Threat to Stoke Park Woods: Can the Lib Dem ‘Focus’ newsletter be believed anymore?

ADD UPDATE, 16 March 2017: Action against Destructive Development is fiercely politically neutral. We may nonetheless speak out if a politician makes a statement that seriously misleads the public – regardless of which party they represent. Such is the case with the latest Lib Dem ‘Focus’ newsletter in Bishopstoke.

The March ‘Focus’ assures residents that options B and C, namely plans to build thousands of houses and a road between three stretches of valuable ancient woodland known collectively as Stoke Park Woods, will not damage the woodland, which is much loved and well used by residents. Focus accuses people who say otherwise of “irresponsible scaremongering”. However, the newsletter makes no mention of a warning from the Woodland Trust (which exists to protect woodland) that the plans, should they go ahead, would be “hugely damaging” to the woods. The two statements cannot both be right.

To help the editor of Focus, Mike Thornton (the former MP for Eastleigh), clarify matters we have asked him three simple questions. 1) Was he aware of the Trust’s warning when the Focus newsletter was published? 2) What contact has he had with the Trust? 3) What is his evidence for the assertion that the plans would cause no damage to the ancient woodland?

We will, of course, let readers know when we get a response. In the meantime, we publish below the Woodland Trust view and the Focus view (for the full version click here), so that people can make up their own minds who to believe.

The Woodland Trust view

Oliver Newham, the Woodland Trust’s senior campaigner for ancient woodland, says options B and C, should they be chosen, would be “hugely damaging”, adding:

“The Woodland Trust is extremely concerned about proposals that could see thousands of houses built close to areas of ancient woodland near Bishopstoke. Ancient woods are hundreds of years old and act as havens for wildlife. They are very sensitive to change, each one unique and irreplaceable. Ancient woods need properly protecting from the impacts of development. Any road between these woods would sever important wildlife corridors and further isolate the woodlands from each other. The woods would also be exposed to increased noise, light and other damaging impacts. We would urge those that love woodlands, particularly those with local experience of these woodlands, to do (and carry on doing) everything they can to convince decision-makers that these woods need protecting, not polluting.”

The Lib Dem Focus view

“Irresponsible scare-mongering that Stoke Park Woods could be threatened by any future development is simply NOT true. So says campaigner Mike Thornton, after the Council also made clear the Woods would be impacted by any northern by-pass taking traffic away from Fair Oak and Bishopstoke.* The woods are owned and managed by Forestry Commission and the Woodland Trust… Our woodlands are safe, says Mike.”

* Several Lib Dem Eastleigh borough councillors, including Keith House (the council leader), Vickieye Parkinson-McLachlan, Trevor Mignot and Derek Petty all gave such assurances at EBC’s last full council meeting in December.