Thursday, 10 July 2014

How much does it cost to NOT build a cycle race track on top of a Bird Reserve?

So how much did Derby City Council actually spend trying to build an outdoor cycle race track on top of The Sanctuary Bird Reserve and LNR at Pride Park?  The skylark, the snipe and the wheatear whose habitat was bulldozed away earlier this year probably don't care. But today we found out  it was £147,000. (see this Derby Telegraph article)
Bulldozed open mosaic grassland habitat at The Sanctuary LNR
with the new £27m Velodrome. 

It would be a shame - but not a surprise - if an attempt is made to place blame for this waste of resources at the door of the conservationists. It was we who tried first to work with the Council in 2011 to find an effective compromise solution, and then who rallied together over the last three years to fight and defend this designated Local Nature Reserve from 40% loss or disturbance. It was and still is city's first Bird Reserve, and was opened in 2004 by the Secretary of State for the Environment, no less! Watch her giving her speech here)

But it is a shame that so much local taxpayers' money was wasted - and so much damage done - on pushing through a scheme that quite seriously flouted many of Derby City Council's own planning policies, management plans, and even National Planning Policy guidelines. We knew it was wrong - even their own planning policy staff advised them it was wrong. And even the High Court felt there was a case to answer. So when Derbyshire Wildlife Trust bravely took out an injunction and a date was set for a judicial review of how the process had been handled, our coalition knew we stood a good chance of having the planning permission rescinded that the Council had managed to grant itself. But then the Council suddenly announced that the costs of the scheme were already too high, and pulled out, blaming the inevitable delays on costs rising even further. So the impending legal action was withdrawn, and the injunction lifted.

To some extent, this waste of money is also the fault of Sport England and British Cycling who were set to grant aid the cycle circuit costs. Their promise of funds must have been a great temptation to those senior figures at Derby Council who were pushing through the adjacent velodrome development (see top picture). Had these national funding bodies taken their responsibilities more seriously, they would have asked a simple pre-application question: 


Two minutes to fill in a form, and they  would have realised straight away that "YES" there would be a planning problem, and this sorry saga would not have happened the way it did. Had advice from Derby City Council's own planning officers and policy advisors also been heeded (and we know it was given) we would not be where we are today, either. 

But we are where we are. It cost £147,000 to get here, and a large part of The Sanctuary LNR has been bulldozed into massive heaps of topsoil  and rubble that obstruct the views across the reserve, and do nothing in return by way of offering future habitat. The flat open mosaic habitat used by ground-dwelling birds has gone. They need wide open spaces to feel secure. It won't come back until the mounds are bulldozed back down and leveled off. We really do need Derby City Council to undertake to do this quickly (it will be cheaper for them whilst there are men and machinery at the adjacent velodrome site, too). Our coalition of conservation groups and their members are really keen now to help the Council manage the LNR into the future. We'd be happy to organise litter picks around the outside, or run birdwatching days for the public and velodrome users to see the Little Ringed Plover chicks or the nesting Sand Martins and Lapwing. We'd help out with conservation days to meet the council's recently published management plan objectives for this amazing little bird reserve. And we'd love them to fix the fencing to keep out the intruders on what still remains a 'contaminated site').

We have written to the Council Leadership three times in recent months to offer our help and support. It is disappointing not getting any reply - but the offer stands. We know Natural England is growing concerned to learn  when the damage to the LNR will be restored. And all those people who petitioned, campaigned, lobbied, and twice demonstrated outside the Council House are really keen to know, too.  We all want The Sanctuary go forth as a viable, valuable resource for biodiversity in this city and to work with the relevant people to help make this happen..  

Saturday, 1 February 2014

An End of Life Pathway

They stole you away this morning, those carers
They said that you were in pain.
They asked you if you were suffering
They asked you again and again.

They called it an 'end of life pathway', those nurses
But the rush to use it was wrong.
I begged them last night to inform me
As I needed to share one last song.

They called me to say what they wanted, those carers
To resolve your unease and distress.
Whilst I was conversing with doctors
They acted on what they thought best.

By the time that they reached me, those nurses
Ten minutes had passed and they said
That I was engaged and you were distressed;
They’d given you morphine in bed.

It did just what they wanted, those needles
They pacified you there in your bed
The things that I wanted to tell you
Will now stay forever unsaid.

I wanted a last chance to tell you, my mother
That I loved you from childhood to man
But they stole that last chance from before me
And now there’s no way that I can.

So lie there in peace, my dear mother
Befuddled, be-drugged and so frail
You know just how much that I love you
I am here for the end of your tale.

