The battle to save Weekley Hall Woods reaches the council chamber

Protestors prepare their placards ahead of an important planning meeting this Thursday

By Sarah Ward

A plan by a car firm company to build a new warehouse on Kettering’s beloved Weekly Hall Woods is being fought by protestors.

Planners are recommending the councillors sitting on Kettering’s area planning committee approve the IM Kelly application at its meeting this Thursday to build a warehouse on part of the site.

The application is smaller than the one major one being proposed by Buccleuch Estates, for five mega warehouses, which is yet to come to planning - something the Save Weekly Hall Woods campaign group says will destroy the treasured wildflower meadow and grassland.

“We must draw a line in the sand and say no more development at Weekley Hall Wood,” says group member John Padwick.

“This application is for an additional building next to the existing IM Kelly warehouse and factory. 

“It would replicate the huge structure that’s already there, by building another warehouse/factory unit next to it on the southern part of the wildflower meadow very close to Weekley Hall Wood. 

“The application is for outline permission that would agree the development in principle, but if granted would make the main development much easier to pass.

“We demand that the planning committee considers and understands the need for such green open space, made very evident by the Climate and Environment Emergency declared by North Northamptonshire Council in July and the events in Europe and globally, and underlined by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ‘Code Red’ Climate Change Report.”

The Save Weekley Hall Woods group was formed at the start of the first lockdown in Spring 2020, when it became apparent how important the woodland was to so many people. With an order to stay indoors and only venture out for one hour’s daily exercise, the woodland became the place to go to for many from the Kettering area and beyond as they took in the picturesque views of the green site behind the Northamptonshire police’s northern control hub off the A6003, close to Kettering’s Brambleside estate.

The woodland is owned by the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate and was originally part of the former royal hunting ground of Rockingham Forest. 

In the space of just a few months the panel had amassed more than 10,000 signatures to their petition against the huge development being put forward by the aristocratic owners to build on the woodland. The number of signatures now stands at 17,000.

The campaign also shot front man Dez Dell and two other Green Party candidates from relative obscurity into winning the Conservative stronghold for the Brambleside area.

The area is marked out for employment use in the local plan, but the group want the elected council members to vote against the application. They are calling on residents to join them on Thursday before the meeting at the council offices in Bowling Green Road, Kettering, at 6.30pm and take part in a peaceful demonstration.

The new Conservative-run unitary council declared a climate emergency last month and is now in the process of employing consultants to work out the carbon emissions for the authority and put together a plan for how to drastically reduce them. It says it will then set a date for when it will be carbon neutral but critics say it is not moving fast enough.

Save Weekly Hall Woods group member psychologist Dr Siobhan Currie is alarmed at the number of warehouses that are springing up and feels that developers ‘are running roughshod over our lives and environment and the council just let them do what they want.’

“It is time to listen to the people of Kettering. Stop building on our green spaces! Stop killing our wildlife!” 

IM Kelly, which make leather components for the motor, rail and aerospace industries, employs 220 people at its existing warehouse which opened in 2018. The warehouse has a traffic management system in place which restricts the number of HGVs on site at certain times and planners say the new warehouse should have the same arrangement.

There will also be space for 180 cars at the site.

Planning permission had already been granted to clear the grassland in 2018, but the group say that it could be replanted and restored. 

Member Adam Riley says:

“The area in question is already showing remarkable signs of recovery with wildflowers and grasses emerging in abundance.” 

He claims that ‘it is in fact a hive of wildlife activity which could again become a valued species rich habitat, but if this development is given approval it will be lost forever.’

The group also says the site is important to Kettering’s pollinator strategy as they say lowland meadows, already threatened by climate change, are species-rich with a wide range of plants and grasses, which provide good sources of pollen and nectar for many pollinating insects such as bumblebees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths. 

The planning application can be read in full here and you can also read our story from January about the fight to save the woodland.

Thanks for reading. NN Journal is an independent news service run by two local established journalists Natalie Bloomer and Sarah Ward. Our journalism is paid for by our subscribers for a small monthly fee of £5 - we do not receive any grants or funding from advertisers. To help us to continue you can sign up here