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review of how the process had been handled, our coalition knew we stood a good chance of having the planning permission rescinded that the Council had managed to grant itself.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 So the impending legal action was withdrawn, and the injunction lifted.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..  

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