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Geologist slams bungalow scheme for Parish Fields in Diss

Parish Fields in Diss. (6380810)
Parish Fields in Diss. (6380810)

A leading geologist and conservationist has spoken out ahead of a meeting this week to discuss the future of the Parish Fields site in Diss.

Tim Holt-Wilson, who is also a former curator of Diss Museum, has urged any concerned residents to attend the meeting of Diss Town Council on Wednesday to make their voices heard and to fight to save the land - which he has described as ecologically precious.

Developer Scott Residential wants to build 24 retirement bungalows on the privately owned, undeveloped land at Parish Fields - between Shelfanger Road and Mount Street in Diss.

A land availability assessment in 2017 had concluded the site was unsuitable for the project - but a consultation last year, made on behalf of the Essex-based developer, said proposals have fundamentally changed after talks with the town council and Diss and District Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group.

The site may now be included in the emerging Diss and District Neighbourhood Plan, as part of efforts to open up the location up for public use.

Mr Holt-Wilson said: "Historic parkland in the centre of Diss, privately owned, just used by wildlife and cattle, unspoilt, not visited by people, a precious part of the town's local character and distinctiveness - how many other towns have this feature?

Parish Fields is part of what planners call Green Infrastructure, and it doesn't have to be publicly accessible: it's just there - it just exists for present and future generations.

"Take a look at Diss from the air. It has a watery Mere at one end balanced by a green parkland space at the other - unique and rather special.

"This is the only example of 'detached park' in Norfolk, associated with The Cedars, a grand house in Mount Street, and so it has been listed as a Norfolk Historic site.

"Parish Fields is ecologically precious.

"Firstly, it is an example of lowland meadow’, a priority habitat listed in the UK's biodiversity action plan. By 1984, semi-natural grassland in lowland England and Wales declined by 97 per cent over the previous 50 years.

"Parish Fields is a good example of unimproved meadow sustained by its continuity of land management for over 200 years. Secondly, Parish Fields is an example of the Priority Habitat ‘Wood-pasture and Parkland’, with its mosaic of grazing meadow and veteran trees.

"Surrounded by housing areas, it is an important part of the wildlife network in Diss, as it acts as biodiversity reservoir linked with local gardens. There are woodpeckers, thrushes, warblers and tawny owls here.

"Britain has lost over 50 per cent of its wildlife in the last 50 years, largely due to habitat loss and degradation - death by a thousand cuts. Shall we add another, local, twist to this shameful spiral of destruction?"

Tim Holt-Wilson
Tim Holt-Wilson

Mr Holt-Wilson added: "If we need land for housing there is plenty of arable clayland of low cultural and ecological value available on the north side of town.

"The plan is to convert half the site to high-end retirement housing, but once the principle of development here was accepted we would expect the developer to amend the plans and to crowbar in more profitable high-end housing.

"This would destroy the integrity of Parish Fields, and would not serve local housing needs. The sugar to coat this bitter pill? They donate some land to the Health Centre. However... it is not clear to me that the centre lacks land - for example - where the portacabin has recently gone up and it is not clear to me how any expansion would be paid for anyway - the government's austerity project looks set to run for a good while yet.

"Parish Fields has been identified as an Important Local Open Space in the South Norfolk Local Plan. It is thus to be 'protected and positively improved where opportunities arise'. Positive improvemen' in this instance would be to ensure the maintenance of regular grazing by cattle or sheep.

"I don't want Diss to be destructively urbanised. Parish Fields is a precious part of this little town's East Anglian character and distinctiveness: it is a beautiful cultural and environmental feature. We have to fight to keep it as it is.

"I hope as many citizens as possible will come to the town council meeting on Wednesday night and raise their voices in support of saving Parish Fields from development.

In their report, consultants Strutt and Parker state the “significant public benefits” would outweigh any drawbacks, providing “much needed accommodation for the ageing population”, adding the consultation states the site is immediately available for work to start and could be ready for use within two years of planning permission being granted.

Scott Residential is seeking further advice from the district and town councils, as well as other stakeholders before it submits a detailed application.

The meeting will be held at the Corn Hall, on Wednesday, January 9, at 7.15pm

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