Calls to scrap housing plan to create "people's forest" in Weston

Open land near to housing and industrial estate

Avoncrest site. - Credit: Google - LDRS

Plans for 700 homes on a former landfill in Weston will face 'unbelievable problems' and should be scrapped.  

That’s the view of Councillor John Crockford-Hawley, who said the 25-hectare Avoncrest site south of Herluin Way is too contaminated to build on so it should be turned into a 'people’s forest'.  

The idea is not without complications – if it went ahead, North Somerset Council would have to find somewhere else for the 700 homes and employment land.  

Jenny Ford, the authority’s head of development, said decontamination of the land was 'not impossible', pointing to the transformation of Portishead’s polluted docks into a modern marina, but said it would need Government support.  

Cllr Crockford-Hawley told a scrutiny panel meeting on November 25: “Avoncrest is a former refuse tip. There are all sorts of contamination problems. It’s earmarked for residential use.  

“I foresee unbelievable problems in trying to develop that site. I have a pet desire to see it taken out of any development plan and turned into an urban woodland.  

“It would be a truly new woodland of enormous size.” 

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The site was the town’s landfill tip from the late 1960s until the 1980s. It is owned by North Somerset Council, leased to Avoncrest Developments Ltd, hence its nickname, and part of the Weston housing zone.  

The council is currently looking at options for the site with Government agency Homes England.  

But Cllr Crockford-Hawley thinks there is a better option.  

He said: “Trees would not only help remove contamination they would add a large pocket of informal greenery between the newly developing so-called ‘villages’ on the former airfield and the Winterstoke Road agglomeration of tin sheds, car sales outlets and supermarkets.  

“I don’t envisage a formal public park – too organised and municipal in character and expensive to maintain – but could see a ‘people’s forest’ where anybody could plant trees and over time truly natural looking new woodland might arise from the rubbish below.  

“Just imagine school kids and scouts etc being encouraged to plant their own trees – in time this would become their forest and it would become an ideal place to play, explore, walk dogs and just muck about as kids are meant to do but modern housing area design generally inhibits them from so doing.” 

Ms Ford told the panel she was aware of various proposals to reallocate the land for woodland.  

She said: “There are difficulties in delivering housing. It was a landfill site so would need decontaminating – but so did Portishead Marina once upon a time.  

“It had to be dug out three metres deep to get rid of all the phosphorus.  

“Things do happen sometimes but they require Government support.  

“It’s not impossible at Avoncrest. The main issue with it coming forward is the Local Plan – it’s allocated for 700 homes.  

“If it came out of the Local Plan we’d need to find another location for that quantum of housing. It may be a choice you as members may decide should be made.  

“For the moment we’re working with Homes England to see what can be done.” 

Cllr Crockford-Hawley argued that the site was unlikely to get the support that the Portishead docks did to return it to what it was and create an attractive area.  

Weston town councillors have also discussed informally what should happen to the site.  

Malcolm Nicholson, the town clerk, said: “The argument of those in favour is that it has been designated for housing for decades and was actually sold to a developer in the 1990s but has proven difficult if not impossible to develop, due to contaminated land issues.  

“Therefore, given the climate emergency declarations by both councils it would be sensible to repurpose it for tree planting as an urban woodland.” 

North Somerset Council and Homes England have been approached for comment. 

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