Aim – To protect and preserve this ancient Parish of Ifield for present and future generations to enjoy – especially Ifield Brook Meadows
AUGUST 8 2021 – “WE COMPLETELY APPRECIATE THE NEED FOR NEW HOUSES, BUT THEY NEED TO BE BUILT ON BROWNFIELD SITES…NOT ON GREENFIELD SITES OF HIGH NATURE VALUE” – SIR CHARLES BURRELL AND ISABELLA TREE – “THE KING AND QUEEN OF REWILDING” AT KNEPP CASTLE ESTATE IN WEST SUSSEX – THE TELEGRAPH – AUGUST 8 2021
They are known as the King and Queen of Rewilding for their promotion of the practice of restoring their Sussex estate to its previously uncultivated state.
But Sir Charles Burrell and Isabella Tree have now been criticised for selling off land which was subsequently bought for housing while at the same time objecting to proposals for a development project near their home.
Sir Charles and Isabella – who run the 3,500 acre Knepp Estate which they have spent two decades rewilding – recently sold land near Southwater, two miles from Knepp Castle, which was then sold on to housing developers Bovis Homes and Saxon Weald Homes.
A planning application has now been submitted by Bovis Homes for the building of 131 two, three and four-bedroom homes on the small greenfield site.
Sir Charles, 58, also applied for planning permission for 12 new houses on their land at Blakers Yard, near the village of Dial Post, saying the proposals make a “valuable contribution towards the housing numbers of the Parish as well as local housing needs”.
This would add to their existing £12m portfolio of properties, which currently includes industrial units, a petrol station, rental cottages and holiday accommodation.
However, Sir Charles and Isabella – friends of the Prime Minister’s wife and fellow rewilding champion Carrie Johnson and environmental campaigner Ben Goldsmith and his brother Zac – have at the same time lodged objections to proposals by Thakeham Homes to build 3,500 properties at the A24 Buck Barn crossroads, near the Knepp Estate, pictured below.
Isabella Tree stated: “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.”
But some local environmental campaigners say the couple’s objections to the Buck Barn proposals fly in the face of what is happening on their own land and land they sold off.
Richard Symonds, of the Ifield Society, said: “Sir Charles Burrell is helping to promote the Knepp rewilding on his land while at the same time profiting from the building of houses on land he sold at nearby Southwater.”
Sir Charles and his wife have won the support of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, the environment minister, in their opposition to the proposed Buck Barn development.
Stating his objections to the plan, Lord Goldsmith said: “Knepp is an iconic project and probably the best-known rewilding initiative in the country. It would be a tragedy to allow a major development to undo all that extraordinary work.”
The row comes as Mr Johnson’s Government faces pressure from Conservative backbenchers over moves to ease planning restrictions to allow more building in rural areas, something rewilding advocates such as Mrs Johnson would normally be opposed to.
Horsham District Council has accused the minister of overstating the threat to Knepp.
It has accepted it could affect Burrell and Tree’s hopes for a nature corridor beyond the estate’s north-eastern border, but said the council had to balance the need to restore wildlife with the government requirement to allocate enough land in the district for hundreds of new homes a year.
Ray Dawe, the former leader of the Conservative-controlled council, said the development site was “ordinary boring fields” that were already separated from Knepp by the busy A24 dual carriageway and “it wouldn’t undo any of [Knepp’s wildlife successes]”.
But Sir Charles and his wife said the Buck Barn development was out of all proportion to the far smaller ones they were supporting.
Sir Charles told The Telegraph: “Buck Barn is a development for 10,000 people and of a different scale altogether to the building of new houses within Dial Post village or on the outskirts of Southwater on land between it and the dual carriageway. It’s remote from public transport, on a site identified by Sussex Wildlife Trust and Horsham District Council as key to a nature recovery network.
“It’s not at all hypocritical of us to oppose that while supporting smaller developments. We completely appreciate the need for new houses but they need to be built on brownfield sites or next to existing infrastructure and communities, not on greenfield sites of high nature value.”