Posts Tagged ‘rural payments agency’

Whatever it is they [DMBC] know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners, they don’t want to tell the public?

August 20, 2014

Readers were reminded on Monday about our Freedom of Information request to Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council about an Internal Audit undertaken on the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.

P1020692Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme: an example a project promoted by the Dun Drainage Commissioners and later their successors the Danvm DC.

DMBC had failed to comply with its own procedures.  Its own initial acknowledgement indicated a reply would be provided by 15 August, so five days overdue (or three if you accept the WhatDoTheyKnow website advice) and as there was no request for additional time we submitted a request for an Internal Review yesterday ….  today we receive an email update and a response was provided.

The FoI was made 19 July and it has taken until 20 August to “Refusal to Disclose Information” and then the reply describes it as the Danum Drainage Board.  It is now Danvm (note the spelling, a Board decision and one which DMBC were a party to) and they are the Drainage Commissioners, minor points maybe but this kind of inspection and performance is surely about attention to detail?

Notice under Section 17(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – REFUSAL TO DISCLOSE INFORMATION

Decision:

After carefully considering your request, the Council has decided to refuse to disclose the information you have asked for under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Basis for decision:

This law allows us to refuse to disclose information through the Freedom of Information Act process which is “information intended for future publication”. This is called an “exemption”.

Anyway, in short they are not prepared to release the information funded through the public purse until the Clerks to the DDC have seen it first.  The local IDBs including the two ‘super-boards’ are serviced by the Shire-Group of IDBs.  Read the rest of the letter via the WhatDoTheyKnow website here.

Why they cannot also release it to enquirers on the same day is not clear, a sceptic might then be forgiven for thinking  that perhaps then the Clerk and Administrator to the DDC will elect to apply their procedure and to take a further 20 days to provide it – this is open and transparent government?

Internal Drainage Boards have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and some organisations involved in attempting to hold them to account would consider this to be long overdue.  Many receive substantive amounts of public funding by way of Special Levy.  It is only recently that all the Local Authority nominated appointees have begun to attend and take an active part in scrutinising the business and conduct of local IDBs.  The Audit of Accounts 2010 – 2011 of the Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels IDB Report In the Public Interest makes quite astonishing reading …. is that of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners going to be a variation?

What would, in our opinion, have been prudent ahead of the amalgamations of the smaller localised IDBs in the area would have been thorough audits and appraisals in the public interest, but for some reason there does not appear to be rigorous application of best practice governance in this area.  If we revisit the analysis of the Defra encouraged amalgamations which created two large ‘super-boards’ in this area (Humberhead Levels) then we might be forgiven for asking why Defra the government agency responsible for Land Drainage did not require independent audit of each of the local boards as they were subsumed into the new arrangement?

So, will this DDC Audit Report see the light of day, will it be made available to the public?  Who will be found to be wanting?  Will there be any action if there is found to be any ‘issue(s)’?

Readers might recall the incident where a landowners lawful tenant caused damage to a SSSI on the periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI, neither the Rural Paymants Agency nor Natural England acted to either recover public funds or investigate the impact on the special feature of the SSSI.  Austerity measures introduced across many public services and yet no recovery of public funds where there was clear breach of cross compliance &c.?

 

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The law, implementation and poor deals for wildlife and the environment?

March 3, 2014

A recent post raised concerns about a Planning System fit for purpose in terms of public benefit.  Thanks to those of you who contacted us about the issue and similarly with regard to other recent posts.

We offer another recent case which illustrates how one minute the politicians in Westminster try to persuade the public and local communities that they can have a say in local plans and the like.  Then the flip side to that is a situation when developers seek to capitalise on assets the High Courts rule in favour of private profit.  Clayton Fields at Edgerton near Huddersfield achieved village green status in 1996.  The Leader of Kirklees Council Mehboob Khan said “It is a big blow for the local community.  Current legislation is not strong enough to protect local amenity spaces.”  Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society said the decision “gave the green light to developers to grab village greens”.  See the Yorkshire Post and Planning Resource reports on the case.

Call us sceptical but it may well be a case that village greens will only succeed and be safe where local groups secure ownership, rather than historic sites which may well have fallen into the hands of absentee landowners and speculators or developers?  At a local level it is clear that communities need to be vigilant to local authority land disposals.  As austerity continues to cause cuts in local authority spending, there will be difficult decisions being made about public assets.

More and more are being reported which see loss of local amenity provision.  Developers set their sights on areas and lobby behind the scenes to secure agreements, one such case is the proposed land swop involving the Beverley Commons.  The planning authority in this case is East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

Another instance of questionable practice offered is Natural England’s behaviour over the Public Inquiry into the Tween Bridge wind farm.  Natural England objected to the development but they failed to provide a barrister to support their local officer.  Perhaps that barrister was otherwise occupied negotiating with the wind farm developers over access arrangements across public land in their care which ultimately netted the organisations head office some £50,000 a year for 35 years?  That’s £1.75 million!  None of which we understand is earmarked for any work or scientific monitoring at Thorne and Hatfield Moors subsequent to the wind farm securing access to enable it to be built.  Despite a thorough on line search for this document relating to a public body we are unable to provide a link.  The local community pot associated with the Tween Bridge development does not get anywhere near that sum and yet it is local people who suffer from the loss of quality of environment.  Conversely others may delight in aesthetically pleasing structures industrialising farmland and the countryside?

