‘Infuriating’: Construction of Cambridgeshire’s new town threatens wildlife habitat | Environment


Clive Hayden’s family have owned farmland at Larksfield Nursery in Cambridgeshire for around 70 years.

In recent years, Longstanton Farm has grown tens of thousands of flowers and plants for sale at New Covent Garden Flower Market, the colorful and historic wholesaler in the heart of London.

But the development of the biggest new town since Milton Keynes on the outskirts of its farm puts an end to that.

Northstowe, a landmark development led by the government’s housing agency Homes England, will contain 10,000 homes when completed, but campaigners say construction of the first 1,000 has already sucked groundwater from Larksfield Nursery and natural areas surrounding Longstanton. It killed birch trees and drained ponds, depriving wildlife of their habitat.

Hayden was approached to sell his land, but the 65-year-old refused, as the emotional investment in the land his father farmed until the 1980s was too high.

The developer, L&Q, who worked with predecessor Homes England on the first phase of the development, had to lower water levels in order to build on the land, a process known as dewatering. However, L&Q denies that any of the works could have caused long-term problems with groundwater levels.

Hayden has reduced the amount of flowers he grows each year and is troubled by the impact later phases of development are likely to have on the groundwater on his property, which he says he has a legal right to access. protected.

“We used to grow potted plants in the greenhouse twice a year, tens of thousands of them, we had the irrigation to do it,” Hayden said. “But now with the flow of water going through my property that was washed away because of what they did in the first phase, I have no water. We’re trying to grow fruit instead. and vegetables.

New homes being built in Northstowe, South Cambridgeshire. Photograph: Julian Eales/Alamy

Hayden claims a future phase of the development – will lower the water level ‘upstream’ of his farm by up to 2 metres. “It’s going to get worse,” he said.

Hayden said the less profitable fruits and vegetables they grow — raspberries, currants, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers — would provide a local, sustainable food source for future residents of the new town, but that is in jeopardy.

An independent report, commissioned by South Cambridgeshire District Council, concluded last year that construction work was to blame for draining Longstanton ponds of water, which campaigners say had an effect wildlife training.

The same activists won a judicial review of the development of 4,000 homes in a next phase of the new town’s development.

But as water levels remain at record lows, Hayden and campaigners in Longstanton are in despair, saying Homes England, the Environment Agency, South Cambs District Council and private developers are ignoring their pleas help.

Daniel Fulton, 41, an environmental activist and resident of Longstanton, said: “First of all, all the ponds in the village are drying up. We started fighting over it. The people of the village are really angry. None of our elected officials answer, they hide.

Building work in Northstowe, north west of Cambridge.
Building work in Northstowe, north west of Cambridge. Photograph: Julian Eales/Alamy

“We started noticing issues as early as 2015,” Fulton said. “We had three different MPs, all of whom came to visit the ponds. None of them did anything.

As a village resident, Fulton said he felt angry. “What is happening is so blatantly wrong and none of our elected officials are doing anything about it. It’s infuriating.

Fighting legal battles through his campaign vehicle, Fews Lane Consortium, has been stressful, he added. Fulton said the village wanted a long-term environmental solution.

A spokesman for Homes England said it was not responsible for Northstowe phase one, adding there was no groundwater abstraction for phase two. They said the water impact of Stage 3A had been considered by the consultants and that ‘the development is not expected to alter groundwater levels in the surrounding area’, adding: ‘However, Homes England s is committed to monitoring groundwater levels in the future as a precautionary measure.”

Tumi Hawkins, cabinet member responsible for planning for South Cambridgeshire District Council, said she recognized “the local concern over groundwater”, adding that the council was working with “key organizations to understand the causes and the next steps”.

A spokesperson for L&Q Estates said water drainage in the first phase was “standard practice and an approved construction method”, adding: “We believe it is highly unlikely that the temporary works carried out more than five years ago have a long-term impact on water levels.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: ‘We are currently reviewing reports of illegal taking on the development in question in Northstowe, Cambridge.

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