If Crest Nicholson gets planning permission to add 1,700 houses to North Swindon at Tadpole Farm on Tuesday 12 June, they have struck a deal with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (WWT) to hand over 100 acres in the River Ray flood plain so that it can be turned in a huge wildlife area with public access.
WWT director Dr Gary Mantle has written to trust members to explain the negotiations that have been going on with Crest, acknowledging that some trust members may have strong opinions about the proposals to build on green fields.
Tadpole Farm, owned by Crest Homes, is included in Swindon Borough Council’s planning Core Strategy. They propose 1,700 homes, community facilities, employment land and major public open space areas.
Public consultations took place in March 2011 and a planning application was submitted earlier this year setting out how issues of transport, drainage, environment, landscape, ecology, archaeology, housing, education and health provision will be dealt with.
Oakhurst Residents’ Association have expressed considerable opposition to the development, arguing that existing infrastructure is inadequate. In particular they say that the volume of traffic during the construction phase and that generated by the people living in the new houses will access the area via Oakhurst Way, causing huge congestion and worries about safety to pedestrians.
In his letter Dr Mantle says that the WWT lodged an objection to Crest’s planning application on the grounds that there were not enough benefits to wildlife and the people of Swindon, highlighting that it did not meet Swindon Council’s policies on biodiversity or green infrastructure.
After six months of discussions Crest have not only have agreed in principle to hand over 100 acres of land, if the planning permission is agreed, the company has also agreed to pay the cost of establishing the wildflower meadow and will provide £250,000 as an endowment to cover the costs of the future management of the nature park.
He adds that there may be two other areas within the Tadpole Farm development site – a woodland and an area of ponds and grassland – that could become part of the nature park in the future.
The land is currently arable land which will be converted to wildflower meadows with open public access.
As well as the usual range of wildflower species, Dr Mantle says the Trust will try and encourage rare plants such as snakeshead fritillaries and green winged orchid.
Snakeshead fritillaries flower in profusion at two nationally recognised sites just outside Cricklade and the Trust’s nature reserve at Blakehill Farm, just a few miles north of Tadpole Farm.
Green winged orchids flower at the North Swindon Site of Special Scientific Interest within Oakhurst. It was adopted as the marketing logo for the Priory Vale housing development in North Swindon – onto which Tadpole Farm is to be grafted.
Dr Mantle says the nature park would provide great habitat for bats, barn owls, skylarks and hares. Otter holts would be built to attract otters known to travel along the River Ray.
"It is not only wildlife that will benefit from the nature park," he writes. "Having an area of open space so close to where people live will be a really good opportunity for local residents to simply step outside and be close to nature. We know this make a major contribution to our health and wellbeing.
"This will be an ambitious project and will make a major contribution to our goal of creating Living Landscapes."
He concludes his letter to Trust members by saying: "All major planning proposals can be controversial. I am writing to you directly to explain what the Trust has been working to achieve and reassure you that throughout we have been seeking the best outcome for wildlife and people."
John Terry from Crest Nicholson said: “Our priority is to create genuinely sustainable communities and we place a huge amount of emphasis on environmental responsibility.
"It is essential that we deliver homes in which people truly want to live, and creating a vibrant new community is as much about careful integration with the surrounding area as it is about delivering well designed, quality housing.
“The nature park makes a fantastic addition to the development plans, and I’m pleased that we have been able to work so closely with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to present these ideas to the local council.”
• Wiltshire Wildlife Trust has 18,500 members and manages 37 nature reserves in Wiltshire. The Trust also endeavours to lead by example in the protection of the environment. www.wiltshirewildlife.org
Read reaction to the tie-up between WWT and Crest Nicholson www.swindonlink.com/news/wilts-wildlife-trust-condemned-for-crest-deal
The Planning Process
Wiltshire Wildlife Trust objected to the original outline planning application submitted by Crest in December 2011 as it was not felt to consistent with the Core Strategy Policy NC5 which states that: “Tadpole Farm will protect, integrate and enhance existing Green Infrastructure including… …Biodiversity particularly the River Ray Corridor”.
The Trust also felt that it did not live up to the expectation of Policy C3.35 which states that: ‘The Green Infrastructure Strategy aims to protect, enhance and improve connections within these corridors and defines the wider network of green corridors. At the proposed development areas these corridors will be extended and enhanced and will provide net biodiversity gain’.
Proposals for the Nature Park are now consistent with the recently published National Planning Guidance (NPPF published March 2012), which states, for example, that:
NPPF Ref 109: The Planning System should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity where possible, contributing to the Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures.
NPPF Ref 114: Local Planning Authorities should set out a strategic approach in their local plans, planning positively for the creation, protection, enhancement and management of networks of biodiversity and green infrastructure.