Fighting for the Backdrop of Colne

by Laura Storey


Lenches used to be home to hundreds of Colners, with cottages from the 1700s lining the road. Local historian Geoff Crambie remembers buying penny lollies at the sweet shop up Lenches, Dr Edmondson Spencer, the first scientist to use morphine was born in there, and so was Peter Birtwistle, a philanthropist who left his fortune to the town.

In the 1970s, the cottages were cleared and residents were moved to different parts of Colne. Over the decades Lenches has rewilded itself. If you go off upLenches today, a road lined with hedgerows guides you, trees part to give you a glimpse of open grass land where sheep graze, climb to the top of the hill and you will be rewarded with a stunning view of bonnie Colne upon the hill.

Emma Hartley with Lenches residents outside the Town Hall

Local resident Emma Hartley has lived in Waterside looking out over Lenches for 33 years. She runs a bridal shop in Colne, and never really considered herself a campaigner, until last February when a digger appeared in the field outside her home.

“I ended up ringing a councillor – I was just expecting some reassurance really – instead I got told ‘oh yes, Lenches – Gleeson’s are going to build 212 homes there.’”

It’s full of barn owls, kestrels and buzzards. This view is an iconic view, it’s the backdrop of Colne.

Emma was shocked, it was the first she’d heard about any development.

“So, I took this picture of a forlorn-looking heron and this digger and posted it on Colne Talk. Then I joined Protect Pendle’s Countryside run by Claire Kelly. We’ve got 2,500 members on there.”

As Lenches blooms in spring, it’s not hard to see why Emma feels it needs protecting with bluebells lining the forest floor and birdsong in the air. For locals, Lenches is cherished as a much-loved green space, perfect for walks in nature, picnics and admiring the view over Colne. Local group Pendle Plant Craft even host free foraging and nature walks there.

Emma Hartley with Lenches residents at the Town Hall

“Waterside doesn’t have a lot of access to green spaces,” Emma explains. “A lot of the residents don’t have cars. It’s abandoned by the owner who’s lived in Liverpool for 30 odd years and has just rewilded itself. It’s full of barn owls, kestrels and buzzards. This view is an iconic view, it’s the backdrop of Colne.”

Despite this, Gleesons has already submitted a planning application for the first stage – 106 homes. “I understand we need more homes in Colne,” Emma admits, “but we shouldn’t be building on greenfield sites.”

Emma believes, as it is generally cheaper to build on greenfield sites than brownfield, developers are targeting these areas.

“South Valley, is one of the top 10% deprived areas in the UK, it’s a fact that the poorer you are the less likely you are to have your green spaces protected. We went on a mission to have Lenches allocated as a protected green space – but we were told no, it was too late. We felt like we were being closed down really.”

Despite this resistance, Emma, Claire and other residents haven’t stopped campaigning. They’ve sat in council meetings, gone through planning applications and campaigned online to save their green space.

Emma with fellow Protect Pendle’s Countryside member Claire Kelly

At the time Emma spoke to Colne Life she was worried there were not going to be enough objections to the planning application. “There’s so few residents I’m afraid there’ll be less objections because there’s less residents to object! It doesn’t make it right. It just proves it is in the middle of nowhere. They’ve only sent out letters to 48 people.”

Instead, Protect Pendle’s Countryside took matters into their own hands. “We’ve paid for 2,000 leaflets, handed them out, then we had a community picnic on the field,” Emma smiles.

All Emma’s efforts paid off. Updating me on the campaign, Emma says, “we have had so much support with over 200 objections on the planning portal and donations are flooding in to pay for a professional planning consultant. People are shoving cash through my door! It really feels like the community have come together to show their love for Lenches.”

If you’re eager to get involved to help protect Colne’s iconic backdrop as well as other special sites around Pendle, join the Protect Pendle’s Countryside Facebook group.