A NEW country park and green haven for families, walkers and wildlife is to open in Banbury, it has been announced.

Plans for the 30-hectare development to the north east of Banbury were approved at a meeting of Cherwell District Council’s executive board on Tuesday, June 6.

It is planned to open next spring.

For many years the council has owned a patch of woodland to the north of the Wildmere Road Industrial Estate and more recently acquired the adjoining field.

The adjacent Hardwick Fields was also passed to the council by developer Bellway Homes and Cherwell is also to buy nearby fields, which include the flood defence barrier, along the M40 from the Environment Agency for £35,000.

With final plans for the site now given the seal of approval, work on the land can begin in earnest and people in Banbury can look forward to using the new space less than a year from now.

Debbie Pickford, the district council lead member for clean and green, said: "The country park is a very welcome development for Banbury.

"It's vital that, as much-needed new homes go up in Banbury, we focus on green spaces, to protect wildlife and boost people's quality of life.”

So far about £240,000 has been set aside for the first phase of the development.

The project will involve a number of conservation-based organisations including the Environment Agency, the canal and Rivers Trust, Woodland Trust and RSPB, and will have a strong focus on creating and maintaining biodiversity and habitats for local wildlife.

The development will join together several pieces of land that the district council has acquired over a number of years.

Funding of about £240,000 has already been set aside for the first phase of the development.

Ms Pickford added: "Careful attention has been given to the current species residing in the area to ensure that wildlife is not only taken into consideration, but has the opportunity to thrive in this new green habitat.

"The site will be easily accessible for residents and visitors to the area from a number of locations. Southam Road, the canal towpath, and Gateway Retail Park will all have new access routes developed."

The park will feature purpose-built cycle and pedestrian paths woven through woodland, meadow areas and wetland, and a small lake.

It runs alongside and beyond the Gateway Retail Park and to the north of the Wildmere estate.

Additional external funding is being sought for phases two and three, which will be implemented over the next 10 years.