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Mansion plans in ancient Ascot woodland delayed by Royal Borough

Published: 10 May 2013 09:300 comments

RESIDENTS and environmental protestors fighting the planned construction of a mansion in ancient woodland have persuaded the Royal Borough to delay making a decision on its future.

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The controversial plan to build a "substantial dwelling house" on the site at Blacknest Park, off Whitmore Lane, Ascot, along with a gatehouse was due to be examined by the Windsor Rural Development Control Panel on Wendesday (May 1).

But panel members decided to undertake a site visit before voting on the planning application, which will now be scheduled for June.

The site is inside the Green Belt, is subject to a number of Tree Preservation Orders, contains ancient woodland, is a designated Local Wildlife Site and is partly within a flood zone, which protestors say is reason enough to slow down the planning process, for proper examination of environmental issues.

Planninng permission already exists for the erection of three detached houses, with garage block and gatehouse on the 6.4 hectare site, which covers the footprint of a demolished mansion.

A case for very special circumstances needs to be made in order to justify the development of the regency-style house in the Green Belt. The site is a Local Wildlife Site and is located with 2km of two SSSI sites.

Consultations with local residents produced a number of objections, but many were in favour of the plan; seeing it as better than having three houses on the site.

Dr Andréa Berardi, who owns a five-acre plot adjoining Blacknest Park, is currently spearheading the fight against the plan. The lecturer in environmental information systems at the Open University, of Englefield Green, said the build increased the flood risk to Whitmore Lane, was an inappropriate development on Greenbelt land and threatened to damage wildlife species and habitats.

Dr Berardi, a father of two, said: "By filling in the lake the developer is, in effect, creating a dam so that the neighbouring forest will flood and be ruined."

Lise Andreassen, Sunninghill and Ascot Parish Council wildlife officer, said: "It is hard to believe that the numerous points raised relating to the site and its biodiversity significance were not adequately covered in any pre-application advice given by the planning department."

A report from the council's tree officer, Helen Leonard, recommended refusal of the appliation.

She said: "It is noted that some new planting is proposed. However, this will not sufficiently mitigate for the adverse effects of the scheme and will not replace the lost 'wet woodland' habitat."

Dr Berardi said an area of woodland, subject to a tree preservation order, near the site of the proposed build had been cleared last year without permission. He took some images of the trees, which had been piled up and burned on the site by contractors.

He added: "This was a beautiful, growing, mature woodland."

But Royal Borough Planning officer Emma Crotty said, in her report to the panel: "There is no strong evidence to show that TPO trees have been unlawfully removed from the site recently."

Matthew Lucas, of Lucas Design & Construction Ltd, Reigate, Surrey, who represents the owner of the land, said: "All the works that were carried out were lawful and they comprised the clearance of Rhododendron shrubbery, and two alien species: Himalayan Balsam and Cabbage Skunk weed, both of which are capable of undermining the normal functioning of a healthy woodland and the latter is also highly toxic.

"There is an extant planning permission that is on the site that has allowed certain works to take place on the site. The most recent works were carried out by specialist contractors who had contacted the various authorities, forestry commission, Environment Agency and the council's enforcement office and they were made aware of the area that was being cleared."

To view the Facebook page set up by protestors, visit http://www.facebook.com/GrannyKettleWood?fref=ts

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