Bishop's Stortford Town Council ready to cultivate community orchard plans
Plans for a community orchard in Bishop's Stortford are set to bear fruit.
The town council's finance and policy committee has agreed to branch out and back the scheme for a site at Jenkins Lane, off Hallingbury Road.
The proposals from Bishop's Stortford Climate Group were planted in March 2021, but the town council originally rejected the scheme because the land was reserved for graves once the town's cemeteries reach capacity.
However, the council has been working on plans to reuse existing burial plots, and when the orchard plan was re-presented to the environment and public amenities committee in February this year, members recommended that their colleagues who hold the council's purse strings should let the project take root.
Finance and policy committee members agreed unanimously after a presentation by one of the orchard proponents, Jill Goldsmith, who is also a trustee of the Gardens of Easton Lodge.
Negotiations will now begin to offer the group a lease until 2050 at a peppercorn rent.
Jill and the other volunteers want to use around half of the Jenkins Lane site to plant no more than 100 trees on south- and west-facing slopes.
She hoped the orchard would become a community asset, similar to Rivers in Sawbridgeworth, providing a leisure facility that benefits the mental health of volunteers and visitors while enhancing the biodiversity of the land, which is currently scrub.
The aim is also to produce fruit for the community to enjoy, with apples for juicing, cooking and eating, pears, plums, crab apples, cherries, quince and medlar.
Cllr Calvin Horner (Lib Dem) said: "This will be a big benefit to our community." Town council leader Cllr John Wyllie (Con) added: "I fully support this. It's an extremely important asset for the town."
Cllr Wyllie's only concern, shared by other members, was that "in extremis" the council would have the right to break the lease and take back the land if mass graves were required in future.
The town council is pursuing a private Act of Parliament which would allow it to reuse graves in the Old Cemetery in the same way that spaces in the New Cemetery can be recycled.
Meanwhile, the authority will investigate how land at Jenkins Lane could be used for woodland burials, rather than a conventional graveyard.
Cllr Terence Beckett (Lib Dem) asked for assurances that the orchard's fencing, designed to protect saplings from damage by grazing deer, would also include corridors for wildlife.
The Jenkins Lane site is already home to hives maintained by Bishop's Stortford Beekeeping.