The Maidenbrook Country Park
A Joint Statement by The Parish Councils of Cheddon Fitzpaine and West Monkton
Our two Parish Councils have a track-record of working together on projects like the Joint Neighbourhood Plan we’ve already made – a legally-binding document that ensures that the wishes of the local community are represented in local planning and development decisions. Maidenbrook Country Park incorporating the World War 1-commemorative Somerset Wood is another joint project that we are working on for the common good of our parishes.
On 15th July, 2021, Rural Solutions, who are acting on behalf of local resident Ben Ashton of Glebe Farm, sent our parishioners an invitation letter to an exhibition they have organised for this coming Saturday 24th July. The exhibition will show the planned Glebe Farm residential schemes within the overall context of the planned Maidenbrook Country Park. We felt that the letter did not fully explain the relationship between the Parish Councils and the Glebe Farm project team. As a result, we are issuing this statement clarifying our position regarding the Maidenbrook Country Park, as follows:
The two Parish Councils believe the Maidenbrook Country Park represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enhance the quality of life of our community for generations to come. We think the Country Park will make a real and positive difference to the quality of life of our communities.
So, what is Maidenbrook Country Park? At present, it is two fields between Cheddon Village and the A3259, in which 3,500 trees have already been planted by volunteers for the Somerset Wood. That’s today’s reality, but our vision for tomorrow is much more ambitious. Imagine this! A wide, open, green space that stretches from the outskirts of Taunton town via our Country Park and Hestercombe out towards the Quantocks. A safe haven for the natural flora and fauna as well as for us humans, this place will incorporate a wide range of native trees, wild-flower meadows, and a network of natural-looking tracks for walking, running and cycling – a calm, tranquil place where a community that is being squeezed by residential development can unwind in a more natural environment. Most important of all, we will be saving the park-land from the threat of future development.
The final shape of the Country Park has yet to be decided. The exhibition shows our favoured option, as the inclusion of large parts of Glebe Farm is necessary to fully achieve the vision as described above. However, it is not the only option and a number of unknowns have to be clarified and factored in before the Country Park project as presented on Saturday 24th in outline can be finalised. The most important of these is the view of the local community, in particular the residents in the Cheddon Fitzpaine PC and West Monkton PC Joint Neighbourhood Plan area. The exhibition should be viewed as the Glebe Farm team’s contribution to a wider consultation process to establish that view. Events organised by the two Parish Councils will follow in due course.
So, what is our relationship with Ben Ashton and the Glebe Farm development team?
It all started a couple of years ago when a chance encounter between Cheddon Fitzpaine’s Parish Clerk and Ben started an ongoing dialogue between the Country Park and Glebe Farm teams. Ben had grown up on the farm, where his father and grandfather were tenant-farmers. When the land-owner, The Crown Estate, put the farm up for sale, Ben decided he would try and raise the funds to buy it. He knew that continuing to run the farm as before would not be possible but he felt that, if HE didn’t buy it, there was a real chance of the land falling into the hands of the main-stream developers. These profit-driven companies would develop Glebe Farm in a way that was unsympathetic to the village. Ben’s alternative plan was to build architect-designed, low-density rural housing that would be in keeping with the character of Cheddon Fitzpaine village and its surroundings. When he learned of our plans for a Country Park, Ben felt that there was a synergy between our community project and his ambitions for developing Glebe Farm, so he offered to make one of his fields available to our Country Park team. The extra field would add 13.3 acres to the 29.7 acres of existing Country Park land. More important than that, the Glebe Farm field would unlock the potential for further extending the Country Park area to as much as 190 acres over time. In short, Ben presented himself as a like-minded benefactor with a passionate attachment to the community he grew up in.
We agreed to share our country-park plans with the Glebe Farm project team and work with them in order to increase the community benefit by delivering a bigger and better Country Park. In all our dealings – especially a project as large as this one – we have to exercise the impartiality and due diligence that residents quite rightly expect of their Parish Council. In order to maintain a safe distance between ourselves and Glebe Farm, we made it clear that – while working towards the same overall vision for the Maidenbrook Country Park – we would be travelling along a parallel but separate path to achieve our goals.
An unexpected complication arose, when we received expert advice that the best chance of success for a Country Park planning application incorporating land from Glebe Farm would be to roll it into a joint plan that included the Glebe Farm residential schemes. We decided to do this on the basis that we felt that our ‘parallel track’ independence could still be maintained. To reinforce this, we made our position clear on two key points: first of all, that we would withdraw from the joint approach if we felt unable to support the final Glebe Farm development; and secondly, that any incorporation of the additional Glebe Farm field into the Country Park would be subject to a mutually-acceptable, legally-binding agreement. At present, the long and complex procedure of drafting this formal agreement is still a work-in-progress.
At this juncture, both parties feel the urgent need to seek the views of the local community as a necessary step in making further progress. Due to circumstances beyond the control of both parties, this step is unfortunately long overdue.
Your attendance at – and feedback from – the exhibition and future consultation events is essential, as your input will be used to determine the final shape of our Maidenbrook Country Park.
Cheddon Fitzpaine and West Monkton Parish Councils
22nd July, 2021