Owner of land targeted for Colnbrook solar farm criticises Green Belt restrictions

The owner of the land targeted for the recent attempt to build a solar farm in Colnbrook has criticised restrictions placed on developing the Green Belt and flood plain and blamed them for the dilapidated state of Berkyn Manor.

Berkyn Manor, off Stanwell Road in Horton, has not been lived in since 1987. Cllr Colin Rayner says Green Belt restrictions have prevented the building being brought back to life.

Berkyn Manor, off Stanwell Road in Horton, has not been lived in since 1987. Cllr Colin Rayner says Green Belt restrictions have prevented the building being brought back to life.

The decision by Slough Borough Council to reject an application to build a solar farm on farmland between the Hilton Terminal 5 Hotel off Poyle Road and Park Street in November was greeted with relief by many.  But the landowner has talked of the difficulties faced by those burdened with the ownership of Green Belt land around the airport – and also blamed the restrictions for the neglect of the family’s former home in Horton.

In a wide-ranging interview on Farming at Heathrow broadcast in October by BBC Radio 4, predating the result of the Planning Committee, Cllr Colin Rayner spoke about the problems of co-existing with the airport which has dissected the landholding and to which the family continues to periodically have to cede land.

With much of the remaining 2,000 acres of farmland (some owned and much rented) having been restored following gravel extraction and landfilling, and agricultural activities losing more money than they bring in, the family has been keen to make the land pay via other means.  But converting farm buildings, new housing developments and now the solar farm have all been turned down.

These days, Cllr Rayner told the BBC’s Charlotte Smith, the airport subsidises farm activity and sometimes provides ad hoc employment for farm workers.  It is a relationship that keeps the farm going and that, says Rayner, is important: “there’s a gene inside me that wants to farm”.

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Urban explorers recorded these photographs of the decaying Berkyn Manor in Horton in 2012. For more click here.

Questioned why he does not just “sell up and leave this, quite frankly, blighted area” he said he would if he could, but since most of his land is classified as Green Belt he can’t get permission to convert farm buildings or build housing.

Asked if, paradoxically, a Third Runway would be good for the family, by providing a way out Cllr Rayner was quick to say “no”.  The family expects to lose two “blocks” of land to gravel digging, HS2 sidings, the Western Rail Access, greening and parkland and this could make the Rayner holding unsustainable.  But he does not want to be the last generation of his family to farm the area.

The Rayners have no plans to leave any time soon, having up sticks and moved to the area during the English Civil War.  Then, as a family of strict Baptist greengrocers, they found they were no longer welcome in London.  Buying Colnbrook Farm in 1588 during the reign of Elizabeth I, over the next four hundred years the family was gradually to become the largest landowner in Colnbrook, Horton, Wraysbury, and Iver.

Urban explorers recorded these photographs of the decaying Berkyn Manor in Horton in 2012. For more click here.

Urban explorers recorded these photographs of the decaying Berkyn Manor in Horton in 2012. For more click here.

He also talked in the interview about wanting to redevelop the rundown Berkyn Manor.  The Rayner family bought the manor, briefly lived in by poet John Milton, in 1945.  But since 1987 when last occupant Ernest Rayner died, the house has infamously been allowed to go to rack and ruin.

“Urban explorers” have been photographically documenting the decline of the house, built in the 15th century, online for several years – with apparently different groups at odds with each other over the extent to which they will go in exercising their curiosity.  The Guardian belatedly caught up to the “internet outcry” in October last year.

Cllr Rayner who last week hit out at inaction by flood prevention agencies said his proposed conversion of the building into luxury flats had been knocked back because it was on Green Belt and flood plain.

You can listen to the full interview on the BBC Radio 4 website by clicking here.

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