Conservation organisations and right to roam campaigners have joined forces to protest the plans for turning a woodland in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty into a major Center Parcs development. The company hopes to develop the Oldhouse Warren, part of the wood, as a major leisure complex with 900 lodges and supporting facilities. Yesterday hundreds of people joined the campaign Landscapes of Freedom (https://landscapesoffreedom.wordpress.com/) to explore the woodland that is set to be destroyed by the proposed Center Parcs development.
The arguments in favour are similar to those in the Cairngorms with the economic development argument featuring strongly from the company and many politicians. But given the fact that the hospitality industry is struggling to get workers it seems that this could be just a ploy to get local support for a development that will bring huge profits to Center Parcs. And in any case, many would argue that we should not be making such decisions based on economic arguments. The value of such as wood is immeasurable. The ramble showed the amazing diversity of trees and other species. It is truly a special place. The organisers stressed that it is important that people love a place so they will fight to save it. This is the message that comes out strongly in Julian Hoffman’s Book Irreplaceable: The fight to save our wild places. (This book is well-worth reading. See: https://julian-hoffman.com/irreplaceable/).
However, loving a wild place is not enough. Decisions about how land is used is dominated by those who have the power, in this case the private landowner who will either sell or lease the land to Centre Parcs. It is difficult to find out information about the private landowner who is supporting the Center Parcs plans. One spokesperson for the Landscapes of Freedom campaign identified the Pearson family, the head of which is known as Viscount Cowdray, as the owners.
“The sprawling Cowdray Estate, the biggest single landholding in the South Downs National Park, belongs to the Pearson family, whose estimated wealth of £240m comes from publishing. The first Viscount Cowdray was given his peerage in 1917 by Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George (whose son had been employed by the businessman). Lloyd George’s hatred of the old landed aristocracy and penchant for handing out peerages to newly-rich Edwardian industrialists ultimately led to the cash-for-peerages scandal.”
However, it is impossible to find the Pearsons linked to the Center Parc development. The name of the trust associated with Oldhouse Warren is Paddockhurst Estate, owned by Trustees (http://www2.westsussex.gov.uk/Landowners/ca16_2_17_worth.pdf). It appears that the Pearson family is behind this (See: https://www.countrylife.co.uk/out-and-about/theatre-film-music/telling-an-estate-by-its-colours-16759).
The Council for the Protection of Rural England oppose the development but say that it would be suitable elsewhere and say nothing about the landownership issue. It seems most organisations, do not question private landownership, only what is done with the land. However, can we ensure that land is actually used for the benefit of all without land reform? If land is still in the hands of landowners, often shrouded in secrecy, and seen as a source of profit by both companies and government, then debates about land use exclude most people and many voices will go unheard. Landscapes of Freedom argues that is should be a people’s wood, similar to calls for community buy-outs in Scotland.
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