Fears plans for 3,500 houses at Buck Barn pose threat to pioneering rewilding project

Plans to build 3,500 new homes at Buck Barn could threaten the future of the world-renowned re-wilding project at the nearby Knepp Estate.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 2:55 pm

There are fears that the proposals - if given the go ahead by Horsham District Council - would destroy wildlife corridors and leave Knepp ‘a wildlife island in a sea of housing.’

The 3,500 acre Knepp Estate at West Grinstead was once intensely farmed but has been devoted to a pioneering rewilding project for the past 20 years.

During that time it has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife with all kinds of rare species breeding there.

But there are now worries that plans by Thakeham Homes to buld 3,500 homes nearby will threaten the project first started by Knepp’s owners Sir Charles Burrell and his wife Isabella Tree.

Isabella said: “The Government’s ‘25 Year Plan for the Environment’ is meaningless if they allow Horsham District Council to allocate housing on the wildlife corridor at Buck Barn, next to the Knepp rewilding project.

“The 3,500 new houses would cut off the Knepp estate from St Leonard’s and the Ashdown Forests, reducing it to a wildlife island in a sea of housing.

“Knepp has been hailed by MPs as an outstanding example of nature restoration, it hosts some of the country’s most threatened species such as nightingales, turtle doves and purple emperor butterflies.

Isabella Tree

“Last year, white stork chicks hatched here for the first time in Britain in 600 years.”

Meanwhile, Horsham District Council has drawn up a ‘Wilder Horsham District’ plan with the aim of creating a nature recovery network but campaigners say the Buck Barn development proposals are not compatible with it.

Said Isabella: “Horsham District Council should commit to its aims in Wilder Horsham District plan and take this site [Buck Barn] out of the local plan.”

The plans for the Buck Barn site are among several potential development plans submitted to the council and councillors are due to decide soon on whch can be included in its Draft Local Plan.

One of the storks at the Knepp Estate

Knepp estate manager Jason Emrich said:“If the council were serious about creating sustainable places for the future, they would take one look at this report and start again with their Local Plan.

“On top of the many serious concerns that we have about this site and the damage that this would cause to our environment, this report shows beyond any doubt that Buck Barn is neither a sensible nor deliverable way of meeting our housing need.”

The Buck Barn proposals have already attracted fierce opposition locally, with more than 12,000 people signing a petition to save the land.

Campaigners say that they accept that more homes need to be built and have said that other sites are available that would not have the same impact.

Dave Tidey, of the Save West Grinstead Action Group, said: “We know that homes need to be built for future generations. But we also know that we only have one natural world and this report should alarm anyone who cares about our environment. There is still time for the council to step back from the brink and think again.”

A Horsham District Council spokeswoman said:“At present these housing proposals in the vicinity of West Grinstead are being considered for inclusion in the Local Plan, along with many other sites, and as yet no decisions have been made.”

She said it was Government policy that every council with planning responsibilities should produce such a plan and the Government decided on the number of homes that should be built every year - in Horsham’s case that was 1,200.

“Clearly, any additional housing has an impact on both the environment and also on infrastructure, be that physical such as roads, or in terms of services such things as schools and medical services. It is up to any developer to provide evidence of mitigation on the environmental impact of a proposed development and to address the infrastructure issues.”

She added: “Effectively, as a council we are between a rock and hard place in that we must have a Local Plan, but if we delay, or do not have one in place, then any developer can come along and submit an application, and without a plan it will undoubtedly be approved by another Government appointed inspector with all costs borne by the council and thus our residents.”