For ever, for everyone?
Wildlife-rich haven in Bovey Tracey under threat. Site notices went up at Bond's Meadow yesterday, giving the public just 21 days to respond.
Bovey Tracey residents began the campaign to Save Bonds Meadow in 2016 when three acres of wildlife-rich land owned by the National Trust – comprising bog, scrub and emerging woodland, heavily protected by Tree Preservation Orders – were offered for housing.
With nature in decline, the National Trust loves to tell us how it is protecting the countryside. Yet its claim to be standing up for nature seems to evaporate when it can make money by selling off these same spaces for development.
In contrast to most National Trust land which is legally ‘inalienable’ – cannot be sold without Parliament’s permission – these three acres given to the Trust along with the Parke estate are ‘alienable’.
For years they have been left undisturbed, so that ecologists have identified more than 700 species of flora and fauna, including protected species. The National Trust could live up to its principles and give them lasting protection. But it wants money and the national ‘call for land’ to provide housing has provided the opportunity to sell this site.
In desperation to fill Government quotas, Teignbridge District Council has in turn packaged this wildlife-rich space together with adjacent agricultural and grazing land to create a site now allocated as BT1 in the Local Plan, completely ignoring its ecologically distinct nature. The target is to provide at least 120 homes, on top of around 200 at Bradley Bends and 270 at Challabrook.
Of course, what we want is for the National Trust to withdraw its land from sale. But it has said repeatedly that it wants to benefit financially. With the land allocated, we can’t dispute the principle of development. We have to use planning policy to make the best of a bad situation.
One possible solution, which has been put forward in discussions with Teignbridge, would be for the National Trust land to be designated as the open space required within the BT1 development. Footpaths and cycleways into the town could be incorporated to provide an attractive green space.
But a planning application submitted by Burrington Estates in January is jeopardising all hopes of safeguarding this wildlife haven.
Burrington realises very well that it will be challenging – ie. less profitable – to deal with the National Trust’s part of the site. So it has gone straight for the sweet spot. Its ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ approach involves seeking permission to build 67 homes on the simplest part of BT1 – Phase 1 on the aerial view. What it calls Phase 2 (field to the north) and Phase 3 (National Trust land) are not included in this application. Nor does Burrington indicate whether it intends to develop these itself or leave them to other developers.
Now Teignbridge has always been clear that it wants BT1 to be developed within a masterplan for the whole site. This is enshrined in the Local Plan. But Burrington obviously has no intention of fulfilling this requirement. So while it talks about taking a joined-up approach, it has submitted an ecological impact assessment that conveniently ignores the wildlife-rich National Trust land. By submitting plans for Phase 1 only, it also fails to show how it can provide safe footpaths and cycleways into the town, as demanded in the Local Plan.
Most worryingly, Burrington’s failure to produce a masterplan prevents the National Trust land being safeguarded using the approach described above. Any future developer will want to build on it to the max.
So what now?
Some have suggested Burrington’s reluctance to include the National Trust land confirms its unsuitability for development. But we do not have the optimism to believe the land will remain untouched. There is always the threat of a bijou developer willing to work within the constraints of the site.
We will be strongly pressing the point that Burrington has failed to comply with the Local Plan. With Bradley Bends under construction and Challabrook just commencing, there is no rush to build more houses in Bovey Tracey. We want the application to be refused, to allow discussions to find the best way forward.
For now, anyone who cares about the environment of Bovey, and of South Devon generally, needs to make their feelings known in the next three weeks.