Plans to build a new care centre on ancient woodland have divided commentators. Reporter CATHERINE MUSGROVE looks at both sides of the debate.
Hundreds of people have joined a campaign to stop a new care centre being built on an area of ancient woodland.
Although protestors have praised the work of Sue Ryder Care, members of the Save Cuerden group want to see management reconsider plans for a new 62-bed facility in the grounds of the current Cuerden Hall, near Bamber Bridge, which they claim would see 400 trees felled.
The plans have been put forward because the facility is currently housed in a Grade II listed building and the necessary modifications cannot be made to bring it up to date.
The charity claims that no ancient trees would be felled and only a small number of trees would be affected, the majority of which are less than 50 years old.
But campaigners reckon rare species and eco-systems dating back thousands of years would be lost forever. Their concerns have been backed by wildlife charities and organisations, and celebrities Michaela Strachan and Julia Bradbury, who have retweeted their comments online.
THE ARGUMENT FOR
Bosses at Sue Ryder want to double the current capacity of its care centre at Cuerden Hall, Bamber Bridge, offering up-to-date facilities and purpose-build accommodation for up to 62 adults with complex neurological needs.
The charity has identified a development site within its current grounds, with the original hall to be regenerated for housing.
In response to local worries, plans for the new centre have been reworked, but the charity say they remain committed to the location, as it reflects patients preferences, and would make transition to a new building easier.
A Sue Ryder spokeswoman said: “We are very proud of the excellent relationship we have with members of the community around Cuerden Hall and we have been overwhelmed by the messages of support we have received from local residents.
“However, we know there are also some concerns about our plans, which involve developing a 62-bed specialist neurological care centre in the grounds of Cuerden Hall, on land owned by Sue Ryder.
“We would like to clarify that we are not felling any ancient trees as part of this development. We estimate that a small number of trees would need to be removed, the majority of which are less than 50 years old.
“Our ecological survey suggests these trees are not ancient in character and are generally of poor quality. There are many ancient trees in the woodland surrounding the site; however these will not be affected by the development.
“We started planning for a new specialist neurological centre 10 years ago to expand and develop our care and provide a better environment for our residents and staff.
“It is well known that Cuerden Hall is a magnificent Grade II listed building. However, its listed status means we can’t make necessary adaptations to meet our current and future care needs.
“The building has limited space and narrow corridors. We have a single lift, which is too small to accommodate a bed, and none of our bedrooms have en suite facilities.
“We believe that everyone, regardless of their condition, should be able to receive the care they want in order to live the life they choose.
“Our proposed new care centre will enable us to provide this incredible care to more people across Lancashire for many years to come. We want to build a specialist neurological care centre - this is not a hospital, nor is it a hospice.
“Sue Ryder will be providing nursing care for people with complex disabilities and long term neurological conditions. Residents are likely to be with us for years, even decades, and for many, Cuerden Hall will be providing a home for life. Therefore, the health and wellbeing of our existing and future residents is our top priority, and we strongly believe that it is in their best interests to build the new centre on our current site.
“When we asked our residents where they would like to live, those likely to transfer to the new specialist centre expressed a preference to be in a rural setting.
“We have considered five alternate sites over the years, having worked up proposals and commissioned building plans for some. None were found to be suitable.
“Change can be distressing for people with highly complex care needs and we believe that building on the land we own at Cuerden would make this transition easier for the residents and their families.
“The relationship we have with local residents is very important to us and we have listened to their views every step of the way. We have removed a proposed second floor and a proposed row of new housing from our plans following consultation with the local community. However, we remain committed to building our new specialist neurological centre on the site and we are confident that our development will cause minimal damage to the local environment.”
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST
“Sue Ryder does a fantastic job, but its plans to build a new care centre on ancient woodland are completely inappropriate”.
That’s the position of Sarah Elsy, spokesman for the campaign group Save Cuerden, which is mounting a protest against Sue Ryder’s plans.
