MP makes tree pledge while his family woods face chop for new homes
- Credit: Simon Finlay/Danielle Booden
An MP has been accused of double standards after he signed a pledge to increase tree planting, while woods he co-owns will be cut down for 300 new homes.
Jerome Mayhew, MP for Broadland, is a trustee, along with family members, of Thorpe and Felthorpe Trust, which wants to clear ten football pitches worth of its woodland for housing.
The Trust, along with developer Socially Conscious Capital, won an appeal last year to build the new homes in Racecourse Plantation, off Plumstead Road East, in Thorpe St Andrew.
It will include turning the remaining woodland into a country park which they said would create "a very valuable legacy".
Mr Mayhew said he was "very proud" to be part of the project.
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During the election campaign, the founder of adventure firm Go Ape said he was a "firm supporter" of the Conservatives' pledge to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
A key part of that is to pay landowners to plant millions of new trees by 2025.
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After being elected Mr Mayhew also signed a pledge, with other Conservative MPs, to support the planting of more trees to tackle air pollution.
But the plan to destroy almost 10 hectares of mature woodlands which he co-owns has sparked fierce opposition from Broadland Council, residents and wildlife groups.
Norfolk Wildlife Trust said the development would lead to an "unacceptable loss" of biodiversity.
Broadland's head of planning said in 2017 the plans would cause a "substantial" loss of woodland.
But a planning inspector overturned the council's decision to reject the plans a year ago, saying the scheme would "protect and enhance" the biodiversity of the area as 150 acres of the woodland would become a country park.
The inspector said "there would be no adverse impacts on the well-being of bio-diversity".
But Jason Beckett, from campaign group the Friends of Thorpe Woodlands, said: "Mr Mayhew says he is keen to enhance the environment, so it does seem like a contradiction to be destroying a large section of woodland he part owns. The irony is enormous. "It goes against the views of local people, councillors and Norfolk conservation groups. "We are calling for people like Jerome Mayhew to recognise the best action is to not to cut down the woods."
Barbara Howey, from Extinction Rebellion, said: "I hope he uses his new role to rethink his position in relation to Thorpe Woods."
The campaign group met in the woods last weekend and have written to Mr Mayhew.
They have invited him to a meeting and said in the letter "landowners are instrumental in leading the way, to offer a vision of conserving and restoring, and we wonder whether you would consider championing a newer direction, to use your influence to safeguard Thorpe woodlands".
But the MP said the development would be going ahead.
"I agree that we should protect and manage the mature native woodland in Thorpe Woods," he said.
"As made very clear in the report of the independent Planning Inspector this is exactly what the Trust will be doing; gifting in perpetuity 150 acres of Thorpe Woods as a community woodland park for everyone, whilst improving ecological management, biodiversity, public access and recreation."
A large area of the plantation has already been cleared for commercial logging, which was licensed by the Forestry Commission, and is not linked to the development.
Dr Howey said this area should be replanted to combat climate change rather than turned into a housing estate.
The Friends of Thorpe Woodlands, meanwhile, said they had not given up hope of saving the woods and would be taking up the campaign with local councillors.
For the development to start, Broadland Council has to approve something called a reserved matters application which has not yet been submitted.
A council spokesman said: "We will now carefully consider any detailed planning application and will work with whichever developer takes the site forward to ensure the best possible development can be achieved that is as harmonious with the woodlands and wildlife as possible."
Conservation officer at Norfolk Wildlife Trust Mike Jones added the plans would "destroy a substantial part of a County Wildlife Site".
"Even if management of the remaining areas is improved this will not compensate for the loss," he said.
-Who is behind the plans?
Thorpe's woodlands are owned by the Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust, but the development is being spearheaded by a firm called Socially Conscious Capital.
They say on their website that they believe in developments "fitting sensitively" into the landscape - and they want to become a "valued part of the community".
The majority shareholder and managing director is Rock Feilding-Mellen, who used to be deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council.
The 40-year old resigned in 2017 after the Grenfell disaster.
Mr Feilding-Mellen, son of the Countess of Wemyss and March, was chair of the council's housing committee which helped oversee the refurbishment project of the tower block.
There is no suggestion he was aware of fire safety failings at Grenfell.
The other shareholders include his mum and planner Dominic Lawson.