I am devastated by the news that the Holliday family, the tenant farmers at Westridge Farm, have decided that they can no longer fight the West Acre Park planning application. However, I do understand and totally respect their decision. They are an incredibly courageous and hard-working family who are and always will be in the hearts of the residents of Elmfield including my own. Their words in their recent statement of their withdrawal from objection to the planning application showed their integrity, real love of and commitment to the community of Elmfield and Ryde and their humanness. Westridge Farm is a family and generational business that has served Elmfield and Ryde community since the 1960s but it has been a farm for centuries. It has provided Ryde and the Isle of Wight residents with milk and eggs for generations. The closure of the farm is a great loss in so many ways.
This has been a long fight and goes back to 2015, when the first 80 house application on the farmland was proposed. Residents and the community rallied round to fight for the farm and this is when I first got involved. The Save Westridge Farm campaign has been a real community voice to preserve our identity and the connection between a town and the countryside. I stood as a local councillor passionately to preserve and celebrate the historic community of Elmfield and the last working farm in the Ryde boundary. I am proud of leading the campaign to the Electoral Boundary Commission to not only change the name of Ryde East but reunite historic Appley and Elmfield into the Ryde Appley and Elmfield Ward which grew around three farms in the east of Ryde. Westridge is the last one. It is more than a farm as it is one with the community. The bottom line is that a real place and real people make it the real community it represents. The Hollidays have and always will be part of the Appley and Elmfield community. They are a family and part of the Appley, Elmfield and Ryde family.
The community and the farm fought gallantly against the first application of 80 houses and had to accept and embrace this development. Since 2016, the Hollidays managed the loss of land and further invested in the remaining farm and developed a quality standard grass-fed free environmentally friendly farm and produces high quality milk. They have been caretakers to 1000 year old pastures and woodland. We were all shocked when the landowner and developer came forward with a plan to demolish the farm and build 472 further houses especially during the Pandemic in 2020 when the community was so vulnerable. The Hollidays (3 generations) had to survive Covid19 with the threat of losing their home and livelihood every day. However the community came together and has fought hard.
The planning application meeting in July 2021 was so wrong in so many ways and I know the Hollidays were devastated along with other residents at the way they were treated and the result to approve the application. The community regrouped and raised the funds to take the application to court via a Judicial Review and have and still have an incredibly strong case. This was and is real people power. It was a case of David (the people) taking on the money rich (landowner and developer). It was about community, environment, local food production, the importance of family, identity and most important being human. It was and is about Islanders saying what we want a say in and how our community is developed.
All through this the Hollidays had to and still currently farm 24/7. They have got up every day to care for their animals, do others jobs and do all the normal family things. They have lived for years not knowing they have a future, lived through two years of Covid19 as well. It is totally understandable that living in limbo next to a building site has taken its toll. No one should go through this.
I hope that Captiva homes and the landowner really honour their agreement to fully compensate the family who have in my view had their human rights as tenant farmers infringed including the children who had rights of inheritance which their generational lease protects. This will be lost for ever. We need generational farmers and we have now lost this. I have always told the family they must focus on their needs as a family and put their welfare first. I am saddened that the Government planning regulations have put houses in this case before local community needs, farming, food production and the environment. We do need social and affordable housing in Ryde but not in the way this development has evolved and a family should not lose their livelihood and home. It is ethically and morally wrong. It is an injustice and I will continue to say this.
Local residents still have a very strong case for Judicial Review and I will be meeting shortly with local residents to listen to them and seek what they wish to do next in their objection to the application and as their elected representative and fellow resident what they want me to do. Cllr Critchison’s motion calling for the application to be recalled was withdrawn from IW planning committee agenda last night due to the news from the Hollidays.
However, a motion could be still called for recall up and until planning consent is granted. If and when granted, local residents still can instruct their legal team to start Judicial Review action as they have a strong case.
Two wrongs do not make a right in that Captiva Homes decision now to negotiate and come to agreement with the tenant farmers does not make the process and decision of the application right. There needs to be huge building of bridges between Captiva and residents as we need to all learn some real lessons from this devastating human story. The Save Westridge Farm campaign will continue until resolution can be found based on what local residents want, need and wish to do. Thank you, Hollidays for teaching me and all of us what integrity, humanity, resilience and humanness is really about. I wish them happiness in the future they deserve so much.
I will keep you posted with further updates.