Dick King-Smith’s daughter speaks out at inquiry in bid to save author’s former farmland

August 01 2018

Dick King-Smith’s daughter speaks out at inquiry in bid to save author’s former farmland

Juliet King-Smith has spoken at the appeal hearing into plans to build on a site at Woodlands Farm, the land which inspired her father to write his famous stories.
Barratt Homes (Bristol) and David Wilson Homes have gone to appeal over plans to develop the land east of Park Lane in Coalpit Heath.  The proposals to build up to 215 homes were recommended for approval by officers, but subsequently thrown out by planners last summer. They decided that the ‘adverse impact would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits’, with a loss of the best agricultural land, a negative effect on the landscape, and a lack of sustainability.
The companies had previously applied for a larger scheme, which had been refused in 2013.
This time the developers went to appeal, and the inquiry took place at Cleve Rugby Club.  Juliet King-Smith, who joined local residents in speaking out, said: “My dad's no longer here, so it's my job to explain how important the farm and its fields were in the formation of Dick as an acclaimed children's writer.”
“This farm was the setting of and inspiration for many of his 140-plus titles, including his first book, The Fox Busters, and probably his best-known, The Sheep-Pig. Of course, the sheep-pig is Babe and the film of that name became world-famous.”
“Dick's stories have helped educate generations of children about animals, gaming and the countryside and have delighted them, their parents and teachers.  It would be a great sadness, and a loss to the world of children's literature, if these very last fields at Woodlands Farm were to be destroyed.”
Rachel Trudgian of the VALID (Villagers against Local Intended Development) Action Group, said: “The key reason for turning down the appeal is that this development will do more harm to this area than any benefits it might bring. Not only that – these fields are not allocated in the council’s Core Strategy and therefore should not be used as a commercial opportunity for mercenary property developers.”
Local residents also gave evidence about the importance of having open countryside which is accessible to people with wheelchairs and families with buggies.  Jen Dunford, Chair of Village Action said: “This well-used footpath across Woodlands Farm is our only flat and easily accessible place where our less-mobile can walk and feel in the countryside – as opposed to just being in a park or on cut grass beside houses. Indeed, several such less-mobile groups benefit from Woodlands Farm on a regular basis – hence, loss of this important open space with its stress-relieving qualities would be detrimental to so many, including the lonely and vulnerable; resulting in further pressure on our health service.”
Much of the appeal hearing was spent in legal argument over the 5 year land supply rule. Claire Young, the Liberal Democrat’s group leader, was cross examined, and argued that despite the lack of land supply, there must be a balance. She said: “I think it is important to look at the wider planning context, in particular the proposals in the emerging Joint Social Plan for 1,800 homes east of Coalpit Heath and up to 2,000 west and north west of Yate. I think it would be wrong to grant consent for this now when we don’t know whether all that other development is going ahead.”
Local residents now have to wait for the planning inspector’s decision.