Rogue developer clears ONE THOUSAND trees in Corby that were home to protected wildlife species

Councillors have expressed their outrage and say they hope MPB Structures Ltd is punished

Thursday, 24th September 2020, 5:26 pm

A rogue developer has cut down 1,000 trees at Corby’s Priors Hall and has carried out unauthorised works at the site.

MPB Structures Ltd has cleared trees, plants and vegetation which were a haven to protected species of newts and bats off Gretton Road and has created hard standing at the site.

The tree clearance was not unlawful, as none of the trees were protected and it was done under permitted development rights, however Corby Council’s planning department says the developer is now carrying out unauthorised works by importing stone onto the site and says an open enforcement investigation is ongoing. Flooding has also been caused at the nearby Taylor Wimpey housing development at Hobby Drive and drainage engineers have had to be brought in.

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MPB Structures Ltd is subject to a planning enforcement investigation for doing unauthorised works on the site.

At last night’s overview and scrutiny meeting, councillors called the incident that began in January and continued throughout lockdown as ‘shocking’.

Cllr Bridget Watts, who is the ward councillor, said 1,000 trees had been cleared.

She said: “It is shocking what has been done. In the middle of bird nesting season and when we have newts running around all over the place. We have got deer everywhere, including baby ones. Bats all over the place. I have seen weasels and stoats in there and they just came along there and did that – almost under the cover of night. It is really wrong what they have done and I hope they are punished for it.”

The site, which is former quarry land and sits behind the Morrisons freezer distribution site, was subject to an outline planning permission 15 years ago, which would have required environmental impact assessments to be undertaken before any work took place. However planning permission has now expired and there are no conditions in place. It was identified as employment land by the council in 1997.

A bird eye view of the site before the mass tree clearance.

The council’s planning officer Dean Biddles said the authority was made aware of the work in January and received further complaints from nearby residents in March and April. He said: “Although it is part of our green corridor, there was nothing under the planning legislation that I could go out and stop them from doing the clearance of the land. I did however pass that on to our wildlife people. I also got in touch with Heather Webb at county (Northamptonshire County Council). But unfortunately at that time they were restricted from going out. It is very much after the horse has bolted.”

Heather Webb, is an ecologist and NCC’s principal project officer. Dean Biddles said at the meeting Heather had powers with regards to nesting birds and protected species under the wildlife act, however the authority has disputed the Corby planning officer’s claims.

A spokesman from Northamptonshire County Council said: “As we have no powers to act under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, there was no reason for us to carry out a site visit in this case.”

He did say Corby Council is now in discussion with the developer and has set a timetable for a planning application to be in and also may move forward with formal enforcement action regarding the importation of materials onto site. He also said if planning permission was given for development on the site, there could be conditions placed on it to have an enhanced landscape scheme which could bring back some of the lost ponds and vegetation.

Cllr Kevin Watt lamented the loss of the vegetation and said a lot of damage had been done.

He said: “It is most disappointing that a developer would do these things that they have done. Probably in full knowledge of what they were doing. It is very disappointing that they have taken this course of action.”

If the developer puts in a planning application it will go before a committee of councillors for consideration.

In a statement today Corby Council said: “Officers from Corby visited the site 1 June 2020 where it was noted that a large amount of stone had been imported to create a hardstanding within the site. These works constituted operational development for which planning permission would be required.”

MPB Structures Ltd, which is owned by Michael Boyle, is also behind the housing development planned for the former steel works site off Steel Road.

The company is a financial backer of Corby’s MP Tom Pursglove, giving him a £3,000 campaign donation at the last election.

A spokesman for the company said: “As the council’s committee members were advised by the council officer at the meeting, the clearance of self-sown scrub on the site did not require planning permission. This work was intentionally undertaken and completed before the start of the bird nesting season and the material was used as biomass for the generation of renewable energy. The site is identified for development by the council and we will shortly be bringing forward proposals to create much needed new job opportunities for the town. A landscaping scheme will be included in our proposals and the local community will be consulted on the scheme.”

*An early version of this article said Heather Webb is a principal planner. She is a principal project officer.

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