Of ‘damage’ which statutory agencies and authorities have for various reasons turned a blind eye to or declined to act we offer a couple of case both of which relate to activity around the periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI, the first is actually a SSSI in its own right.  In July 2012 Natural England staff became aware that a neighbouring landowners lawful tenant had dug through a protective embankment to discharge agricultural run off into a SSSI drain.  It was not until November and after the Forum Executive started to investigate that the breach was repaired.  The incident was also reported to the Rural Payments Agency because such action was surely contra to cross compliance and there was the potential to recover public funds paid to landowners failing to comply with the terms of their agreements.  BUT …. the RPA did not investigate, instead they informed us that it was not usual for the public to report such matters.  The second involves an Internal Drainage Board whose land was rigorously managed to the point of disturbing badger setts.   Again Natural England were not rigourous in pursuing the matter, instead they were content to accept the age old response of ‘we won’t do it again’ line.  I suppose if one factors in the popularity of poor brock with statute at the moment then it’s hardly surprising?  However,  we’d been led to understand that the law is there to be complied with?

The Yorkshire Post recently reported that The Wildlife Trust for Sheffield and Rotherham were awarded some £396k of Lottery funds to deliver a five year project called ‘Wild at Heart’ Project manager Jan Flamank, a professional artist said “By developing regular interest and hobby activities at outdoor sites and in more accessible indoor spaces, we’re really hoping to create social groups which will continue to meet and work together long after the project is over.”   Wouldn’t it be great if that same project could keep an eye on community assets (albeit of a restricted postcode area) and become community champions in safeguarding green spaces as well as training the next generation of naturalsists to record the declining diversity of wildlife?  IF it does become sustainable then is the model one to be rolled out in other urban areas?  Do variations already exist in other areas?

Looking back over recent blogs it seems there are more which could be described as ‘campaigning’ posts rather than science or natural history observations.  So, I will leave you with the image below, which whilst not a perfect photograph, it is nevertheless a special memory from earlier today and I didn’t even have to leave Yorkshire!

140303 Yorkshire RSq hrk 740 - Copy

Consistency in application of protection to SSSIs?

January 15, 2014

Well done Natural England, congratulations on standing up for nature and for applying the regulations …. we refer to NE’s press release on their website earlier today about

Off-roaders fined for damaging one of the Peak District’s finest conservation sites

Staff are to be congratulated with their investigation and enforcement of regulations.  Perhaps it was a pretty obvious matter to investigate and gather evidence for and that there would have been public support for the action taken, never the less they saw it through and didn’t abandon the case like they did with other privately owned upland moorland incidents.

They deserve praise for doing their job, so we duly recognise that …. to re-iterate, well done NE staff in the Peak District.

So, why when Natural England staff discovered damage to Thorne Moors SSSI in July 2012 did they too not act?  Why did it take until November 2012 for their staff to replace the earth bank deliberately removed by the lawful tenant of a neighbouring landowner (and Internal Drainage Board member) to discharge agricultural run off high in nitrates etc.?  Despite discussions and correspondence with the statutory agencies and support from MPs and Buglife was nothing further  done?  Why did the Rural Payments Agency not investigate?  Why did they not try to recover public funds?  For more detail see Mark Avery’s guest blog about the incident here.  Desspite a duty to monitor condition status of SSSIs, no monitoring has been commissioned consequential of the damage to that part of Thorne Moors SSSI.

To quote Janet Ward, Natural England’s Regulatory Director who said of the Peak District case “The message is clear – if you damage a SSSI knowingly or unknowingly, you are breaking the law.”

What is the difference then between these two incidents given the facts of the matter(s) which centred on deliberate damage?

 

P1020194

The image above shows the drainage channel dug out of the embankment which protected the  SSSI, thousands of gallons of agricultural run off entered the SSSI as no action was taken by the statutory agencies to prevent damage to the interest features and the rare aquatic invertebrates.

 

To us such actions raise a number of issues, amongst them:

  • The existence of public funded agencies ‘fit for purpose’ with systems which demonstrate compliance with the Wildlife & Countryside Act and the Habitats Regulations.
  • The ability of Defra agencies to act in a timely manner, to investigate incidents and to be able to ensure monitoring establishes impact and to recover public funds where damage and impact is proven.
  • The accountability of agri-industrialist landowners who sit on publicly funded IDBs.
  • A system which ensures that public money is not paid to landowners who damage SSSIs/Natura 2000 sites.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

 

Is “gardening” for wildlife an alternative to nature conservation?

