Fans of the Bronte sisters have been left furious by plans to build a sprawling council estate over the wild and windswept moors that inspired Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.
The rolling hills just outside Bradford, West Yorkshire, have been unchanged for centuries and have been protected Green Belt land under modern planning rules.
But now protesters are demanding a halt to the building of 150 houses on several fields around the village of Thornton.
They form the gateway to the Bronte Way, the rugged Yorkshire landscape where the Bronte sisters played as children and later used as motivational walks for their novels.
The international tourism trail was revamped only three years ago when author Michael Stewart created the Bronte Stones Walk, subsequently trod by an estimated 30,000 visitors.
Fans of the Bronte sisters have been left furious by plans to build a sprawling council estate over the wild and windswept moors that inspired Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre
The rolling hills just outside Bradford, West Yorkshire, have been unchanged for centuries and served as the inspiration for the Bronte sisters’ works such as Wuthering Heights (pictured, 2009 adapatation), Jane Eye, and Shirley
The nine mile trek from Thornton, where the Brontës were born, to the Parsonage at Haworth, takes visitors into three meadows with breath-taking views of the moors that featured in Wuthering Heights, Jane Eye, and Shirley.
But under proposals unveiled by Bradford Council, it will become one of the biggest housing developments over the next ten years.
Author and resident Michael Stewart, 50, said: ‘The view will be completely destroyed.
‘Instead of walking across beautiful fields with unspoiled views of the valley beyond you will be walking in the shadow of walls, fences, and the backs of houses.
‘It is very odd because there are council signs everywhere saying “Bronte Country” so even entertaining the idea does not make any sense.
‘This will be devastating not just for the culture of Bradford but the economy as well.’
Mr Stewart, who lives in Thornton, added: ‘The Brontës are our biggest literary export after Shakespeare, and Dickens. They’re loved all over the world.
But under proposals unveiled by Bradford Council, parts of the Bronte Way (the solid green area within the black outline) will be ‘ruined’ by housing developments (the surrounding brown boxes)
‘What Bradford has got with the Brontes is completely unique. We should be doing all we can to protect and celebrate it – not obliterate it.’
The Huddersfield University academic has authored books on the Brontës as well as guiding tourists from all around the world along the Bronte Way.
His latest book, Walking The Invisible, about the landscape walked by the Brontës and how it inspired their work, is due to be published in June.
It reveals how the Bronte sisters played on the moors as children – and were nearly killed by a devastating peat gas explosion which triggered a 15ft tidal wave of mud and slurry.
The disaster, caused by a one in 1,000 year build-up of fumes from rotting peat, made national headlines in 1820, when Charlotte was aged eight.
Objectors fear Bradford Council’s plans, revealed in the Local Plan, could have an even more disastrous impact.
They include a 14-acre council estate completely straddling the Bronte Way, devastating the view of the valley and settings of 13 Grade Two listed buildings within 200 yards.
Author Michael Stewart, who lives in Thornton, said: ‘The Brontës are our biggest literary export after Shakespeare, and Dickens. They’re loved all over the world’
They include Wycoller Hall (Ferndean Manor in Jane Eyre), Haworth Parsonage, where the Brontes lived and is now the Bronte Museum, and Oakwell Hall (Fieldhead in Shirley).
Also blighted will be the moors at Top Withins (Wuthering Heights), and the hills to the Spen Valley (Shirley country), the campaigners say.
They are stunned that the planners appear to have ignored a multitude of derelict eyesores crying out for redevelopment.
They include an old mill and factory site which was cleared 20 years ago and could accommodate all the area’s housing needs for the next ten years.
If the Local Plan is approved, the 150 houses could be built within six years according to Bradford Council which admitted: ‘Development at this large, open Green Field site has the potential to adversely alter the setting of these sensitive heritage assets.
‘The site consists of a large open space on a hillside. The Bronte Way, which is a draw for tourists and has high cultural significance, passes through the centre of this space.
‘A sensitive site design, which incorporates green infrastructure will be required to mitigate any impact on the Bronte Way.’
But Steve Stanworth, founder of Thornton’s Bronte Birthplace Trust, said: ‘It should be a nonstarter. They just don’t understand the history. People are up in arms. It is nonsense.’