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A plan by Birchwood High School for a sports and leisure complex has been condemned as “wilful environmental vandalism” on one of the “very few last green lungs” of Bishop’s Stortford.
The secondary plans to build the state-of-the-art centre across the road in Parsonage Lane on an eight-acre site it owns in the grounds of the Pearse House development off Dunmow Road.
The scheme includes a floodlit artificial football pitch with spectator stands, a mountain bike/cyclo-cross track, a low-lit running path and a pavilion that will house a gym, changing facilities and space designed for social and arts pursuits along with fitness classes such as yoga, Pilates and spinning.
Birchwood is in advanced talks with Bishop’s Stortford Football Club over the site becoming the Isthmian League club’s new home, if it decides to relocate from Woodside.
The school has yet to submit a planning application. In July it hosted an open exhibition of its proposals, and an online exhibition and questionnaire is running on its website until September 6.
But a petition against the scheme has been launched by resident Alastair Cook with the aim to “protect and preserve our local residential community and wildlife from unnecessary development and wilful environmental vandalism”.
The petition claims the scheme has been kept under wraps and residents have been misled, with lip-service paid to consultation.
And in a letter to the Indie this week resident Kate Pinner aired her concerns over disturbance from the development, claiming people “will encounter the same major invasions of privacy that the neighbours of the Herts and Essex Sports Centre experience”.
She highlighted fears over foul language from sports players, disturbance from floodlights and a large increase in traffic.
Mr Cook alleged the school has admitted preparation for the scheme started in 2015 when “two majestic ancient oak trees” were felled.
The petition also stated that earlier this year scrub and bramble undergrowth around the margins of the site – which provided cover and food sources for numerous insects, pollinators, birds, bats and foxes – was cleared during the bird nesting season.
It added: “A fox den was unearthed by an excavator, and a traumatised and bewildered fox was seen wandering the field having just had his home and foraging resources decimated.”
The petition continues: “Educators should be teaching their students to respect nature, not tarmac it over with car parking spaces and artificial turf, which will have detrimental effects on drainage and flooding in this era of global warming and less predictable weather events.”
As part of the proposals, the school has carried out an ‘arboricultural impact assessment’ with plans for a landscaping consultant to work with the school and nearest neighbours to “determine the best possible screening options for noise, light and security”.
The assessment further states that a new line of trees will be planted along the northern edge of the site to screen homes in Birchwood Mews.
A floodlighting plan states that the impact on residents will be minimised as “overspill values into gardens will be no more than moonlight”.
An acoustic assessment had taken place, including consideration for possible use by Bishop’s Stortford FC. It concluded that “noise will be audible at nearby dwellings but not significantly above existing ambient noise levels”.
In response to the petition, Birchwood High deputy principal and project lead Charles Gilbank said that after a storm some years ago two trees had been felled after they were deemed to be diseased.
“We have a wide range of trees on the site, and part of our legal health and safety responsibility is to ensure that these are well monitored and are safe as the land is in use by young people,” he said.
He added that no tree preservation orders existed and the school followed correct processes for the removal of the trees.
Contractors carry out regular maintenance of the site, including removal of scrub and bramble, but there was no evidence of a fox den being destroyed during the process.
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