Posts Tagged ‘Tween Bridge’

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!

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Does the current planning system deliver for the public benefit?

March 1, 2014

We enjoyed a lovely day on Thorne Moors yesterday.  The weather was kind, the wildlife relatively obliging.  A majestic Marsh Harrier dodged the turbine blades whilst delightful Reed Buntings fed on seeds heads floating on bog pools.

The downside when you are out in the open is that no matter what direction you look out across you see massive metal structures.  For me they destroy that sense of wilderness.  It is said by some that they are beautiful and each to their own, but they are not a natural feature and for me that is why people visit the moors.  They seek to be at peace with and experience the enjoyment nature offers.  Majestic Marsh Harriers float effortlessly, but for how much longer as more and more wind turbines become a feature of the farmed landscape on the Humberhead Levels We hear constantly about food security, land needed to allieviate floods (to act as flood plains) but here we are industrialising the countryside and depositing hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 emitting cement into land already saturated with recent precipitation.  As well as loss of soak away, there is potential risk to the hydrological integrity of the nearby peat body, 1900 hectares or 4695 acres in ‘old money’ of stored carbon.  As the bog continues to regenerate it builds capacity to sequester more carbon, but foundations so close in hot dry summers risks potential lateral damage?

130705 RoS Thorne TM 100

The Forum is not oppossed to renewable energy, it recognises the need for a mix if we are to have energy sustainability.  It believes that we should harness nature’s bounty but to do so there must be a balance and a level playing field and the politics of renewables does not appear to be good for climate change with some types favoured more than others?  In the interim, read a recent Guardian article relating to Drax.  This clearly illustrates the issues facing energy generation and the impact that politics and their preferences can cause.  Whilst the blades turn subsidies for the agricultural industry, nearby Drax on spinning reserve is guilty of inefficient production to accommodate renewable provision?

In around 2006-7 we were aware that there were 367 turbines at various stages of application planned for the Humberhead Levels.  The metaphoric storm arrived when Tween Bridge was signed off along with Keadby at a Public Inquiry held in Goole!   Airmyn, Goole Fields I and Goole Fields II soon followed.  You only have to look at the October 2009 map produced by Natural England which illustrates wind farms and biomass schemes to see the scale of industrialisation.  Fill in the gaps created in the intervening five years and there’s no wonder you get a feeling of monsters marching across the moors and marshes of the Humberhead Levels.

140228 TM hrk 716Local feeling appears to believe that enough is enough, in the background a turbine on the northern periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI.

Recent schemes being worked up include seven turbines for the Old River Don at Crowle.  There are another five being applied for near Rawcliffe Bridge (north western periphery of Thorne Moors) details can accessed via ERYC 13 / 04183 / STPLFE  The East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s planning portal can be accessed and details of the application read, along with the supporting documentation and comments received and submitted by neighbours, councillors etc.  Please note that the closing date for comments (supporting or objections) must be made by 5 March 2014.

Erection of five wind turbines with a maximum blade tip height of up to 131 metres together with a substation and control building, upgraded access track, connecting internal tracks, associated hardstanding and infrastructure.  Land East Of Bank House, Bridge Lane, Rawcliffe Bridge, East Riding Of Yorkshire.   

The towers proposed at this site will be the largest yet constructed around Thorne Moors SSSI.  To date Natural England have failed to make any comment on the proposal.  But, have they been consulted?  By law they are a statutory consultee.

What is clear is that the planning system remains something of a piece meal system and because the Humberhead Levels is a natural area and administered by Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Council and North Lincolnshire Council and it also has near neighbours in Nottinghamshire County Council and Selby District Council.  What a mire of planning complexities to wrestle with, if like the Forum you take an interest in the countryside, the landscape and environmental conservation?  Then factor in what is within the remit of the Local Planning Authority (LPA) or what developments fall to centralised Government Departments to approve.  Then there’s a system which allows developers whose applications are refused to appeal.  In the current financial climate is there any wonder that Local Councils approve commercial developments for fear of Public Inquiry costs?  Conversely, if the development is approved the public have NO right of appeal, there is no local community challenge unless the LPA process is flawed and ONLY then can the local community challenge the decision through a Judicial Review (JR).  If they are deemed in the High Court to have grounds, then they need very deep pockets to fund any challenge.  They need nerves of steel and tenacity and there are very few groups who have successfully challenged developers set upon commercial paths.  If a JR is successful, then it does not refuse the application it only returns the application to the start of the application process.

