It so happens that I live equidistant between two of Melton Mowbray’s finest heritage treasures; from the front of my house I have witnessed over the past few years the metamorphosis of Craven Lodge from once being a decaying pile into what now exists as nine neatly landscaped and secluded new homes, whilst from the rear of my house I can look to the East to enjoy the wonderful spectacle of a fine old Victorian building once known as Wyndham Lodge and which was later to serve as the town’s War Memorial Hospital. It is a fact that in 1921 when its benefactor, Colonel Richard Dalgliesh who was not in good health and expecting soon to die, purchased the old house and in a philanthropic gesture bequeathed it to the townspeople for use as a cottage hospital; it was his way of saying ’thank you’ for what the town had given to him. It is ironic then that almost a century ago the house was, as it is today, in a sad state of abandonment, seriously neglected following a long and crippling war and supported with rotting timbers that awaited an unresolved future.
Confusion and obfuscation are persistently plaguing Planning problems which currently surround the ongoing current application to once more renovate and re-develop the Lodge which stands on a site which has by now seriously deteriorated and returned to a state of nature through many years of misuse and neglect: it has become bedevilled by ownership disputes, planning arguments and general disagreements of opinion. There once even existed healthy dissension amongst the population as to whom were the legal owners of the site or in which direction was the future, but since the re-location of the peoples’ hospital to pastures new and the emplacement of a large green stockade around its perimeter in the manner and appearance of a concentration camp in order to keep it away from prying eyes, the NHS were to ‘inherit an albatross to hang around their neck’ for over a decade. Last summer during one of my unscheduled and uninvited ‘visiting days’ to the overgrown old house, I was informed by a frustrated NHS employee present, that I could, “have the place for a fiver!”
The word on the street as I write is that today’s developers have now ‘pulled out’ of the deal to save our little jewel and to provide a substantial number of new homes. Though the official word might read somewhat different, the truth seems to orbit around parochial local matters and the late introduction of ‘endangered wildlife’ fauna which have apparently moved in like squatters and discovered great comfort amongst the rotting timbers of the roof along with the rats and pigeons – which of course, are offered no protection!. Some members of the Local Council might not wish to accept responsibility for this awkward intervention, but it is one with which they legally need to comply. Closed Council meetings have been held with the builders and their contents are thought to have been shelved for the moment whilst the now denuded pasture land surrounding the old building lies as great tracts of exposed mud and the wreckage of many felled trees; but at least the removal of the tangled undergrowth (a source of sustenance for the invaders, according to the report) has exposed once more the house’s grand and proud existence back into public view and is drawing the proper admiration of passers by.
So, what ‘endangered wildlife’ are we looking at here, threatening to return this old house to the scrap heap? Have you heard the saying that, ‘an ant can move a rubber tree plant’?. well it seems that ‘Plecotus Auritus’ or the Brown Long-Eared Bat and his genus can achieve much more, as it is these exquisite little creatures that are the source of the potentially expensive impasse at Melton Mowbray’s Planning Office. I don’t wish to cross swords with your correspondent, Nathalie Cossa, – Reserve Manager at Kelham Bridge Nature Reserve where the motto states: ‘An area once used for waste; now restored into a wildlife haven’ If the Wildlife Trusts wishes to buy our site for such a purpose I don’t think too many local people would complain, but as it stands we are talking chalk and cheese here. Allow me though to take issue with her on her rather childish allegation that the newspaper’s headline ‘vilifies bats just to get people to read the article.’ the Melton Times was dutifully informing its readers of the facts as they knew of them at the time. Whilst us human beings are awaiting the opportunity to buy new homes in the town, especially those created on what we know as brownfield sites, the bats are doing their level best to retain their commodious dwelling spaces, protected by squatters rights and all provided gratis by homo sapiens at great expense. Something is not right in the Kingdom!
Over the period of a couple of years, as many as six expert ‘bat surveyors’ have undertaken six separate surveys at the crumbling Melton site and a 24 page report was placed before the council and the developers, basically to say that non requirement with the law on the part of all concerned in relation to the incumbent lodgers, would produce serious consequences. For the large size of the location, scant evidence of a bat presence and even fewer sightings – or hearings – were reported, probably around a dozen. which has prompted me to research the basic statistics of this protected species and to give some idea of the scale of the dilemma.
The Brown Long-eared Bat – Plecotus Auritus, of which some 245,000 are known to exist in the UK
The Common Pipistrelle – Pipistrellus pipistrellus 2,430,000
The Soprano Pipistrelle – Pipistrellus pygmaeus 1,300, 000
Whoever it is who counts these wonderful little creatures I could not guess, but I would like to think that a common-sense approach by all parties in this time of severe austerity might be applied by all concerned and as someone who personally wishes to preserve the wildlife which surrounds me, I am at the same time hopefully not too myopic as to be able to appreciate and to preserve all that my forebears have left behind for me to appreciate. As a footnote I would add that I only live a couple of hundred yards from the Lodge and have enjoyed watching these minuscule Pipistrelles on many a summer’s evening, cavorting and eating up the mosquitoes as they fly. I have recently been re-roofed at home at which time I ensured that inlets for the sparrows – which have been with us for years – were retained. If Nathalie Cossa can squeak ‘batese’, I would be happy for her to arrange for her little charges to relocate to my nice warm loft for as long as they wish, in order that common sense might prevail.’
My above little burst of frustration was written some three years ago and a lot has happened in the intervening moths. Forget for now, the three reported pipistrelles with not another pip-squeak from their defender, Nathalie, like most of these inhabitant snags – including a sad and lonely resident Muntjac deer or the greatly feared and pernicious Fallopia Japonica, hopefully to be thwarted with a monstrous covering sheet of black plastic, designed apparently to starve it into submission – that present themselves to obstruct the path of progress, they usually fade away. The once delightful Wyndham Lodge Estate, bordered by the meandering River Eye as it passes through the ancient town, has by now limped along from disaster to disaster, but not being au fait with the financial statistics of the exercise, I would hazard a guess that a lot of money has been lost on the investment, mostly washed away with the predicted and warned of the underground and hidden passage of rainwater on its way to empty in the River Eye – as rivers do and have done for perpetuity.
What commenced with the arrival of a house builder of limited repute who eventually took on the pretty awesome task of building almost a hundred dwellings on a site which for several years, potential developers either didn’t want or couldn’t raise the finance, seems to have to have been pulled from the fire by a large and respected civil engineering construction company not noted for the creation of private housing. As we enter this fourth year of toil and with the site looking only half ready for maturity to commence, I would suggest that the future looks pretty bleak for all concerned. I have my personal copy of the ‘Particulars of Decision‘ from the Melton Mowbray Planning Department, from which I am ticking off which matters are being ignored or blind-eyed by those who do not seem to care.
Melton Mowbray May, 2019