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Former councillor's Rounton claim was true, confirms Government inspector
A political row over ancient woodland in Watford has been reignited by a planning inspector’s decision to save it from development.
Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians came to blows over accusations that developers were stripping the Rounton site, in the Nascot area, back in April.
At the time, the then Watford Borough Conservative councillor for the area, Andrew Mortimer, was attacked by political opponents, including elected mayor Dorothy Thornhill, for "causing unnecessary alarm" when he leafleted residents about the deforesting.
Mr Mortimer, who subsequently lost his seat to a Liberal Democrat challenger in the May 3 election, has since said his concerns over the site have been vindicated by a Government report.
Mayor Thornhill defended her comments at the time, saying she was standing up for council officers who were under political attack.
Earlier this month planning inspector Gyllian Grindey rejected plans to build a 45-home development on the site off Nascot Wood Road.
In her report, she criticised developers for removing foliage from the site, which has since been recognised as protected woodland.
She said: "It is clear from letters and photographs of neighbours, sent during the appeal, that, for at least the last year, considerable effort has been made to alter the site.
"There is evidence of lorries, diggers and chippers on the site, stump removal, fires and other works to the area."
Following the report, Mr Mortimer said: "I do not understand the Mayor’s complaint that I was scaremongering when the inspector clearly emphasised my concerns that the ancient woodland was being destroyed.
"There is no question that woodland within the council’s designated protected area at Rounton was destroyed and that the envisaged development would have further endangered, if not destroyed, several more protected trees.
"She (the mayor) should admit that the Lib Dems, as usual, clouded the issue with political point scoring instead of helping residents in their fight against unreasonable development."
Mr Mortimer added that he had not contacted the council’s enforcement officers over the issue as they already been contacted by residents to no avail.
The heated war of words in the political leaflets and letters sent to Nascots residents broke out in the days before the borough council election.
The Nascot seat was hotly contested between the Conservatives, defending a slim majority, and the Liberal Democrats, who have made gains in the ward in recent years.
This week, Mayor Thornhill defended the letter she had sent to residents over the Rounton site, saying Mr Mortimer had unfairly attacked council workers in his leaflet.
She said: "He was implying that the council was not doing its job properly and this was simply not true. He was implying it was being stripped and we were letting it happen.
"It wasn’t true and I wasn’t going to have him trashing officers working hard on the behalf of residents."