UNAUTHORISED groundwork near a grade II-listed East Lancashire viaduct has angered councillors.

Works at Bridge Heywood Caravan Park, in Read, have also sparked memories of the illegal demolition of the listed Punch Bowl Inn at Hurst Green in 2021, which led to prosecutions and a rebuilding order.

Caravan park contractors have dug a ditch and created a ‘bund’ – on an old railway embankment next to Martholme Viaduct without planning permission.

But the outfit sought retrospective approval from Ribble Valley Council, which had been recommended for approval.

Councillors say they are ‘minded’ to refuse consent though after the digging near the former Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway site.

Borough planners were told workmen had also cut down trees, sparking flooding concerns.

Clifton Pollard, of Martholme Greenway group, told councillors: "When we first noticed tree felling and works next to the viaduct, we reported it to planning officers.

"Unfortunately before any action was taken, nearly all the vegetation and trees, including mature healthy trees, had been removed. A bund with a trench almost three metres deep was constructed next to the viaduct abutment, exposing its full width to the elements."

He also complained access had been blocked for maintenance.

Mr Pollard added: "If this planning application had been made in the correct way before any work was done, officers would have recommended refusal. Our groups now request refusal, removal of the bund and ditch, and a scheme for natural vegetation and tree planting for approval.”

Urging refusal and enforcement action, Green Cllr Malcolm Peplow also produced 'before and after' photos he said showed the "devastating impact of the tree felling".

"These earthworks are like something you’d see at a military site," he added.

Independent Cllr David Birtwhistle said: “I think the applicant has flagrantly damaged or potentially damaged the viaduct. Ice or water could cause the viaduct to fall down. The stonework is likely to deteriorate with the structure being exposed. We should refuse this or defer until someone can do the correct remedies.”

Independent Cllr Ian Brown said: “This is blatant disregard for the planning system. What has happened is tragic. And the drop on the other side, for a child or anybody, would be horrendous. I want this refused, not deferred. This is a serious issue. We cannot let this happen.”

Conservative Cllr Tony Austin said: “We took someone to court last year because someone destroyed a listed building. No-one can deny this has damaged a listed structure. We must stop this.

“Also the public fear a right of way have been challenged. If the right of way has not been extinguished then they are committing an offence. We need to understand the right of way situation.”

Conservative Cllr Simon Hore, deputy council leader, said he understood people’s feelings but suggested the way forward was granting permission but adding conditions including tree planting and maintenance over 20 years.

He said: “I hate the loss of greenery. I’ve seen the photos showing a whole raft of trees gone. What has happened is unforgivable. But where do we go from here?

"If we go for refusal and enforcement action, that will take a long time. If we give approval but also insist on a tree planting scheme with maintenance, we could get that processed in three months, in time for early next year. That, for me, is the priority.”

Development committee chairman Conservative Cllr Sue Bibby, stressed councillors must clearly identify planning system reasons for recommending refusal, to avoid grounds for an appeal.

Councillors highlighted the issues raised by Cllr Peplow and voted to say they were ‘minded to refuse’ the application. Officers will do more work and the application will re-examined next month.