(Mum died the next morning at 8am)

I lived just 5 minutes drive away from Mum's care home. The day prior to her death I had explicitly asked the matron in charge to contact me if they felt that application of an 'end of life pathway' was necessary. (I had been concerned they seemed overly keen to apply it.) The following morning I was actually on my mobile phone to her doctors' surgery to find out more about the medication involved and to express my worries to them that the care home seemed rather "gung ho" in wanting to apply the pathway. It was at that precise moment that the care home  tried to ring my mobile. (They did not bother trying my landline). They reached me 10 minutes later, but by then they had already administered the necessary medication. I arrived at her home just four minutes later, but never managed to speak with Mum again. I knew she had been fading for days, but I had wanted to speak with her one last time whilst she was still compos mentis. I stayed in her room for the next 24 hrs, and wrote the words above some hours before she finally let go of life. Whilst maintaining my support for the concept of legal euthanasia, I felt her life was ended without sufficient consultation. She had never been in severe pain, although for some months had suffered many indignities that old age and immobility had forced upon her, despite a an otherwise sound and caring regime at her nursing home.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Open Letter to Dame Margaret Beckett MP - The Sanctuary Bird Reserve

An Open Letter to Margaret Beckett MP  - The Sanctuary Local Nature Reserve

Dear Mrs Beckett

Letter to Margaret Beckett MP
 from Derby City Council
In June 2011 you received a written promise from Paul Robinson, Strategic Director for Neighbourhoods at Derby City Council. He assured you the Sanctuary Bird Reserve, which you opened as Secretary of State for the Environment in 2004, would not be harmed by development of  a multi user sports arena (velodrome) at Pride Park. He said “we do not require any of The Sanctuary land”.  We now know this not to be true.

Here is a video of your 2004 opening speech alongside the Mayor of Derby in 2004.     
In the video you publicly praise Derby Council’s integrated approach to planning, its forethought and imagination in creating The Sanctuary Bird Reserve, and for protecting the declining habitat of the Skylark, for which your Department then had a responsibility.

May I invite you now to publicly deplore Derby Council’s current attempt to push through a planning application to build a mile-long pay-to-race cycle track on top of the very open mosaic grassland habitat for skylarks and wheatear and reed bunting that The Sanctuary was intended to protect?

I understand Council Leader Paul Bayliss has written to all the Planning Committee members to voice his support for the proposals;  so may I invite you to inform them of your own opinion on this matter? We trust the chair of the Planning Committee, who went to the House of Commons in 2005 to accept a ‘Green Apple’ award for The Sanctuary Bird Reserve on behalf of Derby City Council will not be swayed by her Leader’s remarks, or his lack of concern for biodiversity or Local Plan policies.

Everyone in Derby knows there is a perfectly adequate alternative cycle circuit location just 1.8 miles away, around the new athletics track at Derby Moorways.
Derby Moorways Athletics Track
- plenty of room for a 1.2km closed cycle racing circuit!

The muddy tracks were made by a recent National cyclocross racing
event, organised by, errm, British Cycling.
The Moorways Stadium site “scored highest against the evaluation criteria”  in an independent 2009 report, commissioned by Derby Council, but is now unreasonably dismissed as unsuitable in current planning application documents.  We do know from those documents that British Cycling is only willing to spend lottery/government money if it can build on top of The Sanctuary. Experts have shown Derby's figures of damage to be an under-estimate, and that 46% of the LNR will either be lost or so badly disturbed that skylarks and other birds would abandon it - many of them UK Priority BAP S

So a unique bird reserve is potentially set to become the first Local Nature Reserve in England to be developed and damaged in this appalling way by an Authority that previously declared the site of the highest importance for nature and for people, and which was opened to much acclaim by you.

Yet in a little over a year's time there will be a new regional outdoor cycle racing circuit built just 15 miles away at Harvey Haddon Sports Complex near Nottingham, also with British Cycling funding.

At the 11th hour another Local Wildlife Site called Alvaston Scrub (DE053) has been offered as compensation for loss of bird habitat. As well as being totally inappropriate land to offer in compensation, existing leisure and recreation routes run right through it, and no ecological evidence or funding offer has been submitted to show how scrubland could be modified to create equivalent undisturbed habitat needed by the rare bird assemblages found on the open mosaic habitat, now about to be lost or disturbed by cycle racing and mountain biking at The Sanctuary.

The national precedent being set of a Local Nature Reserve being unnecessarily built upon, and thus having to be de-declared as an LNR has led wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham to call it ‘a vile act of wanton vandalism. [worth reading the cylists' comments on this link]

This is a far cry from your speech in 2004 when you described The Sanctuary Bird Reserve as ‘a feather in the cap of the city of Derby’.

Will you prevail upon Derby’s Planning Committee members to consider which statement they believe to be the most accurate and, unlike Cllr Bayliss, to consider the alternative location as the best option for Derby and for urban biodiversity?

- ENDS - 
This letter was sent 29th January 2014, and cc-ed to all nine members of Derby's Planning Committee.
Related blog posts:  
A Sanctuary - but for how long? 23 May 2011(First open letter to Dame Margaraet Beckett MP)