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Concerns remain over Riverside plan

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THE £2million project to reimagine Lench Meadows in Stratford was given planning permission last week with work expected to start in the new year.

However, opponents to the Riverside Project want reassurances from joint developers - Stratford District Council and Stratford Town Trust – that the area between Warwick Road and the River Avon will become a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) and that there will be a budget to manage the site.

The project was given the green light at a meeting of the council’s planning committee last week, despite concerns about human intrusion driving out wildlife and contamination from part of the site, which was once the town’s tip.

New cycle and footpaths will be built along with new bridges; toilets and a space for a food truck will be added, a pond dipping area will be created, access off the Warwick Road will be improved and the biodiversity of the area will be managed – something that has not happened in decades.

There will also be picnic areas and a boardwalk, but a planned extension of Fisherman’s car park was dropped from the scheme to avoid an objection to the plans by the Environment Agency.

The plans attracted about 100 responses in opposition, as well as a petition.

The Friends of Lench Meadows, which wanted LNR status for the land prior to any other plans being pushed through, said in a statement it hoped wildlife would not suffer.

“It was unfortunate that the planning committee did not seek to place at least the condition of the area being designated as a Local Nature Reserve as one of its provisos for granting the application. We maintain that the level of human intrusion planned will make achievement of that designation difficult, but live in hope that it will be expedited imminently.

“Also, there seemed a palpable failure to grasp the seriousness of the potential for environmental contamination. The committee was led to believe that there would be no disturbance of the landfill, but with ponds being excavated, stanchions being driven deep into the ground to secure boardwalks, toilet block footings and utilities being sunk deep into the ground this is clearly not the case.

“It was also stated that there was no evidence of previous toxic dumping on the site, yet at least two local residents (one a former mayor and chairman of the town trust) have provided definitive depositions via the pages of the Herald that vast quantities of chromium and asbestos dust were deposited on the site over a long period.

“We maintain that a ‘discovery strategy’ whereby excavations will be undertaken by ground workers wearing PPE infers a greater level of risk than the promoters seem prepared to acknowledge publicly.”

The Friends also questioned the evidence used to show that biodiversity will be increased in the area.

The statement added: “We believe that the planned works will result in irreversible changes in the habitats that currently exist. We will continue to fight for the wildlife that currently call the area home.”

At the planning meeting six councillors voted in favour of the plans while two abstained.

Cllr Matt Jennings (Con, Henley) said: “This is going to create green routes into town, reduce congestion and improve air quality. The pandemic I think has changed people’s attitudes to green space and introduced a lot of people who otherwise would not have gone into the countryside to look at nature.”

Cllr Tony Dixon (Con, Tanworth) said: “We have heard this evening of fears concerning the fact that there could be disturbance of a tip. Our papers don’t indicate that there are any dangers – we don’t have any evidence that anything inappropriate was deposited in the tip. On the basis that I can see no reason not to approve it I will move that we grant.”

While no records were kept about what was placed in the ground when the site was used as a tip between 1950 and 1971, people have come forward with suggestions local manufacturers dumped hazardous material.

The Herald this week asked the council to clarify the LNR status for the site, but as yet an application has not been made.

A council statement said: “With planning permission now secured for the site, work will start on the maintenance plan that is required to support the application for the site to become a Local Nature Reserve.”

It added: “The [Riverside Project] Work will be carried out by specialist teams to retain and enhance biodiversity.

“The planning application is approved subject to conditions and contractors to carry out the work are currently being appointed, with the work anticipated to start on site early in the new year.

“The bulk of the works are expected to be completed by the end of March, with other time sensitive works such as planting to continue into spring/summer 2022.”

Council leader Cllr Tony Jefferson (Con, Welcombe) said: “I am pleased that this planning application has finally received approval with full support from the planning committee. This project will deliver a great natural asset for the town, which will open up a riverside area to more people.

“The Lench Meadows are designated as a local wildlife site but without active ecological management this area has declined in ecology and a key driver of the current proposals is to restore this.”

Sara Aspley, chief executive of Stratford Town Trust, said: “We’re thrilled that planning has been approved as it takes us one step closer to securing Local Nature Reserve status for the Lench Meadows. This will help us achieve our goal of protecting these lands for wildlife and the community for generations to come.”

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