A status won by campaigners to protect Birds Marsh from development appears to have lost the area £470,000 promised by developers.
After years of fighting, Friends of Birds Marsh were overjoyed to achieve village green status for the woodland in north Chippenham last June.
But in a Chippenham Town Council planning committee last Thursday members were told the status had “sterilised” the wood, making it illegal to manage, and as a result developers had withdrawn their offer.
The North Chippenham Consortium, made up of Barratt Developments, Persimmon Homes and Heron Land, were going to pay for a public open space, 100 allotments, a community orchard and a woodland education centre.
There was also to be a site manager to stop vandalism and antisocial behaviour, and a cafe and children’s play area by the allotments.
The plans were introduced into the Wiltshire core strategy after discussions began in 2011 with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, which planned to manage the site throughout a 120-year lease.
Gary Mantle, chief executive of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, said a management charge for all the new houses would have paid for its upkeep and security.
Dr Mantle, who described the situation as ‘a mess’, said: “They all signed that they were happy to pay the amount, in July 2013.
“The village green status was a surprise to the trust; we were not consulted and we didn’t know anything about it.
“The developer gave us a legal opinion that they would no longer be able to fulfil their obligations because village green status had, under law, sterilised the area and it would be a legal offence to manage the wood. And if anybody went into the wood who wasn’t a resident of the parish, that would be trespass.”
Coun Nick Watts asked what would happen if the wood was not managed.
Dr Mantle said: “Without that it will continue to deteriorate in terms of wildlife and community value. Rhodedendron is an invasive species and can run amok if unchecked. It would lose its biodiversity interest.”
He said there could be a way forward if Wiltshire Council accepted the associated liabilities.
Coun Watts, who covers the Hardenhuish ward, said: “The prospect of 750 houses to the north without this amenity is not one which would thrill any of us.”
Before Dr Mantle’s presentation, Martin Naylor, of Greenway Gardens, spoke on behalf of Friends of Birds Marsh. He said: “We’ve always set out to defend the woods and the fields around. We would oppose any attempt to remove the village green status as we feel it is the only thing to prevent it from being developed in such a way as to lose the wildlife.”
Wiltshire Council will discuss the Northern housing development on Wednesday, April 16 at Trowbridge County Hall at 1.30pm.