Earth Trust is thrilled that in February 2017 Councillors on the South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) Planning Committee granted approval for our planning application to make improvements to facilities here at the Earth Trust Centre. It was a unanimous vote of support from all of the Committee and we are delighted that it was recognised that the plans will ensure the continued protection of this ancient and iconic landscape, whilst also improving and enhancing the experience for visitors.
Jayne Manley, our Chief Executive said: “This is fantastic news for everyone who enjoys this special place. Every visitor: be they a walker or a family sharing a picnic; a child on a school trip; or a volunteer helping us look after this special place, they will all benefit from the planned improvements once they are in place. The support shown for the Earth Trust during the meeting to decide was overwhelming and humbling - a reminder that treasured childhood memories of exploring, playing and being outdoors can lead to a long term love of the environment and the countryside to the extent that people do want to do something to look after it.”
The Wittenham Clumps and surrounding farmland receive more visits than any other free to access greenspace in the south east; there has been a significant increase in visitor numbers over the years and the prediction is, that with more homes and businesses planned within South Oxfordshire, visitor numbers will continue to increase in the future. Earth Trust need to manage this properly and minimise the impact on the local community and the environment – whilst also welcoming people to come, explore and enjoy this special place.
The plans include improved access and car parking – which will make access much safer for vehicles, walkers and cyclists and will also help to reduce the impact on the ancient landscape. Also planned is a new skills and learning building (and even some replica Iron Age roundhouses!) at the Earth Trust Centre, providing a classroom where children will start their experience and we can help nurture their love and respect of the environment, and allowing us to develop our education programmes. There will also be improvements to make the working farmyard safer for visitors and our Farm Step businesses. A much demanded café and farm shop will also be developed, specialising in local produce from our farm - something our visitors have been asking us for many years!
Jayne continued: “A huge thank you for the enormous amount of support we received. The proposals have taken three years of extensive consultation with local communities, visitors, key stakeholders, planning officers and statutory consultees; your input was vital in shaping the plans and showing how much these improvements are wanted and needed. We’d particularly like to thank our supporters at the planning meeting, including Cllr Lynda Atkins, our neighbour Andrew Lea and Chair of Little Wittenham Parish Council Graham Warrington.”
Cllr Lynda Atkins commented: “The Earth Trust plans are the result of probably the most comprehensive and genuinely engaging consultation process I have come across. They listened to what was said before incorporating the results into their plans, making some fairly significant changes along the way.”
This is just the start the next stage of our venture. Now the plans have been approved we will be fundraising to bring this vision to life. We hope to be able to get started on phase 1 – building the new skills and learning building – within the next 12 months if funding can be raised.