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Battle to protect Benfleet Downs
6:00am Monday 7th October 2013 in News
CAMPAIGNERS have written to their MP and Prince Charles in a last ditch attempt to stop a popular beauty spot being “destroyed” by the Olympic legacy plans.
Work is set to get under way later this month to transform Hadleigh Farm and Country Park into a top tourist venue aimed at attracting 400,000 visitors a year.
Part of the plan will see the challenging Olympic mountain biking circuit adapted for public use.
However, the £6.8million proposals have sparked controversy, as they also involve creating 18km of cycling routes and perm a n e n t shingle p a t h s through the country park, a move some residents fear could ruin the area.
Now, members of the Benfleet Downs Preservation Society have written to Castle Point MP Rebecca Harris and Prince Charles in a bid to stop the work on the new paths going ahead.
This comes after more than 400 residents signed a petition objecting to the plans.
Robert Baillie of St Mary’s Road, Benfleet, who is a member of the society, said: “Despite about 18 months of objection and more than 400 signatures of protest, Essex County Council has refused to listen to the honest concerns of the taxpayers who are now footing the bill to turn pleasant tranquil countryside into a mountain bike racetrack.
“A few days ago I woke up to the sound of chain saws demolishing woodland in preparation for the work.
“It will ruin the area. It’s one of the last pieces of natural countryside we have left and they want to cover it with gravel.We will keep fighting.”
However, mountain biker Luke Farey, 40, of Silversea Drive, Westcliff, claims the work will go a long way tomaking the country park more accessible – and safer for visitors.
He said: “As far as I understand, there will be designated paths for cyclists and ones for dog walkers, which should be a positive thing as it will keep us away from some of the other visitors who want to use the park and make it safer for them.”
An Essex County Council spokesman said: “The council has acted responsibly throughout as a developer. Funding is now available and planning permission has been fully granted by Castle Point Council.
“The council is very proud to have the support of Natural England for the ground-breaking conservation project.
“The trail network in this area has been designed to protect the natural environment by retaining existing walking routes in addition to creating sustainable transport routes for walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders that avoid the most sensitive areas designated by Natural England as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.”
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