Friends of Therfield Heath group ‘needed more than ever’ after land swap decision

Therfield Heath

Therfield Heath - Credit: Archant

The founder of the Friends of Therfield Heath has said the group “is more required than ever” after the Planning Inspectorate rejected an application to deregister heathland in Royston.

The release land at the top of Sun Hill. Picture: David Hatton

The release land at the top of Sun Hill. Picture: David Hatton - Credit: David Hatton

Rod Kennedy unveiled his idea for a friends of the heath group at a public meeting held at Royston Town Hall last month - and said that it is still in the formative stage.

When asked if last week’s decision – to refuse the application to swap common land near Sun Hill and Briary Lane with woodland near New Road in Therfield – would change the need for a friends group, Mr Kennedy told the Crow: “No, the friends group is still required, it is more required than ever.

“What is also required is a greater understanding of the roles of the various people involved in the heath and of the very good work the conservators have done over many years, often at their own expense, for the benefit of everybody who uses the heath.

“But they can’t be expected to do everything. They have a statutory responsibility as a charity to do certain things, and one of those things is to benefit sport and leisure in Royston.”

The entrance of the replacement land to the west of New Road in Therfield. Picture: David Hatton

The entrance of the replacement land to the west of New Road in Therfield. Picture: David Hatton - Credit: David Hatton

“Having read the inspector’s report I don’t understand his logic, and I feel a few people blocked the interests of the wider community – the hockey club in particular have been stuffed.

“Nobody will gain from this because that land will not be maintained as it is not part of the SSSI.”

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The Planning Inspectorate’s decision came three months after an eight-day public inquiry where supporters and objectors gave evidence.

Supporters included the Conservators of Therfield Heath and Greens, who manage the heath and operate as trustees of the Therfield Regulation Trust, which owns the site and made the application for deregistration.

Their grounds for deregistering the common land was that they would sell the land off for housing and potentially gain £1.4m for sporting facilities and running costs to “guarantee the future of the heath”.

They were criticised by objectors for not exploring other funding avenues and for not involving the public more in what they do.

Mr Kennedy said his friends group idea had not come about because of the recent events, and that they had not established roles within the group yet at this early stage.

He said: “It was an idea I had several years ago, and I have been discussing it with the conservators, and it’s only recently that they said it’s a good idea.

“For a long while I’ve been interested and involved with the heath and it was quite clear that many people had little idea as to how it operated or was financed, they felt they could go anywhere and do anything, and didn’t understand why sheep were grazed.

“If you look at the grazed areas and compare it with ungrazed areas, you will understand why it needs grazing – the wildflowers need it, the invertebrates need the thick grass to be removed, and nesting birds need the same.

“Heathland is predominately grazed land and I think that for donkey’s years there has been an enormous lack of interest from many people.

“There’s a few who take a great deal of interest and understand it, but a lot of people haven’t got a clue what goes on – they say the council fund it when it has never been council-funded.

“I have felt for a long while there’s been a need for a friends group or an organisation which could explain things to people, and support the work of the conservators.

“But the friends group cannot make up for lack of funding. It can supplement it, but is not going to make up for the amount that is really required to maintain the heath.”