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Last Updated: Friday, 14 May, 2004, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
University threat to 'last farm'
By Mike Chilvers
BBC News Online

St Paul's Church, Heslington
Villagers fear Heslington's rural atmosphere is under threat
A once-thriving rural community will lose its last working farm if expansion plans by York University go ahead.

Three-quarters of the land at Lime Tree Farm in Heslington will be swallowed up by the proposed 5,000-student campus.

That would leave tenant farmer Chris Hawkswell and his family without a viable business to run.

Residents in Heslington say the loss of the only remaining farm, where 14 once operated, symbolises their fear that the university is about to swamp them.

'Difficult situation'

"People here like the fact there is a working farm which helps to keep the rural feel of the village," said Mr Hawkswell.

"And from my point of view I'd like to be able to hand the farm over to my children as my father did to me."

The land, owned by the Lord Halifax estate, currently allows the Hawkswells to farm 60 acres of sugar beet and 60 acres of potatoes a year.

Following the university's expansion, they would be left with just 70 acres in total.

"It's left us in a very difficult situation," says Mr Hawkswelll.

We are one of the better-preserved villages close to the city - but that could all be be lost
Heslington parish council chairman Richard Frost

"Obviously we oppose the plans, but the Halifax Estate, which wants to sell the land, has been very good to us and they've said they want to help us find something else."

Heslington parish council chairman Richard Frost said: "The residents here cherish the fact they have a working farm still in the village.

"If it goes it will mark the end of centuries of agricultural activity in Heslington.

"We will be a village of 750 and we'll be sitting outside a university of about 10,000 students.

"Our concern is we will be swamped by the new development and that it will eat up a large swathe of green belt land when alternative brownfield sites are available within the city.

"At the moment we are one of the better-preserved villages close to the city of York, but that could all be be lost."

Liberal Democrat city councillor Ceredig Jamieson-Ball, who represents the Heslington ward, said: "The existing campus is to the north and west of the village and the proposed site is to the east - so the village will be almost surrounded."

Although they have vowed to fight the plans, many of Heslington's 750 residents believe they have little chance of success against the vested interests of the university, the city council and a government committed to increasing student numbers.

They remain strongly opposed to the use of 250 acres of green belt land despite the university's assurances that it will do all it can to minimise the impact on the village through what it described in its recently-submitted outline planning application as "sustainable development".

In the application submitted to the City of York Council on 30 April, the university highlighted its planned use of "environmentally friendly buildings, landscapes and transport on the site".

The plans include a large naturalistic lake and wetlands for wildlife together with grassed areas and extensive tree planting to create what it called "an extensive biodiversity in the area".

"The University of York is one of the best in Britain," said vice-chancellor Professor Brian Cantor.

"We must grow in order to sustain this excellence and we have a wonderful opportunity to do so."

Project director Jon Meacock said: "We intend it to be a beautiful place, sensitive to its neighbours and to the landscape.

"Its open nature and the public facilities should make it a place where every citizen of York can feel that it belongs to them."

University expansion plans on show
03 Mar 03  |  England

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