Stevenage protest march in bid to save Forster Country from 800 homes plan

PUBLISHED: 08:28 08 January 2020

This year the Friends of Forster Country's annual walk to celebrate the anniversary of E M Forster's birth 141 years ago received its biggest ever turnout. Picture: Brendan Falvey

This year the Friends of Forster Country's annual walk to celebrate the anniversary of E M Forster's birth 141 years ago received its biggest ever turnout. Picture: Brendan Falvey

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A record number of people turned out for an annual walk in Stevenage's Forster Country last week, marching this year in protest against plans to destroy the open countryside by building 800 homes and a school on it.

The annual walk this year was more akin to a protest march, calling for Forster Country to be saved. Picture: Brendan FalveyThe annual walk this year was more akin to a protest march, calling for Forster Country to be saved. Picture: Brendan Falvey

Forster Country is a conservation area north of Martins Way - between North Road and Weston Road. It includes Grade I-listed 12th century St Nicholas Church, Grade II*-listed The Bury and Grade I-listed Rooks Nest House - where author E M Forster spent his childhood from 1883 to 1893.

More than 450 people have lodged their objections to the plans for housing with the planning authority Stevenage Borough Council, and more than 1,600 people have signed an online petition.

Concerns include the loss of history and heritage, the risk of urban coalescence, the loss of the last remaining farmland in Stevenage, and the proposed development being unsustainable.

The Friends of Forster Country - formed in 1988 with the aim "to preserve for all time the open green space known as Forster Country" - hold an annual walk to celebrate the birth of E M Forster in 1879, and this year's event on New Year's Day saw the biggest ever turnout.

Swathes of open countryside will be destroyed if planning permission for 800 homes is granted. Picture: Brendan FalveySwathes of open countryside will be destroyed if planning permission for 800 homes is granted. Picture: Brendan Falvey

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A FoFC spokesman said: "If the heart of a town is in its people, then Forster Country is clearly in the hearts of Stevenage people.

"People of all ages braved a chilly January 1 to come together and show their love for Forster, Stevenage and it's countryside.

"It is genuinely shocking to see how much land will be lost to this development and the devastation it will have on the environment, wildlife, and history and heritage of our town.

Chairman of the Friends of Forster Country, John Spiers, and  the group's co-founder, local historian Margaret Ashby, attended the walk on New Year's Day. Picture: Brendan FalveyChairman of the Friends of Forster Country, John Spiers, and the group's co-founder, local historian Margaret Ashby, attended the walk on New Year's Day. Picture: Brendan Falvey

"The land is enjoyed by locals as a place of beauty and tranquillity, and is the last remaining snapshot of what the countryside looked like in Forster's time. The loss is too big a price to pay."

John Spiers, who has lived in Stevenage since 1971 and is chairman of FoFC, added: "Once we lose this land there is no turning back. It is gone forever."

To sign the petition, visit you.38degrees.org.uk and search for 'Forster Country'. The FoC are also encouraging people to email the council with their views and to request preservation orders are put on the trees and hedgerows. Email planning@stevenage.gov.uk citing reference 17/00862/OPM.

The developers had not commented at the time of going to press.

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