Tuesday 16 December 2014

Snippets from 2014.

As 2014 draws to a close it might be nice to look back and see what we've done over the past year.  What was 2014 like and what were some of our major projects? 

The Sussex Wildlife Trust carries out a wide range of work in many different areas so it is impossible to cover everything in a short blog.  However, perhaps it is worth highlighting just a few projects – with apologies to all those I miss out!

See this link for a few more details.

We will never achieve any nature conservation if people do not care for nature.  So the starting point for all our work is to inspire, educate and motivate people about nature. 

Our Wildlife Rangers and Youth Rangers are good examples of how we connect young people (from ages 12 to 25) with nature.  In this programme they can get their hands dirty learning conservation skills and work as volunteers to help improve local green spaces.  In a similar vein our Forest Schools programmes have been extremely valuable linking children with nature through bush craft type activities and at the very young end of the spectrum our Nature Tots events hope to spark a very early interest, maybe with mum or dad in tow as well.

We work with local communities around Sussex, with the help of funding from a range of partners.  The Gatwick Greenspace project had its 20th anniversary this year, a project that is only possible because of support form Local Authorities and Gatwick Airport.   Our Access to Nature project, funded by BIG Lottery, enabled us to work with communities in Hastings and in Brighton & Hove, a funding stream that has sadly come to an end now.  But support for a project in Worthing (Wild about Worthing) has enabled us to move forward there and a charitable trust has enabled us to link with communities in Lewes as well.  In addition, projects with intriguing names like “Growing Forward”, “Nature Train” and “Wellbeing in the Wild” have all been supported by funds from unusual sources in order to engage with different groups of people.  The key point in all these is the linking of people to nature, doing activities to enhance nature and in the process gaining all sorts of personal benefits.

We also have several large landscape-scale projects, improving nature further out in the wilds of Sussex

Our West Weald Landscape project, part funded by a charitable trust, celebrated its 5th anniversary this year in a major event at Kew Gardens, Wakehurst.  This is a significant lowland landscape partnership project aiming to connect ancient woodlands and habitats covering 24,000 hectares in the Sussex Weald.  It is perhaps one of the most important areas in England for bats (and other species) and we have plotted significant population improvements as our work has progressed.

Starting off as a project with a focus on otters, our current wetlands projects aim to achieve habitat enhancements at a landscape scale.  The Arun and Rother Connections project and the Sussex Flow Initiative are examples of how we are looking at whole river catchments in order to achieve improvements for nature.  A recent change, however, has been an increasing recognition that if we improve a catchment for wildlife then it is also likely to improve it for all sorts of public benefits as well (flood risk reduction, soil erosion reduction, improved water resources and so on).

We may forget that about 50% of our wildlife (numbers of species) is actually under the sea.  Our “Making Waves” project is therefore active in engaging with children to encourage them to find out about marine wildlife. Activities include “Wild Beach”, family seaside events and “Undersea Explorers”.

And I haven’t even mentioned nature reserves yet!  Heathland restoration, conservation grazing, woodland management, wetland enhancement and so on.  Major areas of activity with significant funding needs.  But that’s another story!  (Follow our nature reserves link)

I am very enthused by the range of work we do and the wildlife conservation activities we deliver but we must bear a sad truth in mind.  The general trend for nature in England is downwards. We have many good specific examples of wildlife improvement but nature is under massive threat and is unfortunately on a long term decline.  We can celebrate the work that SWT, and other wildlife charities, has done over 2014, but this is against a permanent need for us to do more.  And, with the help of our members, supporters and partners, maybe we can redouble our efforts in 2015.

Monday 8 December 2014

Money to burn! A road building bonanza marks the end of austerity?

£15 billion to spend on vanity roads projects around the country is a clear indication that the government has given up on any serious attempts to solve congestion.

Ignoring the evidence, and years of direct experience that shows how new roads crate new traffic, government has decided to throw money we don’t have at environmentally destructive roads schemes.  These will make congestion worse throughout the country – especially in Sussex with the A27 proposals. 

Look out for the inevitable consequences.  You may be able to speed around Arundel (having created a swathe of damage through ancient woodland and across the Arun valley), but the increased traffic will then simply stack up elsewhere.  Imagine any part of Sussex where the traffic is already high.  These will all become congested.  Towns, cities, villages, country roads, even current main roads (think how busy the Washington roundabout is at present) will all get jammed with inevitable demands for yet more roads.  More roads, more traffic and then demand for more roads.  A familiar and circular treadmill that we’ve been around so many times before.  There really is no excuse for anyone thinking that this will cure congestion.

It’s a huge waste of public money that could so much better be spent productively.

