New chapter in battle over ancient woodland as developer proposes creating “mini Thetford Forest” on edge of Norwich

PUBLISHED: 06:30 04 November 2013 | UPDATED: 09:24 04 November 2013

Thorpe Woods. Picture: Mike Page.

Thorpe Woods. Picture: Mike Page.

Mike Page

The battle over the future of ancient Norwich woodland will reignite this week, as developers begin public consultations about the possibility of building hundreds of homes.

Friends of Thorpe Woods close to Pound Lane, one of the ancient areas of woodland they are appealing to the public to help preserve in the face of proposals to develop for housing. Photo: Steve Adams Friends of Thorpe Woods close to Pound Lane, one of the ancient areas of woodland they are appealing to the public to help preserve in the face of proposals to develop for housing. Photo: Steve Adams

Thorpe Woods, on the north-east outskirt of Norwich, has previously been the subjects of plans for 800 homes.

Now people living in the Thorpe St Andrew, Heartsease and Thorpe End area will be issued a choice by the owners of the 200-acre woodland at two public exhibitions.

During the last three years the Friends of Thorpe Woods campaign group has been battling to protect the woodland, which is designated as a County Wildlife Site.

Developer Socially Conscious Capital (SCC) is now putting forward two options on behalf of the Thorpe and Felthorpe Trust, which owns the woods, which straddle Plumstead Road East and stretch north towards Salhouse Road.

Rock Feilding, managing director of Socially Conscious Capital. Rock Feilding, managing director of Socially Conscious Capital.

The first option centres on intensifying commercial forestry management, which the owners say the majority of the woods were first planted for.

SCC say new 20-year management plans have been agreed with the Forestry Commission and that 10-year felling consents have been secured.

This would mean that by 2023 over 55 acres of the woods will have been clear-felled or coppiced and leave public access more tightly restricted “to avoid public liability and health and safety issues”.

The second option, which SCC say is its preferred option, involves the creation of a new community woodland, which the developer says would be like “a mini Thetford Forest”.

Thorpe Woods potential development area. Thorpe Woods potential development area.

This would see over 125 acres of the woods handed over to an independent trust to be owned and managed for public benefit in perpetuity.

SCC say this option would mean more than doubling the amount of the woods that are publicly accessible.

The developer is not yet saying how many homes it would intend to build but clearly states the second option would be funded through the development of “high quality housing on the ecologically least valuable parts of the site”, with the proceeds funding the creation of the new community woodland and an on-going service charge funding the day-to-day management of the woods.

Rock Feilding, managing director of SCC, said: “Recent ecological studies have confirmed that the ecological value and biodiversity of the site have diminished over the last 10 years, and will continue to do so without active management and investment. It is also the case that the majority of the woods are overgrown and inaccessible to local people.

“It must also be acknowledged that the woods are a privately owned commercial asset with no formal public rights of access, although the owners have traditionally taken a permissive approach to allowing neighbours to use it for recreation.

“Many parts of the plantations have now reached maturity, so the owners need to make a decision about the future of the site.

“Doing nothing is not option as the woods would not only deteriorate as a commercial asset, but their ecological, landscape, and recreational potential would also diminish or be limited without the necessary management and investment.”

The Thorpe and Felthorpe Trust, has been promoting Thorpe Woods for possible development within Broadland District Council’s Area Action Plan, which covers the “Growth Triangle” which has been earmarked for 10,000 homes as part of the wider growth ambitions of the Greater Norwich Development Partnership.

The Friends of Thorpe Woods rallied its 1,000 members, and saw 2,440 people write to oppose the development, the largest response the council received.

They were also joined by the RSPB, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and Natural England in their calls for the woods to be saved.

Mr Fielding added: “The vast majority of respondents opposed the idea of developing over the whole of the site, but they also supported the idea of getting greater public access to the woods.

“We completely agree with that majority opinion – it would be a travesty to build over all the woods, but it would be a wasted opportunity not to formally open more of the woods up to the public.”

Two public exhibitions will be held by SCC this Friday, at the Dussindale Centre in Thorpe St Andrew from 1pm to 4.30pm and in Thorpe End Village Hall from 6pm to 9pm.

The Friends of Thorpe Woods have described the choices offered by SCC as “a PR offensive” and issued a statement saying: “The latest approach tries to both bribe and threaten local people but in truth their supposed ‘creation of the new community woodland’ should be viewed as a Trojan Horse.

“If any houses were given planning permission, it would leave the floodgates open to the land being sold for mass development. It is nonsense to argue that the best way of saving this woodland is to build 700 houses over it, a figure proposed by Socially Conscious Capital at a council meeting only last month.

“Any level of development would do immense damage to the woods as a whole.”

Work by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust has previously found rare species such as great crested newts, white admiral butterflies, adders and glow-worms.

The Friends group have also been supported by local county councillors Ian Mackie and Nigel Shaw.

Mr Mackie said: “Housing sites within the growth triangle have not yet been determined and it appears that the owners of the site are offering either a loss of 55 acres of woodland to the chainsaw or 75 acres to the bulldozer.

“With so much growth already planned in and around Thorpe already I see little need for this scheme and the plans for an independent trust appears to have little detail behind it, such as who would run it and who could afford to manage a 125 acres of woodland in perpetuity?

“I’ve opposed development on this site for 10 years and don’t see anything new on offer.”

- What do you think of the proposals? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

Related links

“The idea of seeing it all gone is abominable”: Campaigners step up their fight to save Thorpe Woodlands

Discovery of great crested newts give Friends of Thorpe Woodlands campaign a boost

Families urged to back campaign for Thorpe St Andrew woodlands

Fight goes on over Thorpe Woodlands

Thorpe woodland gets ancient status

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