August 4, 2013

I wonder, is gardening for wildlife a better option that trying to conserve habitats and species?  Is the challenge to stem the decline too much and should we simply build biodiversity instead, on land that the developers and agri-industrialists don’t want (for now)?

130729 Comma  hrk 504

We’ve heard much about the State of Nature published following collaboration by some 25 organisations.  Some pretty horrendous statistics were revealed.  In all probability it seems that they are only the tip of the iceberg?

The report catalogues the continuing failure of Government and NGOs to even stem the decline of our wildlife.  It looked at some 3,148 species (but a minute fraction of the nation’s wildlife species, ones that data is held on such that meaningful analysis can be had), 60% of these have declined over the last 50 years and 31% have declined strongly.  One in ten RDB species are at risk of extinction, if that’s true then Thorne and Hatfield are in for some hefty losses.  Conversely I’m sure there are some who would step up and offer to introduce some iconic alternatives which would be better suited to climate change or a country park regime and badge it as a community outreach project.

So, given that speakers at the conference admitted that in 2010 they had missed the targets of halting biodiversity decline, what will they now do?  Some wondered where they had gone wrong, clearly they’d not really been listening to the likes of Iolo Williams.  They’d been drifting along chasing funds for projects, delivering projects designed for building biodiversity – hand outs from developers mitigation.  Why has the challenge been dummed down, why did Natural England back off from taking the Walshaw case through as a compalint from Europe, why did the RSPB have to pick up the gauntlet?

Natural England happily sign off authorisations for badger culls, but they will not enforce reparation of damage to SSSIs.  Similarly the Rural Payments Agency refuse to investigate reports of damage insisting it is Natural England’s role to enforce.  It’s political ping pong – inactivity which might be likened to Nero fiddling whilst Rome burnt, or the ongoing decline of the UKs wildlife or SSSIs failing to reach favourable condition status.

Amongst the various responses of the ‘conservation agencies’ was the announcement of a(nother) meeting (sorry Iolo) – then the production in autumn of a challenge document and finally action will follow .  I’ve heard it all before and whilst I’m absolutely certain that those speaking mean well, perhaps if I may be forgiven for considering myself an unsung hero, but here in South Yorkshire I’m not prepared to hold my breath.  The 25 NGOs plan to repeat the event and reconvene in three years time, to talk maybe not about species recovery but what they’ve been doing about it – like Iolo I really hope they actually do DO something about the continuing decline which I see no sign of abating.

The Ghost Orchid Declaration produced in 2009 by Plantlife is an earlier call to arms, but it too like so many other variants from the spectacular array of special interest or focus groups pleads that agri-environment schemes are better targetted.

Apathy, avarice, competition between agri-industrialists and conservation play a significant part in the ongoing failure.  The Common Agricultural Policy and its subsidies to the fat cats of agri-industry (not farmers) who tell us they are the guardians of the countryside so should receive public money to deliver nature conservation.  Natural England appear to subscribe to that view because they continue to dole out extra support by way of HLS for otherwise unproductive corners of otherwise efficient businesses.  Defra programmes designed to encourage land owners to be green create improvement schemes for example where land owners are advised on how best to receive additional funds for short term involvement to create ‘corridors’ or pocket handkerchief ponds.  It might be suggested that the nations’ back gardens deliver better value for money but taxpayers are not recompensed, instead they appear to be expected to continue funding those who have played a significant role in the depletion of species.

Preventing a wasteful “double payment” for the same environmental activity from agri-environment schemes would at least be a start.  Monitoring for tangible outcomes through truly independent analysis might also begin to offer credibility.

As someone who used to be a member of approaching a score of organisations do I think they represent value for money?  If we read the future as suggested by Anna Bawden in the Guardian recently then its pretty bleak.  Mark Avery in his excellent blog is currently analysing NGO performance and there are some interesting comments made by his readers.

So, what of the future, what will be left for the next generation?  While you give thought to what you think should be done, I’ll offer a little grassroots activism news …. for those readers interested in invertebrates the Forum are shortly to present the findings of an invertebrate survey on a piece of peripheral lagg fen.  Thus far some 8,000 specimens of coleoptera alone have been deterined and amongst them some RDBs, some species are relocated classics as recorded by the old Victorian naturalists who made occasional visits to Thorne Moors (Hatfield Moors was less accessible).

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

So, I hear you ask what does that prove (aside from quality habitat still exists at Thorne), well I offer that in the main the determination to get this project off the ground and then implemented was through the tenacity and committment of a handful of people – thank you to my colleagues and associates you know who you are.

It follows then (perhaps) that if we can deliver worthwhile projects then just think of the capacity of the NGOs and their statutory allies.  Better still bring on ‘moor’ local action?

Remember the words of Edmund Burke who said The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing and considered that Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.

Images: Martin Hammond & Helen Kirk.


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Hatfield Moors Birding Blog

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Mark Avery

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a new nature blog

I write about politics, nature + the environment. Some posts are serious, some not. These are my views, I don't do any promotional stuff and these views are not being expressed for anyone who employs me.

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