But …. take heart anyone considering wrestling the planning system, a consortium have recently challenged Derby CC over a development and they have been granted a Judicial Review.  If we go back sometime then there were some pretty historic and important landmark challenges which we would do well to remember when the long day seems never ending, the Flamborough Hedgerow case was one such case when principle won the day.  Colin Seymour was the locus standi in this case and subsequently he went on to become something of a local hero if you believe in the rights of local people to challenge authority when it is in error based on historic legal evidence and extant law.  See also the Protection of Field Boundaries.  Another very important High Court judgement involved a quarrying development at Preston under Scar (North Yorkshire).  Richard Buxton was the lawyer representing the locus standi applicants in 1999 and he is involved in the above detailed Derby CC case, so watch this space for updates!

Without strategic planning and the application of sound common sense, then how much longer before a 360 degree ring of steel strangles Thorne Moors SSSI and the wilderness many of us grew up with will be no ‘moor’?   As a colleague remarked …. we knew the moors at their best, before anthromorphic greed and ‘muzzled watchdogs’ abandoned them.   Are politics about people or are they primarily about profit for particular people?   Can a phoenix rise from the ashes, will a community challenge?

‘Moor’ wind farms? : Old River Don, Crowle.

December 18, 2013

The Forum has received information about PUBLIC INFORMATION SESSIONS in respect of proposals to build another 7 turbines which will continue on from the Tween Bridge wind farm on the southern boundary of Thorne Moors SSSI, SPA, SAC.

REG, the developers are inviting people to meet their team in January 2014

Friday 10 January 12 noon till 5pm

at Crowle Community Hub, High Street, Crowle or

Saturday 11 January 10am till 4pm

at Crowle Community Hall, Woodland Gardens, Crowle.

In the interim if people seek more information they ask you to contact Barry from their stakeholder engagement team on 0800 458 6976.  Email: reg@yourshout.org

Please tell them where you heard about their proposal.

Below: Tween Bridge turbines viewed from Green Bank.

120121 TB from Green Bank 771

 

Democracy, accountability and Internal Drainage Boards ….

November 8, 2013

For over three hours this morning ‘democracy in action’ was observed.  The Danvm Drainage Commissioners held their annual meeting.

The public contribution in terms of funding this board’s operation is around 87%, but …. elected members have 12 seats and local authority appointments 13.

Quite a few of the nominated council representatives were missing despite the significance of the meeting.   The chair was appointed from the elected members and the vice chair is a Selby councillor.

It is astonishing to witness the conduct of business, people can nominate themselves and they can vote for themselves!  Only recently have conflicts of interest been recognised and members do now occasionally ‘declare an interest’ however they very rarely explain what that amounts to.  Today witnessed a worrying lack of understanding of legaslative requirements and a reluctance by some to comply with them particularly the environmental regulations.

The Danvm Drainage Commissioners like other local boards operating in the Humberhead Levels has been the subject of amalgamation (four smaller boards into a single one).  Representatives from the four local authorities of Doncaster, Selby, Barnsley and Wakefield attend.  Other members include individuals from the agri-industry sector and as large landowners beneficiaries from the pump drainage of the low lying lands in the district.

Numerous governments in recent times have sought to modernise these archaic institutions and whose rules by which they operate seem steeped in feudal and manorial history and tradition.  It is only in the last year or so that the minutes of some of the meetings have been made available.  Previously special arrangements had to be made to inspect documents in IDB offices which was not always easy.  On a positive note, the public are also now allowed to observe proceedings.  There were three members of the public at the DDC meeting, so here’s to more people taking a close interest in the activities of such Public Bodies.

