal will not succeed.
In reality, we find that an ancient wood under threat (even a wood with SSSI status, as we are seeing now with the ancient woods affected by HS2) can’t ever be considered ‘safe’ because of the loopholes in the National Planning Policy Framework. Despite the importance of ancient woodland, threats from proposals such as these at Bluebell Wood are relentless. Some developers keep submitting proposals over and over; others deny or challenge the ancient status of the woodland; others simply go ahead, submitting retrospective applications once the wood has been destroyed.
Together we can see better protection for all the UK’s precious ancient woodland – you can help by taking action in our campaign: “enough is enough…“.
Matina Loizou, Assistant Campaigner