An affluent community is raising £100,000 to buy a patch of bulldozed farmland amid fears it will become a massive traveller site in the shadow of Windsor Castle and Eton College. Villagers in leafy Eton Wick, Berkshire were alarmed when a digger began ripping down trees and churning up the empty plot Crown Farm ahead of its auction this week.
Police and council officials ordered the digger to leave the 5.2 acre site but the work fanned rumours it was being eyed up for a caravan site for travellers.
Nervous locals are now clubbing together to line up a rival bid for the land in a desperate attempt to stop the site being claimed by a group 'who haven't got the best interest of the village' at heart. The site which sits across the River Thames from the Queen's royal castle and the exclusive boys' boarding school is expected to fetch £100,000.
Mooted plans for a traveller camp began circulating among residents after the digger operator apparently told one local he was paving the way for a caravan site. For many residents this seemed plausible as the field forms part of the green belt and its position on a flood plain makes securing planning permission to build houses unlikely.
Crown Farm was once a paddock of green grass but villagers have now likened it to the Somme after the workman spent two days felling trees and churning up the ground before being chased off by officers. In a post on Facebook resident Kenny Williams said: "I asked the man who was cutting it down and he said he has been paid to cut it down to make way for a traveller site that is going to be there. He said apparently it was going to be one of the biggest sites around and that they were planning on moving in very soon and then seeking planning permission after."
One villager, who asked not to be named, said: "This land is in the shadow of Windsor castle and is right next door to Eton College. The site has been bulldozed and now looks like the Somme battlefield. It looks awful. I am told that Eton College are very concerned. The general view locally is that it is being prepared for a travellers site. What other purpose could there be?"
Villagers have since formed a community group to take pledges from people in an effort to raise at least £100,000 to buy the field and protect it from any unwanted development on it. It is being auctioned by liquidators McTear Williams & Wood on behalf of the owners Cobvale Ltd, from Wednesday.
Ron Lewandowski, the chairman of Eton Town Council, said: "There was a general outcry when all this happened. A lot of trees were cut down, it looked like Godzilla had run amok. There is a lot of concern and worry about the future of the site. The land makes up the green belt and it is a floodplain. It would be very hard to get planning permission to build on. The Eton Wick Village Association is funnelling and collecting pledges with a view to making a bid for the site. The pledges are multiple and it is looking pretty encouraging. I am incredibly proud of the village that they have rallied round like this to try and gain control of this land and stop it from going to somebody who hasn't got the best interest of the village of Eton Wick and the town of Eton."
One theory being fanned by residents is that any travellers encampment could be a short-term development that would devalue the land and make it easier to gain planning permission for 50 houses. A spokesman for Eton Town Council added in a statement: "Eton Town Council deplores the damage done at Crown Farm. The site is due to come up for auction on 17 June where it seems extremely likely that one of the bidders will be the person responsible for what has happened so far. There are likely to be other bidders of course but in the event that nobody else comes forward it would appear that the site could be purchased by the aforementioned and can only speculate on what happens next in that event."
In the meantime the Eton Wick Village Association has urged concerned locals not to get involved in demonstrations on the site.
A spokesman said: "Whilst we understand this wilful destruction of habitat has created an eyesore as well as leaving residents with many sleepless nights, we encourage you to refrain, for your own safety, from public demonstrations."
16 June 2020