Farmer told to remove track from ancient woodland after four-year battle with locals

Ian Bowman, whose family have had a farm in Hawkenbury for ‘many, many years’, began widening an existing track from a shed he owned on the fringes of High Woods, an Area of Outstanding National Beauty, in 2014.

Residents then noticed Mr Bowman began dumping rubble and other building materials on the track with an intention of building a proper road.

“In 2014, he started creating a track from his shed through the public footpath that runs through the woodland area,” recalled Dean Kenward, chairman of Hawkenbury Village Association.

“He then widened the track from the metal shed, through the woodlands to the coppiced area before extending it to Hawkenbury Road.”

Mr Kenward said he believed Mr Bowman was trying to connect his shed to his farm house, on the other side of the ancient woods.

“He began dumping hardcore waste in the excavated track, which he crushed and bedded down to form a road surface,” claimed Mr Kenward.

He alleged that residents noticed glass, reinforced concrete and even asbestos dumped on the track, which Mr Bowman denies.

When residents complained to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in September 2016, Mr Bowman was ordered to apply for planning permission, which was rejected and an enforcement notice to return the track to its original state was issued on October, 16, 2017, more than a year after the original complaint.

However, Mr Bowman opted to appeal and the matter was referred to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

A further year passed until August 2018 when an Inspector from the Planning Inspectorate finally visited the site.

After several months of waiting, the inspector has made a decision and rejected Mr Bowman’s appeal who has been given until the end of this month to remove the hardcore from the track and remove the mounds of earth created during the construction of the track.

Mr Bowman told the Times that the reason for the track was to assist in the coppicing of the trees to the woodland.

“In recent times we have followed Forestry commission best practice and started coppice rotation cutting approximately every 5 -7 years. This is all carried out in line with best forestry practice.”

He said the weather has made it difficult to gain access to the woods when they attempted to coppice the trees back in 2009 and 2012.

“They were very wet years and the contractor had great difficulty gaining access, so it was decided to put a hard surface on the main extraction track to aid future work.”

He argued that the reason the issue has dragged on for so long was due to the council’s handling of his planning application.

“The council messed up the paperwork,” he said. “The first half of the track has planning permission and will remain. The middle section has been refused planning permission and has been restored to its original state as a woodland track.”

A spokesperson for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council said: “The Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for the track was upheld by The Planning Inspectorate. We are satisfied that we have followed procedure correctly throughout this process.”

For the locals of Hawkenbury Village though, they are just glad the planning ordeal is over.

“It has been going on for so long,” said Mr Kenward. “It has been a long, long struggle to reach this point, and we are just glad it is over and hope we can protect the High Woods for a little longer.”

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