People power shines through as Kettering warehouse plan decision put on hold

There was a party atmosphere outside Kettering's council chamber last night after a controversial application was deferred

By Sam Wildman
Friday, 27th August 2021, 10:44 am

"Whose woods? Our woods! Whose meadow? Our meadow!"

If councillors had any doubts about the public's feelings towards a popular Kettering green space, they heard them loud and clear last night (Thursday).

More than 200 protesters descended on Kettering's council chambers in Bowling Green Road to make their voices heard over a controversial application to build a warehouse on a cleared meadow to the north of the town.

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The protest last night. Picture by Dan Whitney.

Green Party councillor Dez Dell (Clover Hill), who stood on the roof of his own car with a megaphone, led the chanting before the meeting as people young and old waved placards.

And when the meeting started in front of a packed council chamber the noise didn't stop - with protesters continuing chants outside the window. The noise was so deafening parts of the meeting ware inaudible and at one point it was suspended by chairman Cllr Mark Rowley (Con) to see if police could move campaigners on.

But after a heated discussion, with several outbursts from furious members of the public, a decision on the plan was unanimously deferred by councillors.

Leather interior firm IM Kelly, off Weekley Wood Avenue, want to build a new production unit warehouse next to their existing site. If it was approved the unit would be built on the southern part of a wildflower meadow, which was previously cleared in 2018, close to Weekley Hall Wood.

The protest last night. Picture by Dan Whitney.

Chris Carlisle, representing the applicants, told the meeting the plan would result in 150 new jobs.

But butterfly researcher Jamie Wildman told councillors the site was an "ecological and scientific" asset to the county and the application should be refused.

After his allotted three minutes in front of the microphone were up he continued reading his speech despite an exasperated Cllr Rowley's attempts to get him to stop, at one point loudly banging his gavel to boos from the public gallery.

"Let him speak", one person shouted.

The protest last night. Picture by Adam Riley.

A committee report said 1.87 hectares of replacement grassland and 185m of replacement hedgerow, required by a previous Section 106 agreement from 2017, is envisaged to come forward as part of the wider Kettering North business park allocation by 2023. Council officers said this satisfies any ecological requirements needed.

Heather Webb from the council told councillors at the meeting: "There is nothing, in planning terms, that I could object to in this case."

But councillors said they believed there should be more mitigation to counter the ecological damage.

Cllr Lloyd Bunday (Con, Ise) said the council was "damned if you do, damned if you don't" but that ecological mitigation for the site's clearance should be "at least five times, if not more".

Vice-chair of the committee Cllr Cedwien Brown (Con, Rothwell and Mawsley) said: "We do need to mitigate this five times over at least.

"We cannot declare the climate emergency and then just pay lip service to it."

And after discussions about a masterplan, updated environmental reports and increased mitigation councillors unanimously voted to defer the application to a later date to huge cheers from the public gallery and outside.

There was a party atmosphere in Bowling Green Road, with youths with vuvuzelas and even dogs donning Save Weekley Hall Woods merchandise.

After the meeting an elated Cllr Dell - who had been denied the right to speak - said people power swung the application.

He said: "I'm delighted the plan has been deferred and the support we've had tonight from people who want to save Weekley Hall Wood and its nearby wildlife is amazing.

"It shows just how much the area is value and how much it means to local people."

Save Weekley Hall Wood member Grace Siddington was outside the meeting joining in the chants.

She said: "The atmosphere has been electric and people here just feel so strongly about this.

"This deferral gives us a chance to make sure processes are followed and we will all be back to save the woods."

Fellow member Robert Dixon said: "I think the tide is turning."

And Frankie O'Dowd, who came along with her dog Archie, said she was "absolutely thrilled" by the outcome of the meeting.

She added: "I cannot get over the huge turnout here - we were hoping for about 40 so to get over 200 is incredible.

"It's representative of everybody in Kettering and so many people of all ages."