'I'd rather go to prison than lose my garden': Pensioner Jean Bailey faces having £9k wildlife haven ripped up by Newcastle Borough Council
PENSIONER Jean Bailey has been ordered to rip up a picturesque pond and flower beds in her garden by council planners.
The 74-year-old spent £9,000 turning part of a muddy field in Harriseahead into the haven for wildlife over seven years.
But Jean has fallen foul of planners who have ruled her pond, immaculate lawn and flower beds should never have been developed on greenbelt land.
Now Newcastle Borough Council is threatening Jean with an enforcement notice.
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Planners have ruled Jean's extended garden – complete with 60 fish, frogs, newts and bird and insect life – 'erodes the character and quality of the area'.
The row comes days after it emerged up to £210,000 will be spent creating ponds for rare newts uprooted by a planned road to the A500.
Jean, pictured above, said: "I live for my garden. It is my pride and joy and I would rather go to prison than lose it. I have a hip replacement and the garden gives me gentle exercise and a reason to keep going every day."
Jean lives in a granny flat extension to the Biddulph Road cottage her daughter and son-in-law, Kerry and Ian Parker, bought in 2006. As part of the deal the sellers threw in an adjoining plot to create a bigger garden.
Jean and her family spent £2,000 to have the land drained before landscape gardeners created the retreat. But the family has now been told they had no planning approval to change the greenbelt land from agricultural use.
The breach only came to light when a neighbouring house went up for sale and potential owners inquired whether they could also have a bigger garden.
The family's retrospective planning application has now been refused by the council, despite it being supported by Kidsgrove Town Council.
Kerry, aged 48, who works at Astbury Garden Centre, near Congleton, said: "Mum and I have had ponds all our lives. We have two species of frogs which are about to spawn, giant water beetles, toads and newts as well as 60 fish. We were perhaps naively unaware we had broken any planning laws. We will not stay here if the garden goes so we will lose our lovely home in the countryside ."
Neighbour Maxine Shaw, aged 50, said: "It is bureaucracy gone mad when a beautiful garden of just 30 square feet has to be ripped up and returned to a swamp."
In its refusal letter, the council says: "You must return the land to agricultural use and character removing all garden paraphernalia. Should the work not be carried out within two months of you submitting a timetable, we will take legal action."
The family is now planning to appeal against the decision.
Councillor Eddie Boden, cabinet member for planning, said: "We appreciate the position the applicants are in but planning requirements have to be obeyed. No special circumstances exist to justify what has to be considered to be inappropriate development within the green belt."