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Earley residents protest as meadows are fenced off

Residents protested where the fence will be built. Picture: Clive Jones

A GROUP of Earley residents have staged a silent protest to oppose ongoing work in a local woodland.

Last month, people were devastated after the trees in Swallows Meadow, which backs onto Lower Earley Way, were cleared without warning.

The land, originally owned by the University of Reading, was sold to Lower Earley Properties who are now preparing the site for future development.

Last Tuesday, contractors fenced off the area and 20 residents banded together in a silent, socially distanced protest.

“I’m really annoyed that contractors arrived to fence off Swallows Meadow, restricting residents’ access to the land that they have freely been using for over 30 years,” said Cllr Clive Jones, leader of Earley Town Council and borough councillor for Hawkedon ward.

And this view is echoed by Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, Conservative borough councillor for Hillside ward, who says access to the site could go back as far as the 1980s.

“I’ve lived in Earley since 1983, and I don’t know when people started walking down there but it’s been in use for quite a long time,” she said.

Cllr Jorgensen visited the site on Tuesday morning and contractors told her they will be erecting a fence around the edge of the site to close it off.

“I just hope they don’t damage anything,” she added.

The proposed 150 metre-long fence will run through trees which are now covered by a Tree Preservation Order put in place last week, according to Cllr Jones.

And he fears that the work will have further impacts on the woodland’s wildlife, claiming the partition could disrupt a badgers sett.

Now, the councillor is calling on Lower Earley Properties to leave the site as it is.

“We don’t want a fence erected to partition off this land. We want to be able to continue using this pathway,” he said.

“Green spaces in Lower Earley are precious – we don’t want them built on.”

A spokesperson for Lower Earley Properties says that they are erecting the perimeter fence following a request from Cllr Andrew Mickleburgh, councillor for Hawkedon ward.

“We recently carried out routine landscape maintenance work at the site, which confirmed the presence of a number of manholes,” they said.

According to the developer, one of the manhole covers is broken and poses a significant safety hazard to anybody on the site.

It hopes the fence will now prevent unauthorised access to the meadow.

“We would like to reiterate that this is private land and there is no Public Right of Way through the site,” the spokesperson said.

Residents and councillors alike are continuing to oppose the work in Swallows Meadow with an online petition, which now has more than 1,000 signatures.

Launched by Cllr Mickleburgh, it pledges to “robustly oppose” any future housing or related proposals in the area.

At the time of writing, Lower Earley Properties has not announced plans to develop on the site.

A company spokesperson said: “We are now looking at how best we can bring forward development at the site to make a positive contribution to the local area.

“We are at a very early stage in the process but look forward to engaging constructively with the local community, Earley Town Council and Wokingham Borough Council in the coming months.”

To find out more about Cllr Mickleburgh’s petition, visit: www.petitions.net/save_our_green_spaces_-_land_between_bassett_close_and_lower_earley_way_in_wokingham_borough_berkshire

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