THE wife of actor George Cole is leading a campaign against a sawmill and huge wood store next to their home.
Penny Cole says she and the 88-year-old Minder star have been made unwell by the worry over the development in Newnham Hill, Stoke Row.
But next-door neighbour James Morris says he needs the barn to store wood from trees that he plans to cut down because they are diseased.
He says he can’t use the Nettlebed sawmill two miles away because it can’t handle trunks as big as his 80ft to 100ft beech and wild cherry trees.
The open-sided barn, which will be about 27m long, 18m wide and 7.4m high, does not require planning permission but the Coles and other neighbours have complained to South Oxfordshire District Council after Mr Morris submitted an application anyway.
Their objections include the loss of trees and its impact on wildlife, the risk of noise disturbance and the visual impact of the barn.
Mrs Cole, an actress, said she and her husband regarded Mr Morris as a friend but they didn’t believe the barn was necessary.
“Nettlebed sawmill has been run very professionally for a long time,” she said. “We can’t understand why he wants to do this and so near our boundary.
“The district council have said that they can’t do anything about it. We asked if it could be moved closer to his house than ours and they said we would have to go through environmental health and that’s what we’ll do.”
Mrs Cole she had been so worried by the development that she was prescribed valium by her doctor at Nettlebed surgery.
She said: “I have had such bad palpitations that I had to go to the surgery. I have never had these problems before. George has fallen and knocked himself and he is on hefty medication for other health problems. This is shaking what he values.”
The actor has lived in the area for almost 70 years, originally at Mr Morris’s property.
His wife, to whom he has been married 49 years, says he is nothing like Arthur Daley, the small-time conman he played in Minder, or “Flash Harry”, his character in the original St Trinian’s films.
Mrs Cole said: “He has been always very quiet and needs peace and quiet. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been here for 70 years.
“This is our safe place and suddenly it isn’t anymore. We can’t get away from it — our master bedroom and sitting area all face towards it [the barn].
“At our age, we do not socialise except with our children and grandchildren. We never go away — we are always here.”
Richard Poston, who lives in neighbouring Nottwood Lane and also owns woodland, is among the other objectors.
He said: “As an immediate neighbour with a larger estate of both indigenous beech woodland and plantations of larch and Douglas fir, we are extremely surprised that this site warrants a development of this scale to manage its woodland.
“I note that the genius loci [spirit of a place] is 'peaceful woodland’. This will certainly not be the case with a sawmill, in detriment to the immediate neighbours and the large amount of wildlife in these woods.
“The woods are home to herds of red and roe deer, muntjac, badgers and many other species that depend on uninterrupted woodland for them to migrate through.
“A large clearing and construction of this size with the associated noise in this relatively small area could effectively create a barrier for wildlife.
“We are continually managing our woodland, felling dead and diseased trees without the need to construct a sawmill.”
Digby Armstrong, who lives in Newnham Hill, said: “Surely there must be controls over the wide-scale removal of hundreds of mature trees in a historical woodland area which will impact the neighbours, public paths and natural wildlife?”
Maj Gen Leslie Francis Harry Busk, who owns a property with almost 40 acres of woodland next door to the site, said: “I very much doubt if I could justify setting up a sawmill to manage it even if I could get permission to cut the trees down.
“I am therefore at a loss to understand where he will find the timber needed to operate a sawmill of some size, on just five acres of his own land, unless he intends to import it.
“This would inevitably involve a great number of heavy vehicles travelling both to and from the intended mill along a very small back lane which runs alongside my property.
“This 'quiet lane’ is much used by walkers with children — often babies in prams — and dogs and the increased traffic would make their enjoyment of it considerably less pleasurable and certainly more dangerous.”
Nettlebed Estate has also objected, saying the building would be “substantial” in the context of just four hectares of woodland.
It said: “We believe that a substantial yield would generate no more than 16m³ per year. That equates to eight to 10 trees which could easily be processed in a matter of days with the use of a mobile sawmill.
“The size of the building raises concerns that there may be a wish to create a sawmill either now or in the future.
“Furthermore, details should be required of the proposed type of saw and mounting in order to assess the likely noise pollution that would be generated from the enterprise. The proposed use is likely to cause nuisance to other property occupiers both in terms of disturbance and noise pollution.”
Stoke Row Parish Council has recommended the application is refused.
It said: “Planning history has been poor with disputes, retrospective applications and encroachment issues.
“Local residents and the parish council are sceptical that this application can be taken at face value. The parish council is concerned with the scale of the proposed building and questions the size relative to the woodland.
“It would appear that either the entire woodland will be felled or the building will be under-utilised.”
Mr Morris, 44, said Nettlebed sawmill could only collect and process 8m lengths of wood but the trees he would be felling would be longer than that and by having his own sawmill, there would less traffic.
He said: “I am certain that if I were to have the timber transported to a sawmill for processing and delivered back for storage and drying, this would involve a much higher level of traffic on Newnhamhill Bottom than under the current regime.
“Trailers and their tractor unit collecting and delivering the timber would have to be at least 45ft in length to collect the long straights.”
Mr Morris said he would be using a home-made saw powered by a petrol engine of the type found on many lawnmowers. He had already been using it for more than six months without complaints from neighbours.
“It will merely be to take the felled wood from a round format into a squared format to aid the drying process and make storage and stacking safer,” he said.
“I am surprised at people’s attitude to woodland management, especially in an area of such forestation that has many plantations and areas under the management of the Forestry Commission, which actively harvests trees.”
He said a commission official had said that his woodland was overcrowded and unhealthy and advised him to ask an arborist to devise a management plan, which he had done.
Mr Morris said he had “no intention” of setting up a commercial sawmill.
“No wood other than that felled on the estate will be processed,” he said.
He said that in seven years at the property he had felled fewer than 100 trees and many of them were diseased, dying or dangerous.
He added: “The small-scale forestry operations have been done with considerable regard to wildlife. A full ecological sweep is regularly performed to determine the presence of protected species and the woodland management plan has been prepared by a respected and qualified arborist and landscape architect, who regularly visits to check progress and discuss best practice.”
Mr Morris said the location for the barn was chosen because it was not visible from the Coles’ house.