Can a beloved green valley in Desborough be saved?

Campaign group Protect Ise Valley is hoping to see off a housing development

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By Sarah Ward

Maurice Kiff remembers playing in Desborough’s Ise Valley as a child. Originally from Shropshire, his parents had moved to the small town in the early 1960s from Corby, where his dad was employed as a steelworker and he thought the open countryside was paradise.

He’d roam the fields all day with his friends, not going home until it was time for tea.

But in the 1970s the wildlife, flora and fauna took a battering when work was done to the River Ise which runs through the town.

“The water board in their wisdom decided they were going to dredge the river,” says Maurice. “They destroyed all the wildlife - the water voles were all gone within a couple of weeks.

“The stretch of the river on this side of the A6 was straightened and levelled off. The wildlife took a hit.” 

The hares, skylarks, water voles and pike all disappeared, but in the past decade, some of the wildlife had started to gradually return.

Evidence of otters have recently been spotted, and there are currently owls and red kites nesting, but now once again the wildlife and its valley home is facing another assault as a national housebuilder is preparing to bring in the diggers.

The valley, which sits next to the Wildlife Trust’s Tailby Meadow Local Nature Reserve, has been threatened since 2015 when it was first put up for sale by owners Kettering Borough Council and Central England’s Cooperative, who own the land along with another local landowner.

A campaign group was formed then and the borough council rejected a planning application to build hundreds of homes on the site in 2016 on grounds of the damage the development would do to the ecology of the area and its beauty.  The Wildlife Trust had also formally objected and had criticised the developer’s reports and surveys about the nature in the area.

But the builder appealed in 2017 and the council’s refusal decision went to the planning inspectorate. At this stage the borough council removed the objection on the ecology grounds and the planning application was approved in 2018.

At the time the planning inspector said:

“Although there will be minor harms to the landscape and the quality of public access to the Ise Valley these are offset by improvements to the built edge of Desborough, provision of walking and cycling along the edge of the proposal and better public open space.”

Two years on, many residents had thought the timeframe for when work had to start had lapsed and the homes plan was now redundant, but the issue is being brought into sharp focus again as a reserved matters application (where the developer lays out the finer details of a planning application) came forward at the end of last month and residents have until May 30th to submit their objections. Bellway Homes wants to build 255 houses on the 13 hectare site. 

Once the residents became aware of the plans an informal group called Protect the Ise Valley was formed to try and fight the application. It already has 500 members on its Facebook Page and many are sharing their family photos of walks enjoyed in the valley. It’s a popular place for dog walkers and families out on nature trails and has been a mental health pick-me-up for many Desborough locals throughout the various coronavirus lockdown cycles of the past fourteen months.

Led by residents, environmental sciences student Sammi Cook and graphic designer Gemma Harbour (who has created the campaign’s artwork) the informal group (which involves some original Protect Ise Valley members) is working hard to gather evidence and rally residents to put in objections to North Northamptonshire Council to help their cause.

“We are hoping we can find something that has been overlooked,” says Gemma. “We know there are protected species in the area and we are concerned with the quality of the ecologist reports. We feel that the system is biased in favour of the developer so any ecologist they use are always going to have a vested interest in presenting the area as ok for development.

“We are hoping we can find something that will either delay it or overturn it, or even just reduce the amount of houses they are building. We have a real concern it is going to damage the area.

She continues:

“It is used alot. You can't go up there and not see anyone. You can walk up there, out to Rothwell and circle back round again. We know a lot of nature photographers go down there to take photos.”

“It is one of the only remaining areas of Desborough that is a natural green space. It is such a unique mix of habitats. There is marshland, grass meadows, there’s a river, hedgerows and trees and there is some woodland. That is just going to be decimated. There is no way they can build there even with mitigating factors and not lose all that.”

An ecology report commissioned by the developer, which forms part of the planning application says: “It is considered that all significant impacts on biodiversity, including potential adverse impacts upon specific protected species, habitats and designated sites can likely be wholly mitigated and there is abundant scope within the proposal to enhance the ecological value of the site.”

Gemma says small areas such as this being threatened by concrete and brick is a national problem and does not think there is enough weight currently given by the planning system to environmental protection.

Recently a national group called the Community Planning Alliance was set up to show all the grassroots campaign groups currently fighting development. There are now more than 400 groups featured.

Bellway Homes has said the development will deliver quality housing for the town and that it has appointed an ecologist which is working with the planning authority (North Northamptonshire Council) to ensure the designed scheme is sympathetic to its environment.

The matter is set to go to planning in early July.

View the Protect Ise Valley website here 

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