Parish ‘the proud owner of amazing green open space’

Progress is speeding up in a bid to create a nature park in Somerford, on land bequeathed to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). 
Here Julie Mason, clerk to Somerford Parish Council, gives an update on how plans for the land, which could have been developed for 200 houses, are moving forward.    
Five years ago the intention of selling a parcel of land bequeathed to the RSPB by local resident Lavinia Rhead for housing development so incensed Somerford Parish Council that they contacted media with the result that local BBC TV reporter and Congleton resident, Mark Edwardson, came to visit with the cameras. The story went national! However, this story had a happy ending recently when, following discussions with the RSPB, it was agreed that half of the land, almost 10 acres, would be sold to the Parish Council for £1! The sale was completed on the 20th December 2019 and the parish council is now the proud owner of an amazing green open space which otherwise would have seen up to 200 houses built on it.  
Over the last four years the parish council and the RSPB have been working together with the vision of creating an exciting new space to be used as a home for local wildlife which could be shared by the local community. The plan is for a nature park which provides for native wildflower meadows and open grassland interspersed with native trees, an orchard and native woodland planting. Accessibility and connectivity are important, and a mix of hard surfaced and mown paths are proposed; there will also be areas of natural play.  The key principle is that the nature park should retain an open quality within hedge, tree and shrub boundaries and the chosen design reflects this objective.
The parish council and the RSPB, with the help and advice of Sandbach based, RHS Gold Award Designer, Alexandra Froggatt have developed a framework design within which these proposals can be taken forward, incorporating the types of features they believe should be introduced.  
A task group made up of Couns Geoff Bell, Paul Crompton, Helen Brough and parish clerk Julie Mason, an RSPB representative and Alex Froggatt have been meeting since the project began in order to agree the transfer of ownership of the land and the layout of the park. 
Planning permission has been granted and a public presentation of the proposed design to the local community was held at Blackfirs Primary School in September 2019. This event was well attended by both Somerford and West Heath residents, and some from further afield, and much valuable feedback was received.  This feedback has been recorded together with a note of the responses thereto and this can be viewed on the parish council website. 
Now the legal transfer of the land has finally been completed, the parish council has begun the journey of putting the plans for the site into effect. At an extraordinary meeting of the parish council on Monday last, the 27th January, a contractor was appointed to install the hard landscaping of the pathways and soil bunding.  Somerford Parish Council is pleased to confirm that local firm, James Ashbrook, has been appointed as that contractor. At an early stage Ashbrook’s generously offered to provide fuelled plant and machinery for the whole project whichever contractor was appointed. 
The RSPB has gifted £75,000.00 towards the completion and future maintenance of the site to which a very generous donation of £2,000 from the William Dean Trust has been added and the parish council has committed £10,000 from parish funds. The parish council is now busy writing bids for grants from other local and national organisations and businesses to try to achieve an early completion of the project. Currently bids have been submitted to the Congleton Inclosure Trust and FCC Communities Foundation. The civil engineering firm GRAHAM, who are constructing the Congleton Link Road, has agreed to donate and erect fencing along the open boundary with the existing track. Applications are also being submitted to the Woodland Trust for trees and hedging and to Plantlife for wildflower seeds.
The parish council has visited local suppliers within the area to source materials and as a first step is proposing to purchase stone for the pathways from Bridestone Quarry in Timbersbrook, Congleton. Bridestone and Brydges, the quarry owners, have also promised a large boundary stone which will be engraved and placed within the park. The parish council aims to use as many local suppliers as possible and is reaching out to local businesses and organisations for support. 
Following the hard landscaping, the next stage will be the planting of the trees, wildflower meadow and orchards.    We have asked for volunteers but any support you wish to give with donations or labour will be greatly appreciated. Please visit our website to register your details  www.somerford.org.uk