Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, 3rd November 2004
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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ASH10.25 a.m. The chainsaw stops and there's a great crash: the old ivy-covered ash comes down.

Tree and stream are what drew us to Coxley Valley 20 years ago.

Bellway Homes - with the full approval of the local council - are felling a large, spreading ash tree that would have effectively screened their 90 house development. They've decided that they need to put their bridge across the stream right next to where the ash has stood for perhaps 100 years.

'Just three small hawthorns . . . '

How I regret the time I spent writing letters and attending public enquiries: a total waste of time.

'The development will involve the felling of just three small hawthorns', said the barrister, summing up the minimal environmental impact for a previous developer, the late Neil Naylor, at the December 1999 public enquiry (two previous public enquiries had turned him down and one inspector expressed the opinion that this would never be a suitable place to build houses). The barrister informed us that his costs amounted to £250,000 for a two day hearing. He made it clear that he would pursue us for these costs if we insisted on putting forward irrelevant matters and asking irrelevant questions.

ash leafIt wasn't just the developer who had us in his sights: Wakefield Council's barrister also targetted residents, asking for our addresses so he too could pursue his costs.

Lies and Misdemeanours

Eighteen months later, at a reserved matters meeting, I still hadn't got the message: astounded by what I'd seen, I wanted to make clear my concerns about flooding, the environment and the inaccuracies in the data supplied by the developer. Councillor Rick Hayward, chairman of the council's planning committee, put it to me bluntly that he found my record of a wintering bittern turning up at the site 'unbelievable' and informed me that it wasn't important anyway; the decision to build had been made at the public enquiry, so that was that . . .

flooded beck. . . whatever the facts about flooding might be; I later discovered that the National Rivers Authority hadn't been given the full picture by Wakefield Council.

Coxley pathHeaven and Hell

For the Vikings, the world tree, the ash Yggdrasil, had it's roots in hell, its branches in heaven. For me Coxley Valley, with its waterside and woodland, is the nearest we get to an earthly paradise around here but residents have been put through hell by developer and council.

There is no mechanism for putting a true value on our green spaces. Years ago, with a slip of a pen, this rural corner had been classified as 'brown land'. It looks pretty green to me. Or it did: this streamside footpath (left) is where Bellway's contractors have been taking out bushes and the big ash this week. They felled it across the stream.

CoxleyBellway's bridge, ramps and embankments will bury the meadow at this entrance to Coxley Valley, which was celebrated in Victorian paintings, postcards, poems and even in a piece of music for brass band. This goes against the advice of an ecologist's report which urged that the semi-natural vegetation on both sides of the beck should be retained.

I shall miss that tree. Next Page

Related Links

Bellway Homes

Wakefield Council

Richard Bell,

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