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Newcastle's Green Belt and red squirrels under threat

Red squirrel in Havannah Nature Reserve Red squirrel in Havannah Nature Reserve Copyright Save Newcastle Wildlife

Decisions have now been made relating to two controversial plans...

...Sir John Hall's scheme to build 74 high-cost homes in the woodland around Woolsington Hall near Newcastle airport, and the proposal from Banks Homes to build over 460 houses on land right alongside the Havannah Nature Reserve, in Hazlerigg.

What links them is that in these two sites red squirrels cling tenuously to their once-protected Newcastle habitats - the last city in England which can claim this distinction.

The situation at Woolsington Hall is murky and complicated. Sir John's company Cameron Hall Estates was granted permission to build on Green Belt land to enable him to fund an expensive refurbishment of the Hall he had neglected for twenty years. He plans to transform it into a boutique hotel with golf course.

But in the depths of winter the Hall mysteriously caught fire and has had to be partially demolished for safety reasons. In the Newcastle City Council Planning Committee Meeting of 27 May, permission was granted to carry out a reroofing of the building and other work to restore it following the fire. Historic England has supported this application 'subject to the careful conditioning of its detail', especially 'faithful recreation of the main staircase, and the recording of features of historic and archaeological interest' uncovered during the work.  The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was less than happy, however, voicing concerns that the plans are end-user-friendly and that the outcome could be 'a simulacrum that would further erode the building's special interest and cause harm'.

Meanwhile, final permission was granted to Banks Homes on 2 December to build a large housing estate on the piece of productive farmland near Hazlerigg, deleted by planners from Newcastle's Green Belt while lying right next door to a protected nature reserve with a rich and varied range of wildlife.

Newcastle wildlife campaigners, supported by CPRE Northumberland, have mounted a number of well-attended protest demos in their efforts to persuade decision-makers to turn down these applications. Over 100 joined a march at the Havannah Nature Reserve last May, shortly after the threat became clear.

Once England's Green Belts were sacrosanct, a green buffer between cities and surrounding settlements, limiting urban sprawl and providing walks to beauty spots, sports grounds and fresh foods from farms just a few miles away from city centres. But recent planning decisions have seen England's Green Belts decimated for profitable housing.

Sad to say, Newcastle has been a local authority guiltier than most of cutting into its precious green spaces for housing developments. In addition to the vast sprawl northwards of the Great Park, sites in the Green Belt near Dinnington and Callerton have also been earmarked for building, pockmarking the fine sweeps of countryside to the northwest of the city.

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Further applications are in the pipe-line for this area, further beleaguering Havannah Nature reserve. Save Newcastle Wildlife has been fighting hard to protect the squirrels, badgers, occasional deer and many species of birds that seek sanctuary within it, aiming for a clear buffer zone around the woodland edge. 

Meanwhile these latest applications are set to eat further into our green heritage. As each one is given the go-ahead we will all be the poorer, not just the squirrels.

 external website Save Newcastle Wildlife

       

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