Local residents have raised concerns after a “huge” number of trees were felled and burnt on Bowdon Green Belt that has previously been earmarked for a residential development of 760 houses.
Witnesses say the “entire nature of the river valley” has been changed by the work, which has happened in recent days on land close to the Bowdon roundabout near Bowdon Vale.
One witness told us: “The damage being done is quite considerable and the entire nature of the river valley (a popular amenity with many in Altrincham) is being changed overnight.
“Bonfires have been lit to burn the wood. Hedgerows have been cut back to the point where the likelihood of birds nesting in them this season is slim.”
Another witness sent photos and videos of the clearing work.
The trees are located on fields alongside a road that leads from Bow Green Farm in Bowdon, to the east of the A56.
Local farmer Tom Sykes defended the work, saying it was all “completely legal and fair”.
He told us: “I understand people’s concern for planning and development. However the cutting and felling of the trees and hedges in question is completely legal and fair and was done a few months ago in the winter seasons where doing so is considered an agricultural responsibility.
“Since the arrival of the dry weather, the timber has become dry enough to stack up and burn responsibly and under concent of fire control who were informed all days active.”
He added: “The land is agricultural with the main aim of being productive for food, increasing productivity of land is in everyone’s interest due to the growing population.
“Trimming hedges to allow sunlight onto productive ground is essential in the process. As I stated before, nothing was done outside the parameters of which we are allowed to do.”
The 79-hectare site is owned by the Church Commissioners for England – the body which manages the historic property assets of the Church of England – and is currently farmed as agricultural land.
The Commissioners have previously made representations to release part of the site from the Green Belt in order to build a significant residential housing development.
The site was unsuccessfully submitted to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework “Call for Sites” exercise in January 2016.
Further representations, made in September 2018, outlined how the site could be “sensitively developed” for approximately 760 dwellings on the site – around 505 units on one part of the site and around 252 units on another.
A September 2018 report prepared for the Commissioners by Deloitte concluded that the Bow Green site was “deliverable, viable, and suitable for release from the Green Belt”, adding that there were “sound planning reasons for progressing the site for residential development and for its removal from the Green Belt”.
The site was subsequently included as a new site in the 2019 Draft of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, which is an all-borough plan to addressing the housing crisis by adding 50,000 additional affordable homes by 2037. That plan is still under development.