Montague Park residents claim developer has ‘destroyed’ meadow

WOKINGHAM residents have been left frustrated over a “lack of transparency and communication” after their meadow was allegedly sprayed with a controversial weed killer and ploughed for the second year in a row.

Residents and councillors say they are disappointed in the way that David Wilson Homes has managed the construction of a wildflower meadow — and they’re looking for answers.

Jane Davenport, who lives in Montague Park, off London Road, said the meadow looked like a barren wasteland after it had been ploughed for the second time in as many years.

“I’m frustrated with the lack of transparency over environmental decisions,” she said. “This was all done this time last year — and it didn’t work. Wokingham Borough Council needs to take some responsibility for it.”

They say that the meadow was sprayed with glyphosate, a highly-contested pesticide which has been banned in countries across the world, and identified by the World Health Organisation as a “probable carcinogen”. Although legal in the UK, 14 boroughs and towns including Brighton, Bristol and Croydon have banned or restricted its use on their land.

Cllr Parry Batth, executive member for environment at Wokingham Borough Council said the council has no power to stop the developer using glyphosate on its property, and that “responsible, targeted use” of the chemical had been agreed with the council’s ecologist, landscape architects and planners.

He defended the use of glyphosate — which is available in DIY shops — and said it is a “conservation intervention which will lead to a positive outcome for wildlife in the longer term”.

He said the alternatives were mechanical cultivation or burning, which are more time-consuming, costly and pollute the air.

Residents told Wokingham.Today that previous assurances from the developer did not mention the plan to plough the field with a tractor, something they argue, leaves a muddy “wasteland” during the winter months.

Cllr Batth said he recognised that the developer followed the same process last year, but the wildflowers failed to establish. But he was hopeful the new meadow would become a wonderful asset to the community and said he took residents’ concerns seriously.

He also acknowledged there had been a lack of clear communication.

Last month, residents were told by Wokingham Borough Council that “the developer will be sending residents an information leaflet prior to the start of the work” but many claim this was never received.

Ms Davenport said: “They changed the sign on the gate, but we didn’t receive anything through our letterbox.”

Cllr Batth said the council has reminded David Wilson Homes of its responsibility to keep residents informed and has requested it sends them an urgent update on the current progress of works.

He added: “To create a wildflower meadow there are three steps. First you need to treat and remove the weeds so they do not regrow next year. Second you need to prepare the soil for the wildflower seed. Third you sow the seed.

“David Wilson Homes has informed the council that these three steps are now largely complete, although some patches remain as the ground was too wet. These will need to be rectified in spring next year.”

Ms Davenport said there is a growing concern among the community about the treatment of wildlife. Hedgehogs and roe deer have been spotted in the meadow, both of which are protected species.

In October, a spokesperson for David Wilson Homes said the existing hedges and trees on the outside of the meadow would provide “refuges for wildlife during the seeding works” and that hedgehogs often take shelter during the daytime.

But resident Edward Bentley previously photographed a hedgehog along the meadow footpath during the day.

Ms Davenport added: How can wildlife take cover while being driven over by a ploughing tractor? It sounds and resembles a warzone.”

As an unadopted development, the neighbourhood and park will not be formally managed by the council until all planning works are completed. This includes fixing roads, planting the meadow and building a community centre.

Cllr Batth said the establishment of the meadow is the developer’s responsibility, and the council only has an advisory role.

“It is key here that residents understand the role of the council,” he said. “We are able to advise David Wilson Homes on matters relating to the park but do not have direct control.”

Cllr Maria Gee, Liberal Democrat councillor for Wescott on Wokingham Borough Council said she was not confident in the processes used by the developer.

“I understand the end goal of a wildflower meadow,” she said. “But I’m questioning the methods David Wilson Homes have taken to reach it.

“Although the council is not responsible for the work, they do need to be involved in the process, to be confident in it. They can’t just step back completely, they do have to be involved in the process.”

Cllr Peter Dennis, Liberal Democrat councillor for Westcott East on Wokingham Town Council, said he was disappointed with communication from the developer, and had concerns over the chemical use.

He said: “We need to learn lessons from what’s happened here, and the use of chemicals such as glyphosate needs to be reviewed.”

But Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for resident services, communications and emissions at the borough council, said he is confident that a wildflower meadow will be delivered.

As a Montague Park resident himself, Cllr Murray said he also did not receive a letter about the works, and agreed there had been a lack of communication.

He said: “It is the council’s role to step in if it isn’t good enough at the point of adoption.

“It’s a good thing they’re trying to plant a wildflower meadow again, and I have faith they’re going to deliver.

“They may not have done it in the best way, and they haven’t communicated in the best way, but this probably would have been less of a problem if we weren’t in lockdown.”

He suggested the council wait eight months – next summer – to see if the meadow planting was successful, and review the situation then.

A spokesperson for David Wilson Homes Southern said: “We apologise to all residents for the disruption caused by the essential works at Montague Park.

“The ploughing of the land was to allow the area to be sown with a seed mixture of grass and wild flowers in accordance with the approved scheme to create a habitat that will benefit local wildlife.

“While works are underway, the protection of wildlife remains an absolute priority and we are working with landscape architects and their ecologist to ensure there is minimal impact on wildlife in the area.

“We have also distributed letters to residents detailing the Habitat Plan and provided contact information to allow us to communicate and resolve any issues that arise.”

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