Fears for future of open space

Land at the back of Watery Lane, adjacent to the Crematorium, where developers have started work around a pond.
Land at the back of Watery Lane, adjacent to the Crematorium, where developers have started work around a pond.
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Residents living near open land in Lancaster fear wildlife will be destroyed if the space is snapped up for a housing development.

The land, to the west of Watery Lane in Scale Hall, has remained fallow for many years and is frequently used by dog walkers.

But diggers moved on to the site last week and concerned neighbours believe a pond has been dug up to prepare the area for development.

Richard Swarbrick, who lives in Whernside Road near the site, said: “The pond was home to the local toad population and I feel that the filling in of it is an act of wilful destruction of their natural habitat.

“Even though the land is “green belt” it may be the precursor for a planning application now that there is no wildlife to disturb.

“There are lots of brownfield sites in Lancaster which could be developed instead of this land.”

Another neighbour, who did not wish to be named, said: “It looks increasing likely that developers have targeted a plot of agricultural land within the “green belt” area as an opportunity for housing development.

“The land has for many years been agricultural grazing land and forms part of the “buffer” zone created by the “green belt” to prevent urban expansion into the rural areas surrounding Lancaster.

“The fields, which occupy a prime elevated location, afford stunning views across Morecambe Bay and an almost 360 degree panoramic landscape of the Lune Valley and city skyline.

“On the crest of the site was a fresh water pond, seemingly fed from a natural spring. This pond was well developed and a thriving habitat for frogs, newts, dragon flies and wild fowl. Grey Heron were also regularly sighted.

“This pond has now been almost eradicated with the surrounding shrubs and bushes torn out, the surrounding land scoured flat by a bulldozer and a drainage ditch dug to drain the pond water down the hill into the grounds of the Lancaster Crematorium.

“In effect, a viable and much needed fresh water habitat has been destroyed.

“Some local residents suspect that this action has been taken by the new owners in order to avoid possible “green” or “environmental” issues in potential development plans.”

The work was undertaken by Oakmere Homes Ltd of Kendal, who are currently appealing against refusal of planning permission at a greenfield site at Coastal Road, Bolton-le-Sands.

Oakmere Homes director Chris Middlebrook said: “The privately owned agricultural land to the west of Watery Lane has a hole which fills with water in winter – and dries out in the summer.

“The landowners decided they wanted reparation work on the land to remove the hole – which they are perfectly entitled to do.

“They were familiar with Oakmere Homes as a company involved in land development, and knew we had the expertise and the contacts among contractors to carry out this work in a professional manner with minimal local impact.

“We agreed to handle the work for the landowners.

“As part of our preparation for the reparations an ecologist checked the location to ensure there was no evidence that the work would impact on endangered species – and gave the all clear.

“We are not aware of any current plans to build homes on this site.”