Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Anger as field mown into a car park

Anger as field mown into a car park

A LANDOWNER has denied destroying a wildlife haven in order to make way for a car park for this weekend’s Henley Triathlon.

Residents and walkers accused Alan Pontin of levelling the field, off Highlands Lane, which they said was home to deer, rabbits and
skylarks.

But Mr Pontin called the claims “absolute and complete nonsense”, saying it was agricultural land and that the triathlon was good for the town.

The work to clear the meadow of foliage had been going on since the middle of last week with one man in a tractor levelling the site.

Residents claimed that a lot of wildlife had migrated to the meadow after work began at neighbouring Highlands Farm, where developer Crest Nicholson has outline planning permission for 170 homes.

Magnus McArthur, who lives in Highlands Lane, said: “I think it’s a great shame that in nesting season so many beautiful trees have been cut down for what appears to be parking for one day’s triathlon. It’s the wrong time of the year.

“I would say 10 years ago it was farmed and then for probably five years all they did was cut it annually. We would have beautiful spring meadows growing — very colourful and very beautiful — and then for the last four years it has been untouched.”

Mr McArthur claimed thousands of silver birch trees had been growing in the field.

He added: “If he’d had it cut down every single year I wouldn’t have complained but because it has been left for so long nature had taken over again so to me it is a great shame.”

Neighbour Val Mundy said she had seen many types of different wildlife in the field. “It was lovely sitting there, gazing out and meditating,” she said. “Now it’s just not the same anymore.”

Kay Bunyan, of Elizabeth Road, said: “I am devastated to see the mutilation of the meadow at Highlands Farm.

“This once lovely haven for wildlife, full of silver birches, buddleias, fir trees and wild fauna has been totally flattened, leaving nowhere for rabbits with their young, pheasants, skylarks, black birds, deer and other wildlife to inhabit.

“As a regular walker, I have often enjoyed these meadows and the wildlife they sustain.”

Mr Pontin said: “First of all, it’s agricultural land and is not being levelled as such.

“It’s agriculturally cultivated, so it happens that it can be used for parking for the triathlon, which is of great benefit to the town and we have happily supported every year.” He said walkers had no right to be on the land but added: “We do permit people to walk but we do it with the full knowledge of who they are, not anonymous people who complain to the Standard.

“It would be really nice if some of the people would give their names and ring me directly.”

Mr Pontin said the field had not been used for parking previously but a tenant farmer had grown crops there and it had been cut every year.

He said the use of the field as a car park had been given free of charge to the event organisers.

Race director Keith Hancock said he was unaware of the work to prepare the field for cars but said they had been directed to use it in light of the redevelopment work at Highlands Farm, a light industrial estate which Mr Pontin also owns.

Mr Hancock said: “From our point of view we just spoke to the guy who owns that land and he tells us where to park.

“That’s what we have done for the last seven or eight years. I think the field we normally park on has been sold.”

Almost 1,000 children will take part in a mini-event tomorrow (Saturday) and about 500 adults will compete in Sunday’s triathlon. The event starts and finishes at the Gillotts School field.

Mr Hancock added: “In the grand scheme of things it’s 1,000 children getting themselves fit and healthy in a great fun triathlon.”

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