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Environment fears over lakes plan

PUBLISHED: 09:36 02 July 2008 | UPDATED: 10:56 08 July 2010

A Norfolk county councillor has locked horns with conservationists over plans for a commercial fisheries development in a beauty spot.

Ian Monson is seeking to build two fishing lakes, two wildlife ponds, car parking and vehicular access at Church Farm, Oxborough.

A Norfolk county councillor has locked horns with conservationists over plans for a commercial fisheries development in a beauty spot.

Ian Monson is seeking to build two fishing lakes, two wildlife ponds, car parking and vehicular access at Church Farm, Oxborough.

But environmentalists from Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) said part of the site proposed for the fishing lakes is wet grassland which is a priority habitat within the UK's Biodiversity Action Plan.

Mr Monson, who is the county council's environment portfolio holder, has commissioned a number of studies surveying existing protected species as well as assessing potential flood risks. He insists the site would “considerably enhance the biodiversity of the area and help create new jobs.”

“You've got to look at the economic benefits of the site,” he said. “We are going to bring a lot of pleasure if we have a few fishing pegs there. It's going to be of great benefit to the area. It will help create jobs and will enhance the local economy. This is a terrific bonus. This is going to increase the biodiversity. This is why I'm doing it. It's not something I considered lightly. We're not building a house there, or destroying the environment. We're improving it. It's a good bit of biodiversity on a field which has none at the moment. It's grazed by cattle. If experts had found anything there that was adverse to the site, we would not have gone ahead with the development.”

But John Hiskett, senior conservation officer at Norfolk Wildlife Trust said the surveys commissioned by Mr Monson should have been more comprehensive.

“We felt the surveys should have assessed whether the land was of county wildlife standard which means the site becomes protected in local plans. He [councillor Monson] has commissioned good surveys of the plants and birds and submitted with the application, but we felt the studies should have gone further to assess whether the site itself should be protected. The river that runs through it has this status, but not the site.”

In a letter to Breckland Council, Gilbert Addison, the authority's tree and countryside officer, wrote: “The economic development of the site substantially removes both existing habitats and potential for ecological enhancement through the expansion of wet meadow, wet woodland, and fen, all of which would, in my opinion, be more biodiverse than the recreational landscape proposed.”

Mr Monson who is also a Breckland district councillor refuted the claims, insisting that none of the wet areas are being touched.

The owner of Oxborough Farms Ltd first submitted an application for the development of the site in 2004, but withdrew it a few months later, following a number of environmental issues which had to be addressed.

A second application was submitted in April last year, but Mr Monson said it had to be “re-presented” to bring in a comprehensive ecological survey of the site.

Unlike the original application which only included plans for two fishing lakes, the new document makes provisions for two additional wildlife ponds.

A spokesman for Breckland Council said officers are yet to make a recommendation on the application which is likely to be discussed at next month's planning meeting.

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