Ava, seven, takes action in bid to save Green Belt

Ava Geldard, 7, hopes that others will be mindful of the environmental impact of new build developments

Ava Geldard, 7, hopes that others will be mindful of the environmental impact of new build developments after reading her letter - Credit: Tim Geldard

A young activist is calling on people in her village - and further afield - to consider the environmental impact of building on Green Belt land, after the Planning Inspectorate overturned a district council refusal to build a handful of homes.

Seven-year-old Ava Geldard, who lives in Ickleford, wrote a passionate letter to the Comet expressing her concerns over a Concept Planning proposal to construct five dwellings off Turnpike Lane.

The Year 3 pupil at Ickleford Primary said that she actively discussed the development with school friends, family and neighbours alike, and felt that she needed to take action.

Ava Geldard

Ava is firmly advocating against prospective building in Ickleford, and says that the work would have a devastating impact on the animals that live there - Credit: Tim Geldard

North Hertfordshire Council decided to refuse the proposal on the grounds that it "would harm the fundamental aim of Green Belt policy", but was overruled by a government inspector, who said the land is likely to be removed from the Green Belt anyway.

Speaking to the Comet after sending her letter, Ava explained her motivations behind writing in to her local rag: "We all thought it was something that shouldn't happen - it's not good for the environment.

"And if it's not good for the environment, it's not good for people, or anything else."

Ava explained that beyond her back garden, the fields boast a wealth of natural habitats which, in her letter, she notes have been established for a very long time.

Ava Geldard's back garden in Ickleford is a haven for local wildlife - something she is working on saving

Ava Geldard's back garden in Ickleford is a haven for local wildlife - something she is working on saving after building work plans have been given the green light by the Planning Inspectorate - Credit: Tim Geldard

"And it's not just the animals. It's the trees, and the plants - there are many insects," she added.

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Eco-minded Ava said that the environment is at the forefront of her mind most of the time, as she actively researches environmental issues outside of school, which has also been supported by her peers and teachers at Ickleford Primary.

"When I told them I had sent a letter to the newspaper, they were all really happy and wanted to know if it'd be in the paper!

"I think the environment is very good as it is now. I would love it if it would get better, but I don't want it to get worse."

Proud of his advocate daughter for making some noise, Tim Geldard hopes that encouraging a pause in Green Belt development for the sake of the environment may halt other similar developments.

"For me, there are lots of different reasons why it doesn't feel like a suitable development. Environmentally, it's bad news. For example, Ava talked about the trees - there's a huge 100-year-old lime tree that is going to be knocked down to make way for the drive that goes into the development.

"The impact on the broader ecosystem that cutting down trees like that has is unnecessary and a real shame," he said, insisting that although he supports Ava's pursuits, this stint of advocacy is completely self-motivated.

Ava hopes that her letter will encourage others to think about their environmental footprint, and highlight that building just a handful of houses destroys more homes than it creates.

Tim added: "We've obviously been talking about the development with family and neighbours for a long time. She came to me off the cuff with this very focused perspective on environmental impact, and bugged me for weeks to write a letter!

"I gave her the pen and the paper, but she wrote the whole thing herself."

Seven-year-old Ava Geldard's letter to the Comet, in which she details the impact of building work near her home in Ickleford

Seven-year-old Ava Geldard's letter to the Comet, in which she details the environmental impact of planned building work near her home in Ickleford - Credit: Maya Derrick

A Planning Inspectorate spokesperson thanked Ava for "so eloquently expressing her opinions", adding: “Inspectors are independent and impartial.

"When making a decision, the inspector fully considers the evidence submitted at the appeal and takes account of current planning legislation, policy and guidance.

“The Planning Inspectorate encourages people who may be affected by proposed development to take part in Hearings and Inquiries.”

Cllr Paul Clark, North Hertfordshire Council's executive member for planning, added: “We sympathise with Ava and other residents who have concerns about developments in the district but we are bound by certain rules and regulations when deciding what land can be built on.

"Our Local Plan – which directs development in North Herts – was passed to a Government Planning Inspector by the previous administration in April 2017 and we are waiting for them to return it to the council.

“Until that Planning Inspector gives his decision on the Local Plan, our hands are tied, especially as another Planning Inspector overruled our decision to refuse this particular development.

"And in light of other recent appeal decisions we will have to look more closely at these types of applications in the future.

“Planning is not an easy or straightforward process and we must balance environmental impacts with the rising demands of housing needs but the district as a whole will be in a clearer position once the Planning Inspector hands control of the Local Plan to the council.”

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