Fineshade Wood - Save Our Forest!
If, like many in Kings Cliffe, you enjoy spending time in Fineshade Wood you need to be aware that a planning application has been submitted which will change the woods permanently.
Forest Holidays, in partnership with the Forestry Commission, are intending a large development to build 70 holiday cabins and infrastructure, including over 2 miles of roads, in the heart of the forest with all of the obvious impact it will have on this peaceful environment for both wildlife and human life!
There are "carrots" being dangled by Forest Holidays suggesting that this development will bring some jobs and income to local businesses, but from what's been seen in their other developments these appear to be somewhat exaggerated, and there are no promises being made.
For the Forestry Commission, who own 20% of Forest Holidays, this development would bring them over £200k per annum, which they would then use to commercially develop their forests across the wider region; Fineshade will effectively be sacrificed by being a "cash cow" for others.
On 26th November 2014 the East Northants Council (ENC) Development Control Committee met to discuss and vote on this planning application. The planning officer for the application was minded to propose approval, having rejected the need for a Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and saw no reason why planning permission should be denied. However, the mood from the floor was somewhat different as one councillor after another expressed their concerns, citing many of the same points that have been raised by members of the public during the consultation phase.
In particular; the issue of road safety and access to the Fineshade Lodge via the narrow road currently in place, the need for greater consideration to be given to the environmental impact, as well as the potential loss of a very significant leisure facility for the East Northants region, which it was recognised is widely used by people of all generations. Other concerns were doubts about the true contribution that this development would make to local communities, that it was inappropriate and too large for the location, that it lacked connectivity by local transport for providing access and that as a non-essential development in open countryside was in contradiction to some of the Council's own development guidelines.
Discussion led towards a proposal for a deferment of the decision in order for a further site visit to be made by the councillors (the initial site visit was conceded to have been poorly attended) and for a closer assessment to be made of the road access and safety issues. Doubt was cast over the accuracy and completeness of the current Highways assessment that there is no significant issue for consideration, which is was pointed out is in direct conflict with the opinions of many local residents who have commented on this issue.
There is also the matter of the outstanding decision to be made by the Secretary of State regarding the need for an EIA to be conducted as a part of this application. This was requested after an initiative undertaken by a group of Fineshade residents, which culminated in a formal request to the National Planning Casework Unit (NPCU), essentially the Secretary of State, which, if successful, will overturn the planning officers opinion and force an EIA. There was a sense amongst some councillors that this application was being rushed through and that it was too significant to be decided upon without a proper assessment of the full impact being conducted first; no final decision will be made by the ENC until the outcome of the EIA decision. However, the application could still be refused without it.
As the meeting headed towards the vote it was clear that there was little support for this development amongst the councillors, and that to defer, prior to making a final decision at their next meeting, was seen as a necessary and prudent action by them in order to present the council in a good light should they later refuse the application. To that end the motion to defer was carried unanimously with one abstention. As things stand this application looks unlikely to be approved, but the battle for objectors is by no means won as Forest Holidays will likely appeal if this application is eventually refused.
At this stage I glanced across to David Williamson, Head of Recreation for the Forestry Commission, who by now had his head in his hands and was looking quite despairing. As an objector I felt reassured by the response of the councillors, but I'm not without my sympathies for the Forestry Commission either. After all, they have been positioned by the current government between a rock and hard place with regards to finding future funding for our forests, and are under pressure to commercialise our forests in order to survive.
No longer can those of us who enjoy access to these spaces take for granted that they will always exist and are protected; they are not.
Traditionally the Forestry Commission has always been considered as the guardian of our forests, but now they are nationally actively participating in the commercialisation of them. In 2011 the "Save Our Forests" campaign was thought to be over when the government said that our forests would not be privatised.
Whilst we may find the commercial partnership of two organisations as ideologically diverse as Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission as being somewhat distasteful, the need for this partnership must be dissolved, either through a change in direction in government policy or by finding alternative means of raising funding, if our forests are to be secure for the long term in the tranquil way we like to experience them.
Perhaps the Forestry Commission could become a membership organisation, similar to the National Trust, and through membership help fund the nation's forests, and at least offer members free parking in return! Maybe we need a Friends Of Fineshade organisation to provide those that value these spaces the chance to "sponsor a tree" or make some form of small annual contribution to stave off the threat of development. After all, the Fineshade Wood fan base spreads far and wide; it is an unusually tranquil place, at all times of year. I for one would, somewhat despairingly, buy-in to a scheme of this nature, as I sense that unless we change direction and back away from the ongoing privatisation of things we once secured from the public purse, we will lose these spaces for ever.
If this is a topic that you feel strongly about consider signing the petition "Forestry Privatisation by the Back Door", raised by a member of our community, as part of the 38 Degrees movement.
What Can I Do To Help?
Whilst the formal submission deadline has passed, there is still much to be gained from making the various councillors concerned aware of your feelings and the issues that concern you. Several councillors commented at the meeting about the impression that was made on them by the quantity and content of the various letters, emails and comments they have received to date. They are aware that Fineshade Wood is a valuable asset to the region and the more of us that make them aware of our feelings the more likely this application will be refused.
Download this document which has the contact details for the councillors on the Development Control Committee (all of these details are publically available on the ENC website). You can re-submit comments made in your official submission if you want to, many of those may not have been read by the councillors; there was quite a few! Please contact them as soon as you can, but certainly prior to their meeting on 18th February 2015 at 7.00pm in the Council Chamber, Cedar Drive, Thrapston, NN14 4LZ. There's ample parking to the rear of the building.
It would be even better if you could attend the meeting in Thrapston and be in the public gallery, when we can expect a vote to be taken; voting with your feet makes a good impression, and personally I found it quite uplifting to be actively taking part in something I realise I'm rather passionate about.
First Published: 28th Nov 2014
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