Ahead of the normal business members were treated to a presentation by the Deputy Director of Doncaster MBCs Legal Services.  He explained that whilst he had not investigated the complaints made against the DDC in detail he did consider them to have some substance particularly in terms of board governance and quality of decisions.  In terms of effective governance it seemed that there might have been a situation where accusations of ultra vires had been levelled and this had yet to be resolved?  The officer took the members present through the Nolan Principles as they are the rules by which Public Bodies are expected to operate.  Members were also reminded of the outcome of investigations into the Caldicot and Wentloodge Levels IDB (audit of accounts 2010-11).  An astonishing state of affairs and almost unbelivable in the 21st Century?  See the BBC reporting of proceedings here via Democracy Live.  We understand that the C&WLIDB is no more, instead its functions and responsibilities have been transferred to Natural Resources Wales.

Has the time come for a variation to be conducted across the English boards?

It is clear that the land owners around the Humberhead Levels favour regular heavy maintenance of the smaller dikes to prevent local ponding or standing water whilst the local authorities and coal board representatives have concerns about flood allieviation and the protection of property function.

With limited income there has to be prioritisation and a balance between people, flood risk and farmland has to be achieved particularly as the public through the taxation system are by far the largest contributor.  Transparency in the public interest and open conduct of business unless good reason was called for was sought by the legal services officer.  A review of the complaints system, production of policies oustanding or missing should be undertaken.

There has been a degree of ‘modernisation’ over the last year or so but there is still a way to go.

The other IDBs who  operate in the Humberhead Levels and who the Forum observe the operations of are Black Drain (a small group retaining independence and not having amalgamated), the Doncaster East IDB (another relatively recent amalgamation of six smaller boards), Goole Fields and Reedness and Swinefleet IDBs.

Tween Bridge and Hatfield Chase board areas abut the peat bodies of Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI and their operations have the potential to impact upon the integrity of the Natura 2000 sites and these two boards were amalgamated into the Doncaster East IDB.

DDC are the supporting drainage board for the Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme which is now being implemented, the images shown illustrate the major engineering works currently being undertaken.  This scheme (previously reported in earlier posts) initially sought to remove nearly 1 km of ancient hedgerow and a number of mature trees.  Neither the Environment  Agency nor Natural England objected to that substantive loss of biodiversity.  However the Inspector found that the Forum’s argument had merit and we understand only 150m is now scheduled to be removed ….

P1020691

P1020692

A length of new drain cut alongside a biodiversity rich hedgerow and in an area of Fishlake known to support populations of rare and uncommon plants.  Despite assurances that drains would be engineered in such a way to benefit wildlife, these clearly followed the tradition of deep, steep with no shelf.  ADA and NE collaborated to produce The Drainage Channel Biodiversity Manual, (2008) but there seems no evidence of take up in the Fishlake drainage board area despite the area being flagged as an important biodiversity and landscape area by DMBC.  Another documents which assists understanding in terms of biodiversity duties include Guidance for Public Authorities on Implementing the Biodiversity Duty.  (2007)  Another succinct resume of duty has been produced by the Water Management Alliance and IDB members would do well to read the two page summary Nature Conservation Responsibilities of Internal Drainage Boards. 

IDBs derive their powers from the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended 1994) and where is clear in that it requires IDBs to “further the conservation” …. and this applies to land immaterial of any conservation designation attached to it.

P1020695

It is unclear why hedgerow has been removed from this stretch alongside the road.  The new drain can be seen at the back and the layer of sand with clay beneath is clearly visible.

As energy costs rise substantially the pumped drainage of this low lying area will become increasingly expensive (an estimate of 15% was mentioned at the meeting) then tax payers through the local authority representatives might begin to question who should receive the benefit.  Clearly there is a responsibility in regard of flood alleviation and protection of property but should agriculture receive additional funds through ‘subsidised’ drainage where there is no demonstrable public benefit?

Black Drain and Doncaster East IDBs are both scheduled to hold meetings next week, so …. watch this space?


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Mark Avery

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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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