Bexhill woods to be sold to community group?

Christopher Wallace (Chairman - Ellerslie Area Residence Association) and Chris Ashford (Secretary) at the entrance to St Mary's Wood, Bexhill. SUS-160206-101002001
Christopher Wallace (Chairman - Ellerslie Area Residence Association) and Chris Ashford (Secretary) at the entrance to St Mary's Wood, Bexhill. SUS-160206-101002001

A much-loved piece of ancient woodland looks as if it will be saved from auction as a group of residents are set to buy it for just £1.

Rother District Council sparked dismay when it was revealed the cash-strapped local authority planned to put St Mary’s Wood up for sale.

The 2.01 acre wood, in St Mary’s Lane, was due to go under the hammer at The Marriott Hotel in London on May 9 with a guide price of £195,000.

The lot was withdrawn at the last minute following legal advice.

St Mary’s Wood has a restrictive covenant on it, meaning it must be kept as an ancient woodland.

But concerned residents of the Ellerslie Area Residents Association (EARA) decided to launch a bid to buy St Mary’s in a bid to save this ancient woodland site for prosperity.

The group formed St Mary’s Wood (EARA) Ltd, with Stuart Earl, an independent councillor at Rother District Council, accepting the role as co-director of the new company.

Cllr Earl grew up in nearby Turkey Road and regularly played in the woodland as a boy.

Concerned residents have already made ‘substantial’ financial pledges to the new company, while a new group, Friends of St Mary’s Wood, is to be set up to manage the funds for ongoing maintenance costs for the site.

A spokesperson for Rother District Council said: “St Mary’s Wood is still owned by the council at present but the recommendation to cabinet is that it be sold to the newly formed St Mary’s Wood (EARA) Ltd for £1.

“If approved, this sale would be subject to a suitable protective covenant to safeguard the woodland site, and a clause which would give the council the right to buy back the site in the event of any future transfer of the land or winding up of the company.”

Meanwhile Highwoods, which was also under threat of going under the hammer, could soon be under the ownership of The Woodland Trust.

Rother officers are recommending the site is sold to the Woodland Trust for a nominal sum on the proviso that RDC gets first refusal if the Trust decides to sell the site on in the future.

The Trust in turn wants to offer a lease to High Woods Preservation Trust to allow the HWPT to continue to manage the woodland as a public amenity.

RDC’s cabinet committee will make a decision on the sales at a meeting at Bexhill Town Hall on Monday (September 5) at 11am.