Battle of Priory Wood: Campaigners' sadness over 'decimation' of much-loved trees in Pontefract

Neighbours of a beloved woodland area say they're devastated by its "decimation", after swathes of it were cut down.

Priory Wood in Pontefract has been a picturesque green canopy for the town for several generations.

But the privately-owned wood has been the focus of controversy since developers revealed plans to build 22 homes on the grounds, which would have seen up to 70 per cent of the trees chopped down.

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Those plans were rejected by Wakefield Council in July amid safety concerns, in what was christened 'The Battle of Priory Wood'.

Residents Melanie Jones, David Kay, and Karen Hillary alongside Pontefract South councillors David Jones and Celia Loughran against the backdrop of the wood.

The developers say that decision has been appealed.

Since then however, a significant portion of trees in the wood have been felled, with the loss of a cherished monkey puzzle tree earlier this month causing a particular stir among local residents.

The developers say none of the trees felled were covered by protection orders. That conclusion was backed by Wakefield Council officers who investigated the matter.

But neighbour Karen Hillary, whose home looked out onto the grounds between Wakefield Road and Mill Hill Road, said she was "upset and appalled" by the loss.

Residents are enraged by the tree felling.

"They’ve decimated what was there," she said.

"I’ve lived in Pontefract for over 30 years and I’ve lived in my current home for three years. The trees were an oasis of tranquility.

"Being able to look out of my window, see the woods and see the seasons change was just lovely. It was one of the big positives of living in this home.

“I don't believe we should be taking things like that for granted. Once the trees are down they’re down."

Should the developers be successful in their appeal, up to 70 per cent of the woodland's trees may be axed.

"We’ve lost a lot of wildlife and I just can’t believe they’d want to decimate it when it should be a conservation area."

Pontefract South councillor Celia Loughran, who spoke against the homes plans in July, said people were "enraged" by the tree felling.

"It's heartbreaking," she said.

"We haven’t got many trees in the centre of Pontefract, and when we have climate change getting worse as it is we need to treasure that green space.

"It was a pretty stunning canopy to look at as you came into town and people are very, very angry about it."

Responding to the concerns, Richard Weatherhead, from developers Frontline Estates, said that the woods are "private land and there is therefore no public right of access or loss of local amenity to consider".

He added: "The areas where trees and vegetation have been cleared are not covered by the TPO (tree protection order). No protected trees have been felled.

"The area to be developed will be a substantial improvement to the environment and to public safety.

"It is apparent from site that the old Priory building has been occupied by drug users as well as has an old adit which has been used as a den - potentially by children who have trespassed onto site - but it presents a health risk.

"In addition the area of land immediately to the rear of the houses fronting Wakefield Road is an eyesore with household rubbish being tipped and old containers which have been there for many years.

"The development would clear all this area and provide a new road with improved access for all residents who back onto the development with improved access to their garages."

Bronwen Knight, the council's service director for planning, said that following the refusal of planning permission on the site last July, "The council has responded to reports of the removal of a number of trees within the site; however, initial investigations suggest that no legally protected trees have been removed and therefore the council has no power to take any action.

"The matter has also been referred to the Forestry Commission to determine whether they have any powers to take any action in respect of the works that have been carried out."

Local Democracy Reporting Service