The aristocrat versus the people of Kettering
Who will win in the battle over Weekley Hall Woods?
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By Sarah Ward
It’s almost certain that the Duke of Buccleuch won’t be at the planning meeting tomorrow evening to decide the fate of the application to build a warehouse on his land at the Weekly Hall Woods site. Thought to spend most of his time in Scotland, where he owns the vast Queensbury estate, his sometime residence is Boughton House, the grand stately home that stands at the centre of his estate within the Kettering district.
But while the Duke won’t be there, there’s no doubt that hundreds of local folk will once again gather outside the council offices in Bowling Green Road, Kettering to show how much they want the treasured green space he owns to remain as it is. They turned out in force last August when the application first went before the planning committee and have vowed to be back when it comes forward again tomorrow.
Located on the edge of Kettering, behind the police force’s control hub, the area became a wellbeing destination for many during the first 2020 coronavirus lockdown. With little shared green space in Kettering - the town does not have a country park and Wicksteed Park is behind a locked fence - when the plans for the latest phase of development came to light in Spring 2020, it hit a nerve and a campaign founded by local green party member Dez Dell struck a chord.
Thousands signed up to a petition against the development and the campaign to save the green area shows no sign of slowing down - more than 20,000 have now signed the petition to stop it, with more signing up by the day. The campaign was so successful the area voted for three Green Party councillors last May demolishing the long standing conservative stronghold.
The plans ultimately feature five large warehouses to expand the existing Kettering Business Park - the main application has been submitted recently and is currently out for consultation.
The smaller application going before the planning committee tomorrow is being brought forward by car interior outfitter IM Kelly (which already has a unit in the existing business park) and The Buccleuch Estates Ltd.
The planning application states:
“This proposal for IM Kelly (Phase 2) would provide a new building with dedicated facilities to allow expansion of services from existing premises adjacent and the broadening and reinforcement of their current automotive-based operation. The building will form part of the IM Kelly business operation from this site and will operate in tandem with the existing facility.
The proposals [would] include associated external car parking for staff and visitors and a service area at the rear of the building accessed off an internal service road which will be shared with the existing IM Kelly facility.” They state that the proposal would create 150 new jobs.
The unit would be built on the southern part of a wildflower meadow, which was previously cleared in 2018, close to Weekley Hall Wood.
The Duke’s land
The Duke is one of the largest private landowners in Britain owning three major estates in Scotland as well as his Kettering one.
According to data obtained in a 2015 Freedom of Information request by Private Eye journalist Christian Eriksson the then named Boughton Estates Ltd totalled 25,516 acres.
Altogether his companies own more than 200,000 acres of land. And as the value of land continues to rise, so does his family’s wealth.
A descendant of Charles II (the monarch who returned to power after Cromwell’s ill fated attempt during the seventeenth century to create a republic), like many of the country’s aristocracy, the current Duke, who is the tenth to hold the title, can chart much of his current land holdings back hundreds of years.
This map, lodged by the Boughton estate with the council five years ago, shows the scale of the land in the Duke’s ownership.
It encompasses much of the surrounding area and the lodged document states that land owned by the Duke and his family stretches across Brigstock, Broughton, Cranford, Geddington, Grafton Underwood, Kettering, Newton and Little Oakley, Lowick, Stanion, Warkton and Weekley.
When he stepped down as chairman of the Buccleuch group of companies in 2019 the Duke wrote a piece for national newspaper The Times in which he set out the policy of the private company.
“We have a policy of selling land where we think it can be put to better use. The use of land is complex given the often competing interests in play, and no one involved in a land-based enterprise can realistically hold the view that life can go on as it always has in the past.”
The bigger development
The application for the larger development has been recently submitted and will come before the planning at a later date. (Objections need to be made by the 20th of this month).
But campaigners fear if this smaller application on the business park site is approved it will open the door to the next much larger one.
Save Weekley Hall Woods member Robert Dixon said:
“We hope the planning committee will continue to look critically at this smaller application which we believe is something of a Trojan Horse for the larger main application. If the IM Kelly application is approved, the planning committee could find their hands tied when they come to consider the main application in due course.”
Since 2020 the campaign group has met with Buccleuch estates to discuss the plans and has called on them to withdraw it, but they say ‘this led nowhere.”
However Buccleuch’s representatives say they have listened to concerns which have led to revisions, the formerly threatened woodland will now still stand. The wildflower meadow will be built on though, which campaigners are adamantly against.
Neil Finnie, Director of Buccleuch Property said in a press statement:
“We understand the interests of the local community and listened closely to their concerns. This has led to us making changes to the plans to take into account those concerns – crucially, the woodland area originally included within the development will be retained and the area can continue to be used by the local community.”
And they say they do value the local community.
Anna Fergusson, manager of Boughton Estate, said:
“Buccleuch values the relationships it is able to build with local communities and hope that the conversations we have had with members of the Save Weekley Hall Wood campaign team can continue, and we can look to progress other areas we have offered for community use.”
Buccleuch says if the plans are approved jobs will be created as well as some existing jobs retained - a local employer is proposing to move to the new site.
“The value and importance of the natural environment is a key consideration to Buccleuch and we continue to ensure an appropriate balance can be struck between the need for job creation and economic prosperity and the continued wellbeing of our ecological assets. We do believe that these revised proposals strike that balance and will continue to engage with stakeholders throughout the process.”
The last meeting concerning Kettering Business Park saw hundreds of people gather outside the council’s offices, creating a din so loud that councillors inside the chamber could not at times hear themselves.
A point of controversy during that meeting was that despite the strength of feeling from the public, the meeting, which was chaired by Conservative councillor Mark Rowley, did not allow more than one public speaker. Tomorrow there is expected to be three members of the public speaking at the meeting.
Recommended for approval by officers, the application may go against the local campaigners. But what is certain is they are nowhere near giving up the battle and as the larger application comes ahead the noise will grow.
With the petition at 20,000 signatures the Save Weekley Hall Woods Campaign is thought to be the largest protest ever against a development in Northamptonshire. And they will make sure the Duke hears their protest.
Members Grace Siddington said:
“The fight looks set to go on through 2022 unless the Duke of Buccleuch decides that his reputation and standing in the Kettering community is worth more than increasing his wealth further by building a few warehouses”.
The planning meeting takes place at 7pm. Find out more about the Save Weekley Hall Woods campaign here.
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