Controversial Kettering warehouse park decision taken out of council's hands
and live on Freeview channel 276
Plans for six units near Weekley Wood Lane were first submitted in March 2020, leading to a furious reaction from environment campaigners, a petition and the creation of the Save Weekley Hall Wood group.
But almost three-and-a-half years later North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) is still yet to make a decision. And the Duke of Buccleuch's development company Buccleuch Property has now made an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate because of the lengthy wait – meaning a Government-appointed planning inspector will instead rule on the application after an inquiry which could last eight days.
Cllr Dez Dell (Green, Clover Hill) said: “After three years the Duke of Buccleuch’s developers should have got the message by now that the people of Kettering don’t want any more of their countryside destroyed for unnecessary warehouses.
"Almost 23,000 people have signed the petition, so the developers trying to force their destructive plans through by bypassing the council is disgusting. I hope the Government inspector will listen to the residents of Kettering and refuse the plans.”
The complex plan – which has 387 documents attached to it on the council’s website – originally had more than 40,000 sq m of trees earmarked for the chop before it was redesigned last year because of the backlash it received.
Swathes of woodland will no longer be cut down but campaigners say the plans remain unacceptable as they would still see the loss of a meadow and popular walking routes.
Plans revealed Symrise Limited – a food and drink firm based in Corby – legally committed to a new £20m bespoke facility at the site. Five other units would also be built if approved, with the overall planned size of the site reduced from 430,000 sq ft to 350,000 sq ft.
Correspondence from NNC, seen by the Northants Telegraph, said that, at this stage, permission would have been refused for a ‘number of reasons’ had they been in a position to determine the application.
A spokesperson for Buccleuch Property said they had tried to work with the council to bring the bid to a planning committee and ‘reluctantly’ decided that going to the Planning Inspectorate was the only way they get a decision on the plan, which could create 700 jobs.
They said: “This application has been with the council now for three years and because of the non-determination over such a lengthy period, Buccleuch reluctantly concluded that an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate was the only way we could obtain the clarity of determination.
"We did seek to proactively work with the council to take this application to committee, including engaging with pre-application process and undertaking a considerable amount of technical work.
"This is an application for employment use on an allocated strategic employment site which is a key element of the council’s economic development strategy, and we hope that our appeal can resolve the matter as quickly as possible.”
Many objections have been made by residents, campaigners, nearby parish councils and The Wildlife Trust.
Their concerns include harm to biodiversity, alleged flaws in the way wildlife surveys were carried out, access to the site from the ‘hamburger’ roundabout and whether the application complies with the area’s joint core strategy, which provides strategic planning policies for future development.
Buccleuch say the clearance of grassland is to be compensated with the creation of an equivalent area of species-rich grassland, adding that mitigation measures would result in a biodiversity ‘net gain of 21.56 per cent’.
The Save Weekley Hall Wood group has been granted ‘Rule 6’ status for the planning inquiry, meaning they will be considered a main party and will have the chance to cross-examine others.
It’s currently planned that the inquiry will begin on November 28 with a decision expected to be issued on or before December 26.
Campaigner Robert Dixon said everyone feels like they are slightly going into the unknown but that – with the decision not being made by councillors – they have lost the ability to put pressure on local decision-makers like at previously vocal meetings.
He said: "We are trying to find our feet in a new scenario because we have all been so focused on what was going to happen. We've been a bit wrong-footed.
"My gut feeling is, given that Buccleuch would have appealed against a refusal almost certainly, we might be better off with the process being short-circuited provided we can find a suitable outlet for letting off steam and making the inspector aware of local feelings."
Martin Toms, who is part of the Save Weekley Hall Wood survey team, said he hopes the Duke reconsiders the plan.
He said: "I've been involved in improving biodiversity in the Kettering Ise Valley area as chairman of Natural-Ise and I am very upset at the thought that an area so rich in wildlife should even be considered for destruction, especially given that the UK has one of the most depleted wildlife numbers in the world.
"I have personally enjoyed seeing great crested newts, numerous bats and birds at Weekley Hall Woods, all of which must be preserved. I strongly hope that the Duke reconsiders the decision to build on this valuable area and upset the local community.”
Fellow campaigner Dr Siobhan Currie said: “This campaign has brought together families and people of all ages against Buccleuch and his developers. This is a beautiful and accessible green space used daily for vital recreation and health purposes.
"I am appalled that they have taken it out of the council’s hands and worried that the Government planning inspector will not take any account of the huge opposition from local people. It seems like it is warehousing at any cost, despite the people, the wildlife and the climate emergency.”
Headteacher at nearby Glendon Farm Montessori Forest School, Grace Siddington, said “For the developers to try and bypass our council and go straight to the Government is extremely bullish and shows how little regard they have for the local area and local people.
"Our wonderful and unique green space is just a pay cheque to them.”
Cllr Anne Lee (Lab, Windmill) added: "The Planning Inspectorate needs to know how precious Weekley Hall Wood and meadow is to the people of Kettering for their access to green space.
"It is a treasured site lodged in childhood memories, and we want to preserve it for generations to come. After all, this used to be common land. Local councillors should have a right to say 'no' to this lovely patch of wildlife being concreted over, purely for the financial betterment of the Duke of Buccleuch."
North Northamptonshire Council will now have to lodge a statement of their case by September 11.
A council spokesman said: “The applicant’s decision to register an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate means that they will be responsible for the determination of the application. We understand that the Planning Inspectorate means to hear the appeal by way of inquiry at which the council intends to make a robust representation of its position.”
Save Weekley Hall Wood campaigners urged anyone who has previously commented on the plans to send in their comments to the Planning Inspectorate as an ‘interested party’ by September 11 – the last chance for them to do so. Campaigners have put together guidance for how people can do it here.