Within a week of discovering development taking place within protected Green Belt woodland a group of Arkley residents have mobilised themselves to demand action from Barnet Council to prevent unauthorised house building.
A tree preservation order has been extended and strengthened; if builders’ materials are not removed within three weeks an enforcement order is likely to be issued; and steps are being taken to register well-used footpaths which are being blocked by fencing and barriers.
“We have shown what people power can achieve in alerting the authorities. Now we must wait to see whether Barnet Council can deliver,” said one of the organisers, Hayley Lehmann (see above, second from left).
Over recent weeks a ten-acre stretch of woodland off Rowley Lane has been sold off in ten one-acre plots for a total of £1.3 million after being advertised for potential development if planning permission can be obtained.
Five plots were purchased by adjoining houseowners who want to preserve the land and keep it as protected green space, but others have been bought by prospective developers, one of whom has already started clearing the site and is using it to store building equipment and materials.
In recent days, much to their annoyance, nearby residents and dog walkers found that footpaths through the woodland were being blocked with fences and barriers.
Another alarming development was the sudden disappearance of a stile and signs marking a public right of way across a one corner of the woods.
Ms Lehmann joined forces with fellow residents, Jonathan Warren (above, far left) and Mel Garfield (far right), to alert Barnet Council to the unauthorised development, damage to trees and blocked footpaths. Seen with them is Barnet Society chair, Frances Wilson.
An aerial view published by Barnard Marcus Auctioneers when the plots were advertised for sale shows the woodland, bounded by Windmill Lane and Rowley Lane. A previous owner of Rowley Lodge put the land up for sale after subdividing it into one-acre plots.
The residents’ first success was to secure a tree preservation order to protect all the trees growing in what is officially known as Rowley Lodge field. This order protects existing trees and any new trees that establish.
As an additional safeguard the designation of the site of being of interest for nature conservation has been updated to reflect the current character of the land which is “wooded with open glades of grass or scrub”.
Owners of the plots have also been reminded that the woods are within an area designated as Green Belt and these designations should be regarded as “significant policy constraints” for anyone considering developing the land.
Although excavations have already been carried out in a plot close to Rowley Lane – see above – Barnet Council’s planning enforcement team says this does not constitute development in itself.
But the builders’ materials being stored on the site, including heaps of tiles, would need to be removed within the next three weeks. If they are not cleared from the site, the council is likely to issue an enforcement notice.
Ms Lehmann says their complaints about blocked footpaths – and the removal of signs indicating the right of way across the woods – have been looked into by Libby Martin, the Ramblers’ footpaths secretary for the London boroughs of Barnet and Enfield.
She has notified the council’s rights of way officer about the disappearance of a stile and signposts indicating the right of way across the woods, which was a matter of concern.
Although the circular path used by residents and dog walkers through the woods is not a registered footpath, Ms Martin has advised on the steps that should be taken.
If 12 or more residents are prepared to testify that they have used the path for a minimum of 20 years as a right of way – and sign an affidavit to that effect – an application can be made for the path to be registered.
Jonathan Warren is organising the collection of witness statements and Ms Lehmann said they are confident they can prove their case.
Ms Lehmann said they were encouraged by the council’s response but realised that enforcement processes and footpath registration were lengthy processes.
“We have demonstrated that people power can have an effect, but clearly we cannot restrain developers and at the end of the day it all comes down to the effectiveness of Barnet Council in enforcing planning law and tree preservation orders.”