Nature lovers fear for future of wildlife haven

Basingstoke Gazette: Saunders Field Saunders Field

NATURE lovers are calling on council chiefs to protect a Basingstoke wildlife haven that is currently earmarked for development.

Campaigners fear that Saunders Field, a water meadow south of Milestone’s Museum and off the Thornycroft Roundabout, could be destroyed as part of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s plan to regenerate the Leisure Park.

According to a wildlife survey conducted in May, the seven-acre field is home to nearly 140 species of plant, including bee orchids and forget-me-nots.

However, in a brochure prepared by development consultants Montagu Evans, and sent out to companies looking to partner the council in regenerating the 62-acre Leisure Park, Saunders Field has been earmarked for potential development.

Cathy Williams, from Brookvale Community Association, believes the field, which is closed to the public, should be opened up and preserved. “We are so short of green space in the town centre,” she said.

“You can go out to Beggarwood and Kempshott, but this is a bit of green space that would be lovely for families. It is a little gem right in the middle of town and it would be a shame if it goes under concrete.”

Councillor John Shaw, Liberal Democrat councillor for Brookvale and Kings Furlong, said he is concerned about the current proposals, adding: “I am very keen to see Saunders Field preserved. I am concerned about the potential threat to biodiversity.”

He believes the council should “cut Saunders Field out of the process” of regenerating the park.

Saunders Field is a flood plain, and the River Loddon flows through the site as the source of the river lies to its west.

Labour councillor Jack Cousens, who also represents the Brookvale and Kings Furlong ward, said development of the site could affect water downstream.

“The biggest cause of concern is it is the source of the Loddon and a flood plain,” he said. “There’s a danger to the residents downstream of that.” He added: “The water has to go somewhere.”

However, Conservative councillor Ranil Jayawardena, who sits on the decision-making Cabinet, told The Gazette that Saunders Field would “not be concreted over”.

“I understand why people feel passionately about this,” he said. “I can assure people that we will heed that, and we will assure that anything we do, recognises the sensitivity of this land.

“If anyone is concerned it is going to be concreted over, I can give my assurances that it is not the case.”

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