Protesters, including more than 100 people who have already submitted formal objections to Chorley Council, are concerned that the development will see the destruction of post-medieval woodland and plants that have taken thousands of years to develop.
Sarah, a primary school teacher, said: “This is ancient woodland, and there’s not much of that left in the country.
“You can’t replace natural woodland. It’s had thousands and thousands of years to develop, to cultivate growth on growth of specific flora and fauna.
“You can’t take down 400 trees from an ancient woodland and replace them with some saplings, like Sue Ryder’s business manager is proposing to do. I think he needs to look very closely at his Forestry Report.”
The campaign group claim the site is Lady de Hoghton’s Wood that was planted for her by Robert Towneley-Parker hundreds of years ago.
A ‘bioblitz’ in 2010 found nearly 1,000 species in park and local area, including:
• Slow worms, which are rare in this area and protected by Natural England
• Roe deer found in Cuerden Valley Park and in woodlands surrounding Cuerden village.
• Bluebells and wood anenomies. Bluebells are protected under wildlife and countryside act 1981 also Natural England. It is against the law to destroy them or dig up bulbs.
A long eared bat colony of regional significance has also been found in the stables at Cuerden Hall, numbering at least 75 to 80.
Sarah said: “These are a rare species, they are endangered and they need the woodland to roost and feed. If any development goes ahead, mitigation is needed to save their home.
“Bearing in mind the development pressure the area as a whole has been under and the development of the M65 in recent years which led to the removal of huge chunks of ancient woodland, 400 trees going will affect the entire ecological balance of this whole area.
“It is a miracle that the long eared bats are okay at the moment.”
The campaign group dispute Sue Ryder’s claims that the woodland and trees are not ancient, claiming that the patch of land is identified as such in the Historical Environment Records at Lancashire County Council.
They also claim the presence of bluebells is a strong indicator that the site is ancient.
Sarah said: “Hundreds and hundreds of bluebells have come up in the last seven days in this woodland, and in five to six weeks time, Wilbraham Woods nearby will be a blue carpet. It’s terribly sad when you think that the proposal is to turn Wilbraham Woods into a car park.”
She added: “This land is so valuable, it’s part of our heritage for our children and their future.
“As a teacher our children learn about the benefits that woodland areas can bring them. In my class we recently looked at tropical rainforests and children as young as years old understand that trees help to give us clean air, which is exactly what these ancient woods have been helping to do for the past 1,000 years and are having to work harder as motorways and houses appear in this concrete army in which we are surrounded. Ancient woodland must be treated as the lungs of Lancashire.
“Green belt is being eroded, and this is the thin end of the wedge, and I think this proposal is definitely being treated more favourably because it’s a charity, than it would be if it was a commercial venture.”
The campaign group also highlights transport issues the new development might create. Sarah said: “A new centre means more vehicles and this site has bad transport links for family and staff.
“It’s completely inappropriate, it’s not even on a public transport line with the nearest bus route and railway station in Bamber Bridge.
“These patients were told they would be in a community, but in fact they are in isolation, and moving another 20 yards into woodland is not going to help matters.
“A new centre site has been thought about for the past 10 years and they’ve told us that they’ve identified five sites in that time. It’s not a lot at all.
“We would be happy to work with Sue Ryder and do some fundraising work, and use our network of specialist members who can help identify another place.”
The campaign group is being supported by The Woodland Trust, whose members are to host a meeting with environment minister Owen Paterson, to urge councils to think very carefully about planning matters. The Trust has also formally objected to the Cuerden plans.
David Dunlop, conservation officer for Central and Western Lancashire said: “To our mind, the current application does not fully demonstrate compliance with the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework in terms of conserving and enhancing biodiversity.
“It also lacks detail on the design and proven effectiveness of the proposed mitigation for potential impacts on the Common and Soprano Pipistrelle populations and, especially, the Brown Long-eared Bat population of likely county-level significance.”
A public meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 23 from 7pm at St Bede’s Old School, Preston Road, Clayton-le-Woods.
See www.savecuerden.org.uk for further details.