WITH only a couple of months left until one of the biggest planning decisions in the history of the Stroud district is made, Ecotricity are pushing the ‘green’ credentials of its £100 million Eco Park.

The Green energy company has now published the results an independent study which concludes the 100-acre green field development will actually improve the biodiversity of the land around junction 13 of the M5.

The report found that habitat enhancements throughout the site, including new hedgerows, woodland meadows, ponds, species rich grasslands and a nature reserve, will lead to a 16 per cent biodiversity improvement.

The report, based on methodology determined by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was conducted by independent consultants WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff and considered geographical information, architectural plans, habitat surveys and the site’s green infrastructure plan.

It found that in addition to the net habitat gains within the site, further biodiversity and habitat gains will be made for species including birds, bats, bees, reptiles and amphibians through the restoration of the “missing mile” of the Stroudwater canal – an area that wasn’t included in the study.

Ecotricity will hope the commissioned study contradicts some of the main criticism aimed at the plans from opponents, who argue Eco Park’s green technology business hub, sports complex and football stadium will destroy green fields and blight the countryside landscape.

Founder Dale Vince said: “There is a perception that building on green fields can’t be very eco and it’s an easy conclusion to reach. What this study revealed is quite counter-intuitive.

“That developing farmland can actually be better for wildlife than farming it – provided the development is done in the right way, of course. Development versus green fields is a classic tension that plays out daily up and down the country.

“We undoubtedly need new houses and places of employment, at the same time we need to protect the environment - our approach is to push the boundaries of sustainable development to find a balance. But what we’ve found is more than that.

“There’s no denying that farming is responsible for the massive decline in wildlife in Britain over the last 50 years, but the idea that developing on that land is better for wildlife, is quite an exceptional one.

“To be able to boost biodiversity by building on green fields is an amazing possibility. If Eco Park goes ahead we hope that it might help set a new standard for the rest of the country.”

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However, critic Alex Bomberg from Eastington, which he fears will be engulfed by the massive development, said: “A site and plan of this magnitude is going to take hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete to construct.

“And what about the 14,000 vehicle movements per day that this would cause once operational? How can that be classed as green?”

Cllr Stephen Davies, district councillor for Eastington, said: “This is bizarre. How can any development be more natural than a green field?

“Also the planning permission does not yet specify any of the proposed nature friendly provisions. Ecotricity can sell this plot with planning permission to any developer the day after they get it.”

Colin Studholme, director of conservation at the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, said: “Ecotricity’s consultant’s report shows the fields in question are mostly grass and have been improved for modern agriculture.

“This means that they have a long history of being treated with inputs like herbicides which reduces their value for wildlife. Taking grassland fields out of such intensive management can have a positive impact for wildlife.

“If Ecotricity deliver what they promise, their proposal includes areas dedicated to encouraging wildlife as well as a positive approach to nature across the whole site.”

The biodiversity study will be included as part of the latest submission which will be issued to Stroud District Council in the coming weeks.

A decision on the colossal planning application is expected to be made in the next couple of months, possibly in April.

For a full report on the pros and cons of Eco Park, click here.

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