Swansea Villagers call for public inquiry into proposal to build houses on common land in the city

Planning permission for the development at West Cross was granted by Swansea City Council earlier this year. Credit: ITV

Villagers in Swansea are calling for a public inquiry into a proposal to build 56 homes on common land in the city.

Planning permission for the development at West Cross was granted by Swansea City Council earlier this year.

But campaigners say they will continue their fight against it. This week they turned out to protest over the decision, and to take their objections a step further.

Among them were local people keen to make their voices heard.

"Getting out into this sort of nature is so important for people's mental health", said West Cross resident Helen Nelson.

Golden-ringed dragonfly

"It's a real shame to think this common will be ploughed up when there's brownfield sites available elsewhere in the city where they could locate new affordable homes."

Leigh Evans was another resident who joined the demonstration. He said he's lived in Swansea for over 50 years. 

"I'm slowly seeing little parts of our landscapes being partitioned off - particularly on Gower. They're areas that are being drained and then houses put on them when there's plenty of empty buildings in Swansea."

Waving her placard of 'Save our Common' was young resident Megan Williams. The draining of the common land at West Cross is a major concern of hers.

"The common stores a huge amount of water, from the wider habitats feeding into this. And so by concreting over it, I don't believe that the flood mitigation is going to be enough for the area."

Elderly resident Clason Phillips said access to the common is important for those like him with mobility issues. 

Carder bee on devil's bit scabious

"I enjoy a slow walk up there, and sit down where I want. It's my time to appreciate the wildlife that thrive here. It's a disgrace that they are even thinking of building on it."

Swansea City Council said that the planning application to build was determined in line with existing planning policy, and that the city is in need of more affordable homes.

I also contacted the developers, Ashgrove Partnerships, several times to get their side of this story and more details about their plans. But to date, I have not received a response.

The biggest concern among campaigners seems to be that construction is planned near a special area of conservation.

Dr Dan Forman is an Associate Professor of Zoology at Swansea University. He said he supports the view that the city needs low-cost housing, but that it should not come at the expense of nature.

"We fully understand the pressures of finding suitable locations for affordable homes. However, this site contains some of our most precious wildlife.

"There are a number of European protected species that use this location, and we have a legal duty to look after them and make sure that they are preserved for future generations as well."

One of the species that Dan is referring to is the marsh fritillary butterfly. Neil Jones has spent more than 50 years studying its movements and has found it on West Cross Common.

"The impact of losing extra habitat for the butterfly here should be taken into consideration. This is an endangered species.

"We wouldn't destroy the habitat of the giant panda or the Siberian tiger. Just because this is only a butterfly doesn't mean it shouldn't be conserved."

If the developer chose to build on this common, they would have to find a new area of common land to replace the one lost at West Cross.

But the de-registration of common land, and the exchange for a new section, would be subject to an inspector's report.

Campaigners are now calling on the Welsh Government to get involved and stop proceedings.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "Exchange of common land to facilitate development is subject to decisions by Welsh Government ministers. Development on common land without consent can result in prosecution, regardless of any planning permission granted."

So the decision on whether to put new homes on West Cross Common could now head to the home of Welsh Government.

Campaigners say they will not give up, because once their little piece of paradise has gone, it has gone forever.

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