Badger sett at risk from homes plans for Wheathampstead, Herts?

PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 November 2009 | UPDATED: 14:39 06 May 2010

VILLAGERS and wildlife enthusiasts are up in arms over slash and burn tactics deployed by a property developer. They have accused Stuart Lewis, who lives in Wheathampstead, of decimating a wildlife habitat in the village because he wants to develop the

VILLAGERS and wildlife enthusiasts are up in arms over "slash and burn" tactics deployed by a property developer.

They have accused Stuart Lewis, who lives in Wheathampstead, of decimating a wildlife habitat in the village because he wants to develop the site..

The Green Belt land next to Cory Wright Way was until recently densely wooded and home to at least one family of badgers. It has also been identified by the district council as having wildlife habitation value as part of its Planning Core Strategy.

Cllr Judy Shardlow, whose ward takes in the land, said: "This site, which was home to a family of badgers, has been decimated by a developer desperate to remove what he sees as an obstacle for development. I have spoken to the District Council Planning Enforcement Team and police urging them to prosecute the land owner."

"This land is Green Belt and as such it has the full protection of planning policy and the law. What makes matters worse is that the person who is responsible for this decimation lives just a few hundred metres from the land."

Mr Lewis, who owns the land, has, for a number of years, unsuccessfully lobbied St Albans District Council (SADC) to change the designation and remove it from the Green Belt.

House developer Marchfield Homes also has an option to buy the land but the council's recent Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) has yet to identify the site as suitable for housing.

The draft SHLAA pointed to one of the key constraints to development as being the presence of a significant number of trees which provided a natural buffer between open countryside and the housing estate built on the former Murphy Chemicals site.

But now this obstacle has effectively been removed as the land has been cleared of trees and vegetation.

Mr Lewis, a millionaire property developer who lives in Rose Lane, denied the presence of a badger sett on his land. He also insisted the trees he had removed were not subject to tree preservation orders (TPO)

A council spokesperson confirmed that there were no TPOs but said the matter had been referred to the Forestry Commission.

A spokesperson for the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust said she had visited the site with a police officer and had seen signs that a badger sett may have been disturbed.

Audrey Randall of the Hertfordshire Badger Group said she was due to visit the site with a police officer tomorrow as part of an evidence-gathering bid to mount a prosecution against the landowner.

Sergeant Jamie Bartlett, wild life crime coordinator for the police , said: "We are taking this complaint very seriously."

Mr Lewis said: "Emotion is running ahead of the truth here. A lot of people in the village are grateful to me for clearing the former Murphy Chemicals site and the Government are keen to see brownfield sites like this one used for housing."

But planning portfolio holder Cllr Chris Brazier said that although the land had been previously developed, that did not necessarily confer brownfield status on the site which had reverted back to nature in recent years.

He added: "The SHLAA consultation is still ongoing so it is impossible to say yet whether Mr Lewis's land will be identified as a suitable site for housing.

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