Community group gains upper hand in struggle over Bury St Edmunds woodland

Friends of Oak Community Woodland.
Campaigning for the woods to be made a conservation area
Picture Mark Westley ANL-160803-193540009
Friends of Oak Community Woodland. Campaigning for the woods to be made a conservation area Picture Mark Westley ANL-160803-193540009
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Travellers keen to settle on a section of woodland in Bury St Edmunds have not given up hope despite the area being registered as a community asset.

Oak Woodland in Rougham Hill has been earmarked as a travellers’ site as part of the masterplan for South East Bury St Edmunds strategic housing. The Delaney family, a group of travellers, have applied to build a permanent 15 dwelling traveller site on the land, which is owned by Suffolk County Council.

However the Friends of Oak Community Woodland, made up of residents who believe the 42-old-year woodland should not be destroyed, have recently had their bid to register the woodland as a community asset approved by St Edmundsbury Borough Council. This means that should the county council decide to sell or lease the land the Friends group has the legal right to challenge and would have the chance to submit a bid to buy the wood.

Michael Hargreaves, solicitor for the travellers, said the move appeared to be a front to deny the family finding a home.

“It is nothing to do with the wood it is an exclusion of an ethnic group,” he said.

“Much of the wood along the footpath, which is the valued part, would remain.

“The council has been through a process and we want to ensure that goes ahead. We are not giving up hope.”

It was almost two years since the Delaney family submitted an application to the borough council for a five pitch travellers site. Although the initial application was turned down, the site was reinstated in the Bury masterplan, which will see 1,250 new homes built in the south east of the town in the next 15 years.

In January, after the travellers lodged an appeal against the refusal of the original application, St Edmundsbury Borough Council backed down.

Adrian Williams, chairman of the woodland group, said it would be a shame to build anything on the woodland and residents had offered to take over the maintenance and development of the land from the county council.

“We are not anti-traveller, we are pro-community woodland,” he said.

“Parts of the woodland have not been well maintained, but we want to maintain it and are happy to take it on.”

An inspection of the land is due to take place in the next few weeks.