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Freeman's Wood under development threat?

John Freeman

Lancastrians have reacted angrily to the news that Freeman's Wood - long open to the public and popular with walkers, bikers and bird watchers - is being fenced off by  landowners The Property Trust, a Bermuda-based company headed by a Hong Kong businessman.

Local councillor Jon Barry is one of several now organising a campagn to prevent any development, and as appealed for proof that former landowner's, Willamson's, who used the land as a tip, gave the land to the people of the Marsh estate.

The Lancaster Guardian reports hundreds of metres of spiked metal fencing is being erected between St George’s Quay and Willow Lane, land that has been what the paper describes as "an adventure playground for youngsters" for at least 50 years.




Locals now fear the land - effectively a nature reserve, home to birds such as the Lesser Whitethroat and Warblers, but once earmarked for destruction as it was on the route of the now moribund Western Bypass - is under threat from development.

Locals are wondering just how the company gained permission for the fencing.

The action would also appear to have dubious legal standing. If footpaths through the Wood have long been established, then the public have a right to pass along linear routes over land at all times.

The Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management notes that although the land may be owned by a private individual, the public may still gain access across that land along a specific route. The mode of transport allowed differs according to what type of public right of way it is.

Public rights of way are all highways in law, but the term "public rights of way" is generally used to cover more minor highways.

A planning application for a Redrow and Barratt Housing development comprising 403 new residential units on the adjacent Luneside West Development Site was approved subject to a s106 agreement by the City Council Planning Committee (see minutes) on 9 January 2012, with some protection for existing trees and habitats specified.

The North Lancashire Green Party raised concerns last year that Freeman's Wood might be under threat from development, noting it was one of several greefield sites in Lancaster being considered for development.

Green councillors called on the City Council not to support development on major Greenfield sites across the district, but to concentrate instead on regenerating brownfield sites including the canal corridor in central Lancaster.

The Lancaster Guardian also reports the Green Party is preparing to submit a town green status application for the site, which, if approved, would se the Wood get protecton from development.






“The area of Freeman’s Wood has been used by local people for many years and is a vital source of recreational space for the Marsh," noted local councillor Jon Barry last year. "The area also supports a wide variety of wildlife, including deer.

"The sites off Aldcliffe Road have previously been dismissed in a report by planning experts for the Council – so I don’t know why the Council is still putting these forward.”

The area is currently designatd as woodland by the City Council, which means it cannot be entirely fenced off because of tree protection orders, protection which applies to both exisiting and new trees.

Council Leader Eileen Blamire told virtual-lancaster: "The land in question on which a fence has been erected and is causing concern to local residents is not owned by the Council.

"The Council does own a portion of Freeman's Wood to the South East of this privately owned land and this remains unaffected by the fence. The Council would therefore suggest that this is an issue between the local residents and the private landowner.

"The Council did serve a TPO in December last year, affecting trees within the area of land to the west of of Luneside Industrial Estate. All trees present at the time the order was served are protected and all new, natural woodland re-generation in the future will also assume the protection status of the tree preservation order." 

The Council has yet to make a decision on the suitablity of the land for future development but the Property Trust, itself owned by Bermuda-based PT Holdings and run by Anthony Kai Chiu Cheng and Nelson Chi-Fai Chan, have suggested the land has potential for both residential and recreational use.

Anthony Cheng has been Executive Chairman of The Property Trust PLC since 1989. A qualified chartered accountant, he has extensive experience in property and hotel development and investments.

Both directors are also directors of The Lune Industrial Estate Limited, run from the Property Trust offices in Holborn, London. The company owns a variety of properties in the UK and abroad. Virtual Lancaster contacted the Property Trust at their London office today with an enquiry regarding the purpose for the enclosure and were informed that they will be looking into the matter.

- See the Lancaster Guardian (19-01-12) for their story. The paper is also running an online poll asking if the Wood should be kept as a green space

• PT Holdings -