Help Save Ancient Woodland Under Threat in Thatcham

Six and half acres of ancient woodland known as The Plantation (or Piggy Woods) on the Dunston Park Estate in Thatcham was, to the surprise of everyone, offered for sale by private owners in September 2020. As part of a development deal in the late 1990s, the land was meant to have been transferred to Newbury District Council (and, from 1998, to West Berkshire Council which replaced it) but its now clear this didn’t happen. 

The woodland dates back to the 1700s when it formed part of Dunston House Estate. 

It is now bordered by Floral Way, Blackthorn Drive, Foxglove Way, Violet Grove and Withybed Way.

The woodland is home to countless species of wildlife and during lockdown it has been an especially vital outdoor space for local residents.

The September auction of the site at the asking price of £250,000 (with ‘possible development opportunities’) did not succeed. Local residents have rallied to protect this much-cherished woodland: Thatcham Town Council, meanwhile, has already put several measures in place (see below) which will make developing the land vastly more difficult.

These measures have had some success. In the most recent description of the land, the ‘development potential’ aspect has been dropped and replaced by a description of its utility value for ‘leisure’ reasons. The threat is, however, not ended. The land has now been divided into ten parcels of about 0.6 acres, each for sale at about £35,000.

Confusingly, only four are being offered for auction immediately: as no mention is made of the other other six, the immediate perception is that anyone buying one plot will be acquiring 25% of the wood rather than 10%. Aside from the payment, any purchase is far from risk-free as the land in encumbered with potentially onerous repairing leases.

In addition, West Berkshire and Thatcham Town Councillor (TTC) Lee Dillon and others have been active in putting practical measures in place which will help protect the woods from development. These were summarised in a motion at a recent full meeting of TTC which received unanimous cross-party support:

(1) Tree preservation orders on the site;
(2) The pursuit of an Article 4 directive, which will remove any permitted development rights which might exist;
(3) Support for the woods being designated as an official green space in the refresh of the WBC local plan; and
(4) Support for establishing any rights of way.

Lee Dillon acknowledges that new homes (and the infrastructure to support them) are certainly needed in Thatcham. However he, and many others, believe that destroying this woodland is not the way forward.

How You Can Help

1. Please sign this petition asking West Berkshire Council to protect the woodland

2. Support the Tree Preservation Order 201/21/1015 on land at The Plantation, Floral Way, Thatcham (Map Ref. 452073 – 168291) by emailing trees@westberks.gov.uk and Lee.Dillon@westberks.gov.uk saying that you support the tree preservation order because the woodland is a valuable asset to the community.

3. Have you used any path in the wood during the last 20 years? If so please email Lee.Dillon@westberks.gov.uk if you are willing to sign a witness statement to this effect as collecting these statements is an essential step in establishing a right of way. If all these things can be put in place, this should result in the ‘development opportunities’ to which the prospectus referred being next to impossible to realise.

4. Please join the Save the Plantation Woodland from development! Facebook group.

See also this ITV Meridian report here from 29 September 2020.

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