Barthomley residents fight property development proposal

PUBLISHED: 00:35 14 June 2013

Barthomley village protestors gathered by St. Bertoline Parish Church

Barthomley village protestors gathered by St. Bertoline Parish Church


Barthomley may look sleepy and tranquil but its residents have been roused into action by a planning application they fear could alter their village and their way of life forever

On Barthomley’s single-track lanes oncoming cars pull aside politely as doubtless carts did a millennium earlier. In this beautiful village on the Cheshire/Staffordshire border road-rage is unimaginable, but another fury is growing over plans to develop the area.

‘Barthomley is one of the most quintessential English villages you could wish to see, with plenty of half-timbering and cottages in the village dating back to the 16th century,’ says Tom Wilde, chairman of BAG (Barthomley Action Group): ‘And it has remained pretty much untouched for the last 200 years at least.’

Not for much longer, they fear, if the Duchy of Lancaster gets its way. ‘We first became aware of the plans in October when the Duchy submitted proposals to Cheshire East for building a residential village in Barthomley, and another close to it at Crewe Hall, plus three so-called employment villages on the outskirts,’ relates BAG member Viv Belcher: ‘It would multiply the size of the place tenfold and more. In Barthomley there are about 180 houses, and the Duchy would like to build another 2,700 here. And alongside the houses a school, doctor’s surgery, shops, pub, restaurant, and of course they’d have to build a lot of roads. It would destroy Barthomley as a village forever.’

Edward Timpson, their MP, supports the group: ‘Barthomley is a lovely village and the surrounding area is an outstanding example of our beautiful Cheshire countryside. It’s vital that we preserve the way of life of the people who live, work and farm in this community, and it is also of the utmost importance that we protect the wildlife and green spaces. Once we lose these precious things we will never get them back.’

Several tenant farmers have already been put on notice or had leases shortened, and BAG believes eight farms, some worked by the same family for generations, will be ‘erased’. In the Domesday Book Barthomley’s ploughland and rents were recorded as worth £1. Not now: ‘The stark truth is this would change agricultural land worth £10,000 an acre to development sites worth £1 million an acre,’ says Tom Wilde.

A spokesman for the Duchy puts a different slant on the plans: ‘The Duchy of Lancaster’s proposal for these new homes and employment areas is in direct response to Cheshire East Council’s stated need to create 27,000 new homes and 20,000 new jobs as detailed in their growth strategy document, “Shaping our Future”, an initiative that the Duchy supports.

‘The Duchy proposal for 4,250 homes represents a part of that overall plan and includes homes that would be built after the plan period which extends to 2030.’ They also stress that the 2700-home development at Barthomley is outside ‘the envelope of the village’.

BAG is grappling the intricacies of local politics: ‘Michael Jones (leader of Cheshire East Council) has been persuaded that the developments at Barthomley are not in the best interests of the green belt, but the Strategic Planning Board on which he doesn’t sit isn’t as yet,’ explains Viv: ‘We don’t know what their view is and we’re just about to enter another public consultation phase for another four weeks on the amended plans submitted at the end of January.’

BAG has little time to prepare, in contrast to the 15 years and more of disruption if the plans proceed. The Duchy’s own Crewe Estate Delivery Document predicts an ‘infrastructure-light approach’. But Tom says: ‘In correspondence with the Duchy they said something like they feel they must provide for current and future generations, and that sacrifices have to be made,’ says Tom: ‘It is not them having to make the sacrifice.’

The Duchy of Lancaster’s holdings include 18,200 hectares of land. It provides the Queen with her private income (£12.9 million in 2011-12) and funds the official duties of Princes Andrew and Edward, Princess Anne, and several other members of the royal family.

BAG has about 150 members. It hopes money from a sponsored walk will cover legal advice.

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Historic Barthomley

On December 23rd 1643 Royalist soldiers led by Major John Connaught attacked Barthomley. Twenty Parliamentary supporters took refuge in St Bertoline’s steeple. The Royalists smoked them out with a fire built from pews and rushes. The 20 were granted quarter, but as they emerged into the church they were stripped and put to the sword. Twelve died, one killed by the major’s own axe, a crime for which he hanged in 1654. The massacre was part of the case prepared for Charles I’s trial.

Barthomley’s name derives from Bertoline, a Saxon saint who performed a miracle on the barrow where a church dedicated to him now stands, that with the suffix –ley (denoting woodland clearing) has evolved into Barthomley.

The village claims (not uniquely) to be where the last wolf in England was killed, Wulvarn Brook here named for the deed.

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