4 years ago this month the long battle to save Thorpe Woods from destruction began.
Many of us will never forget the Charette of July 2010, using this charade the owners of Thorpe Woods began their attempt to make a quick buck by building over a much loved woodland and County Wildlife Site. Their central claim then, and over the last 4 years, has been that they can improve a valuable haven for wildlife by building over it.
They brought in Andres Duany and his posse of American architects to try and convince us that by building 800 houses over the woods they would be improving the environment. The Charrette was followed by a packed council meeting on a hot midsummer night. Usually town council meetings attract a handful of local people but on that night over 200 were crammed into the hall; local resident after local resident spoke out against the plans to destroy these woods.
Last year the owners brought in a new hired gun in the form of Socially Conscious Capital, a developer who works on a no win no fee basis. They claimed they only wanted to build on a little bit of the woods, a claim that nobody believed, not even them, how could they when they knew that their profits were dependent of how much of the woods they can develop. In truth Socially Conscious Capital, like the 5 wealthy owners they represent, can only see the woods as an easy way of making yet another million, but 4 years on they have found it to be anything but easy.
Over the last 4 years the people of Thorpe St Andrew and Norwich have repeatedly made clear how much they value these woods, not just for themselves but for their children and for the areas wildlife. They have written 100’s of letters, attended marches, meetings and protests and throughout this they have been joined by their local councillors Ian Mackie, Nigel Shaw and John Fisher who from day one have fought to save these woods.
Last years council consultation on the growth triangle, which addressed the future of the woods, attracted one of the largest responses ever with over 2400 people responding, 99.9% of them calling for the protection of the woods . They were joined by groups such as the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Woodland Trust, Natural England and the Norwich Society all of whom opposed any plans to build on these woods.
Last Thursday Broadland District Council formally stated where it wants to allocate its future housing and development, the council’s statement covers what is described as the Growth Triangle and sets out where housing, schools and businesses should be located up to and beyond 2026. As a result of the hard work, persistence and devotion of the people of Thorpe St Andrew , their councillors and local conservation bodies the council stated clearly that Thorpe Woods is not suitable for development and should be retained as a green space for this and future generations.
The statement identifies the woods as the centre of a series of green infrastructure corridors, it rejects the idea put forward by SCC that in exchange for allowing 100’s of houses to be built on the woods the remnants could possibly be turned into a public park. The statement goes on to identify the woods as “a particularly important area of core habitat, the long term protection of which is central to the enhancement of primary and secondary green infrastructure corridors in the growth triangle” and that although they have been put forward for development they are not deemed an acceptable site due to the ecological impact and landscape sensitivity.
Responding to last year’s consultation the statement recognises the “very large number of strong objections against developing on Thorpe Woodlands” and consequently it states that the woodland “has not been allocated for development. Thorpe Woodlands was discounted as a reasonable alternative, primarily on the grounds of impact on biodiversity of a large scale development and ongoing uncertainty about whether any form of development would be acceptable on similar grounds” “the very large number of strong public objection to development was also taken into account when making this judgement”.
We need to continue to be vigilant about Thorpe woods, last night the council stated clearly that it stands shoulder to shoulder with local people in opposing any development of these woods. The owners may try to come forward with arguments against the councils decision and may even attempt to lodge a planning application contrary to the wishes of the local community and its representatives but this shouldn't detract from the fact that the 10th of July was a great day for local democracy and for Thorpe Woods and hopefully as a result these woods have a long future, and that future is thanks to you.