We are delighted that Emma Thompson, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in James Ivory's film version of Howards End, is supporting our campaign to ask Stevenage Borough Council to rethink its car park plan. Emma says:
(Photo credit: Perry Curties)
COUNCIL CAR PARK ON E.M. FORSTER’S COUNTRY FIELD “THE CATASTROPHIC FINAL NAIL” FOR LOCAL HERITAGE
Campaigners call on Stevenage Labour Council to rethink its intent to pave over agreed heritage meadow; appeal for local support
Secret plans by Stevenage Council to pave over historic fields made famous worldwide by local author E.M. Forster have shocked campaigners who say a car park and toilet block scheduled for construction in St Nicholas conservation area will be the end of the town’s cultural heritage.
Permission was granted by the council in 2020 for 800 houses on and around the conservation fields by St Nicholas Church, Weston road and Rooks Nest House, the childhood home of novelist E.M. Forster and inspiration for his world-famous novel Howards End. Despite an outcry at the time, the council, led by Labour councillor Sharon Taylor, pushed the decision through by promising that the remaining fields would be protected and restored to the lush meadows lovingly described in Forster’s works.
Residents – still reeling from the decision to build on the cultural landscape – were shocked to discover this month that the plans now brought for further approval by the council include extensive construction to landscape the natural meadows, and to tarmac over them with a road, a major car park and a large toilet block, as well as adding gravel paths and bollards and an electrical grounding tower.
“You wouldn’t find a council building a car park on the West Yorkshire moors of Wuthering Heights or the Dorset vales of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. We are pained and baffled by Stevenage council’s failure to love Forster Country,” said John Spiers, chairman of the Friends of Forster Country campaigning group.
“The whole point of restoring the meadow was to restore just that – the meadow, as it would have been in Forster’s day. It turns out that the Council has been negotiating something totally different – a municipal amenity that has nothing in common with the natural landscape that inspired Stevenage’s most famous son and put us on the map around the world. This suggests a sleight of hand by the Council to persuade the developers to go back on their word and if it goes through will be the catastrophic final nail for local heritage.”
Paul Dawson, Stevenage Green Party general election candidate, said: "This decision shows Labour’s hypocrisy on green policies. In the same week that the party holds its national conference with a headline on tackling climate change, the Stevenage branch – which claimed a climate emergency in 2019 - seems to be set on the ruination of local environment.”
The original master plan for the construction works put forward by Bellway Miller relied heavily on a restoration of the meadow and significant tree planting as justification for the development of the homes within the conservation area. This is referred in their master plan as Parcel E – or “St Nicholas End” - which because it sits in a conservation area required its own additional ‘design code’ on top of the requirements for the housing for the rest of the site, requiring it to meet a higher standard. There was no mention by Bellway Miller of a car park or a toilet block.
“The whole point of the tree planting and the design code for Parcel E was to aim to reduce the “urbanisation” of the conservation area. The council’s inclusion now of the car park, and more detailed municipal park proposals, only increase the urbanisation. It makes no sense at all,” said Declan Ryan, a local resident. “We’re asking every local resident who loves Stevenage’s special history to say no to this plan.”
A spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion in Stevenage said:“ Destroying a beautiful meadow to make way for fossil-fuel guzzling cars? You can do better than this, Stevenage Borough Council.”
Local resident Cheryl Peers commented on the council language that the park would be inclusive: “No-one has asked for this. There are only three disabled bays in the proposed car park and wheelchair users can’t travel over gravel paths. Inclusion would be spreading the word about this special place and restoring local pride in it. These heritage fields are what make Stevenage special. They’re why people want to live here, instead of in London.”
“We’ve been fighting for over 30 years and still we fight on - to stop the car park, preserve the heritage character of the proposed meadow and raise awareness of the houses that are to be built over Forster’s fields. It’s not too late for Stevenage Council to change its mind,” appealed John Spiers.