Presentation-Thriftwood Wetland Area Plan
Jason Mills introduced himself to the Forum and started the presentation on the Thriftwood Wetland Area Plan. He reminded members that Ockwells Park was a designated as a local nature reserve, and had been extremely popular with visitors over the previous 30 years. In 2016 the Council had purchased a further 86 acres of land adjacent to the nature reserve, with the aim of opening this up to the public as well. A Masterplan had been drawn up to enable this. The first stage of this was to upgrade the paths to improve access, which included a small loop trail that allowed people to access a large area of bluebells. Parts of the site included designated wetlands, and Great Thriftwood itself was a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Jason Mills informed members that the Council was approached by the Environment Agency in 2017 regarding improving the drainage at the site. The site included a man-made cut that carried water along to Bray and eventually into the Thames; however the site had a tendency to collect excessive amounts of run-off from the adjacent motorway, which made public pathways impassable. This was particularly a problem in winter, but during wet spells in the summer floodwater could take several days to drain away.
An assessment of the site concluded that there was a larger opportunity to redevelop, and the Environment Agency agreed to fund a feasibility study with their project partner, Atkins. A wetland plan was in the process of being created, which would help make the whole site more accessible and make floodwaters easier to control and divert, but also help to create new and improved wildlife habitats. Jason Mills said that the design stage of the project had been funded and was due to be completed in late spring/early summer. Additional finance would be needed to implement the wetland plan, and the possibility of securing money from the Heritage Lottery Fund was being investigated. Jason Mills said that the National Trust were involved in the discussions as there was a covenant on the land. He also confirmed that the site was categorised as Flood Zone 2 in the main, with some Flood Zone 3. Jason Mills said that the preference was for all of the work to be done at the same time, but realistically it may have to be phased. This was dependant on knowing how much the project would cost, particularly with regards to moving large amounts of earth. David Gasca of Atkins explained that one possibility that was being explored was the creation of a lake.
David Gasca said that the overall vision of the project was to create a new nature-based recreational area, but how the improved wildlife habitats would integrate with the publicly accessible areas was the main obstacle to overcome. As well as improving the existing footpaths, it was hoped that new footpaths and cycleways could be created. Two sites had been identified as being suitable for educational activity areas, to offer another dimension to the park. David Gasca said that the current plan was for all spoil removed from the site to be used to create a bund that would block out the M4. Trees could then be planted on the bund. How the work would be done was still to be determined, but David Gasca stated that he did not anticipate the park being closed in its entirety at any point to enable the works to take place.
James Copas stated that his family owned 50 acres of conservation land that was publicly accessible and popular with dog walkers. However the family had had to create a segregated area solely for wildlife so it would not be disturbed by dogs that had been let off their leads. Ambika Chouhan said there was an intention to do something similar with the redeveloped wetland area.
Jason Mills said the Royal Borough were looking at creating a parking plan, after the Parish Council raised concerns about increased traffic levels and concerns over associated parking.
Members were informed that they would be kept updated with the progress of the project.