Crushing blow for volunteers who had planned to create a community garden on well known Burnley landmark

Volunteers have been left crestfallen by the news that a proposal they came up with for a community garden in Burnley will not be considered by Lancashire County Council.

The Burnley arm of Incredible Edible put forward a proposal for a transfer of land at Wilfield Street to be acquired as a community asset from the county council.

Sited on an area known locally as The Copse, there was a public outcry in December when the many trees that had grown there were felled and the land put up for sale.

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Neighbours and residents living close to the site claimed that while it may be legal, the clearing of the site was 'not ethically right' as it was a a long established haven for wildlife, birds and hedgehogs.

An artist's impression of the community garden in Wilfield Street.

A green space for decades, with densely packed trees and bushes the 'copse' provided a noise-reducing, air-filtering barrier from the nearby traffic and an attractive vista, especially in spring and summer.

Sited, at the junction of Accrington Road and Wilfield Street, the area forms part of a parcel of land that will go up for sale by auction next week with a guide price of £25,000.

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Incredible Edible volunteers had hoped that their plan, which is backed by a 250 signature petition, would be enough to postpone the sale and for the county council to consider proposals for the community garden which would involve letting the site to the organisation on a 150 year peppercorn rent lease.

It would then be developed into the community garden with plants, trees and flowers and raised beds to grow vegetables and blooms. The plan also includes a grass meadow to attract the insect population and self seeded wildflowers. Fruit bushes including gooseberry, raspberry, blackcurrant, blackberries and bilberries would also be planted.

Plans were also being made for gateway artwork and sculpture at the site and volunteers already had stakeholders on board and funding in place.

A report prepared by Incredible Edible for the community garden scheme said it was the organisation's 'dedicated aim to reach out to the immediate local community and create a bigger awareness of our goals.'

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The group encourages people to get involved on a voluntary basis and benefit from the free fresh fruit and vegetables grown.

Burnley Green Party councillor Andy Fewings has backed the community garden scheme and said he would urge the county council to approve the plan which he believes is the best use of the land for residents in Burnley.

He said: "If the county council do go ahead with the auction I would question the fairness of this during C19 lockdown when the group can’t meet to give a full proposal and also whether it is able to discharge their statutory duty to get the best value for the public purse by disposing of an asset during these times.

"The land has been owned by the county for decades and is a public asset.

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"Where is the justification in pushing through a sale during a global pandemic and ignoring the proposal from a community group without proper consideration?"

Describing the clearing of the site as an 'environmental crime' Coun. Fewings said he would like to congratulate residents and volunteers for the hard work they had put in to the community garden project in such a short space of time and also with the added pressure of a lockdown.

A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: "Since originally listing the site for sale last year we have listened to representations about the use of this land.

"As a result of the concerns raised about having the area previously screening nearby homes from the main road we will be applying a condition to the sale requiring the buyer to put up a fence and hedge within eight months of any sale."