‘We genuinely feel it’s for the better’ – Conservators application to deregister part of Therfield Heath in Royston could bring £1m reinvestment to the site

The land threatened with deregistration and development.

The land threatened with deregistration and development. - Credit: Archant

The clerk to the Conservators of Therfield Heath and Greens has defended their planning application to deregister a piece of heathland in Royston to make way for eight new houses – as they say it would bring a possible £1 million of reinvestment back into the site.

The group – which oversees the heath’s common land, nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest – submitted their application to exchange a portion of common land near to Sun Hill and Briary Lane with woodland at to the west of New Road to the Planning Inspectorate under section 16 of the Commons Act 2006.

But clerk David Smith said deregistering this land – which is outside the SSSI and already has outline planning permission for the new dwellings – to be sold off would mean much-needed reinvestment for the heath.

“It’s a move to replace an uninteresting piece of land with a more interesting one,” said Mr Smith.

“From the sale of the land we would make, let’s say, £1 million by the time we’ve paid taxes and covered costs, and this would be reinvested.”

Mr Smith told the Crow the money would be used for sporting facilities. He said: “By law we have to provide sporting facilities on the heath and we would use part of the monies from selling the land to a housing developer to buy an all-weather sports pitch which the heath needs, and would be used by Royston Hockey Club, among others.”

Mr Smith said they would also use the money for a football pitch, and it would open the door to help fund other projects like public toilets and changing rooms.

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When asked whether or not he feels, as part of the Conservators, that they should be protecting the land rather than building on it, Mr Smith said: “We couldn’t sell it without creating more common land. The New Road site near Therfield currently is private land with a permissonary footpath to access the heath, and this would make it part of the heath’s common land.

“We are talking about swapping a site that is not used a lot, for a site that is well-used and we genuinely feel this would give the people of Royston use of a better and more interesting piece of land.”

Responding to the notion of adding to overdevelopment in the town, Mr Smith said: “It may be the people who are opposing are living in that area, and there are lots of houses going up all over Royston, but our plans are about the heath and we believe more people will be able to enjoy the heath and benefit from it.”

The inspectorate must consider the interests of those with rights on the land to be deregistered as well as the interests of the neighbourhood and the public, and there has been response from those against the proposals.

Kate Ashbrook – general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, which is notified of all applications to exchange common land – said: “We have objected because we believe the existing land to be of great value to the public, it is a treasured open space for local people and a playspace for children.

“The replacement land is some distance away, and is not readily available for local children to enjoy. It would serve a different purpose and we consider is of inferior value to the public.

“We have therefore concluded that the application is not in the interests of the neighbourhood nor the public, and we hope that the Planning Inspectorate will not approve it,” Kate concludes.

The deadline to submit your views to the Public Inspectorate at emailing commonlandcasework@pins.gsi.gov.uk is Friday next week.