Cost-benefit analyses of these proposals, even when heavily loaded in favour of new roads, struggle to reach a two to one return on investment – and that’s with economic benefits exaggerated and environmental costs ignored.  Compare that to investments that enhance nature (when economists bother to do the sums).  When conservatively costing the benefits to people from improving the natural functioning of rivers, and the benefits to nature, we often find a return of 6:1.  Environment Agency flood defence schemes are expected to achieve 8:1.  A costing of the public benefits of the Forestry Commissions public forests returned about 20:1.  International studies have shown that protected areas for nature return between 10:1 and 100:1 against investment.

£15 billion spent on roads will fail, wasting tax-payers money and cause economic loss rather than benefit.  But even if take a glowingly optimistic return, it will struggle to deliver £30bn in public benefit.  The same amount invested in nature, like for example in a public forest estate, could deliver £300bn in public benefit.

It happens frequently – governments give up on evidence and write themselves anecdotes to support what they wanted to do anyway.  Eventually reality will raise its head and more sensible policies have to prevail.  But that could be after another round of irreversible environmental damage and another cohort of angry business leaders annoyed at being hood-winked by false promises.

Monday 24 November 2014

MPs speak out against a second Gatwick runway

Five Members of Parliament were on the platform, and three more sent messages of support, at a mass protest meeting on Saturday 22 November organised by the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC).   That is all the MPs from around Gatwick, and helps to disprove the assumption in some national newspapers that Gatwick would politically be the easiest option for a new runway.

The MPs were united in expressing their concern about new flight paths and about the threat of a second runway.  Extracts from their speeches and messages are attached.

Over 1,000 people crammed into the Apple Tree Centre in Crawley, and were welcomed by three racy air hostesses, and by the Mayor of Crawley, Cllr Brenda Smith who later, speaking as the local councillor, expressed her deep-felt opposition to a new runway.

Some twenty national and local environmental groups, including the Sussex Wildlife Trust, set up stands around the hall and answered questions from anxious members of the public.

Questions from the floor were answered by a panel of experts which included Keith Taylor (Member European Parliament), Cait Hewitt (Aviation Environment Federation), Sarah Clayton (AirportWatch), Sally Pavey (CAGNE), Richard Streatfeild (High Weald Parishes Aviation Action Group), and Brendon Sewill (GACC) under the chairmanship of Cllr Helyn Clack (Surrey County Council).

The meeting unanimously held up large cards saying NO when asked if they were in favour of new flight paths, and held up the NO cards again when asked if they were in favour of a second runway.  

The afternoon concluded with 1,000 people singing ‘What shall we do with Gatwick Airport’ to the tune of the Drunken Sailor.

Extracts from MPs’ speeches and messages

Cabinet member Rt Hon Francis Maude (Horsham) was abroad on Government business but sent a message: ‘As you know, I have always opposed a second runway at Gatwick.   We all know that there are big advantages for our area in having a successful airport as a centre for jobs and business, and I support Gatwick's expansion as a single runway airport.  That remains my view.’  

Crispin Blunt MP (Reigate) told the meeting why he had organised the Gatwick Co-ordination Group of MPs – because a second runway would be a 'disaster for surrounding communities and environment.'   Many areas are being ‘appallingly affected by PRNAV’ [the new system of concentrated flight paths].

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex). A second runway would be a disaster for our local environment. … 120,000 extra people - where they are expected to go is beyond me…. The London to Brighton railway line is already at full capacity - impossible to upgrade sufficiently. .. We must oppose this with all the power we have.’

Henry Smith (Crawley) noted that 'public opinion in Crawley is divided. … There would be a significant impact on housing and infrastructure - school places, GP surgery sizes, healthcare – a need for a new hospital. … Gatwick have not made the case for expansion here.’

Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) sent a message:  New flight paths have caused misery for my constituents, which is why I have called for Gatwick to abandon its implementation of the PRNAV system. I would like to congratulate GACC for organising this meeting, and your ongoing work to hold Gatwick to account over these changes and the possibility of a second runway, which could cause significant environmental damage and pressure on local infrastructure.

SirJohn Stanley (Tonbridge) sent this message:  ‘I am totally opposed to Gatwick’s new flight path proposals which will make the already intolerable noise disturbance still more intolerable.  I am also totally opposed to a second runway at Gatwick.'
Charles Hendry (Wealden) commented on ‘the extraordinarily huge meeting here today. ... Gatwick has not been straight with us and are not good neighbours.  If they are not good neighbours today, then the possible doubling in size is intolerable.  A second runway does not make economic sense and it does not make environmental sense.’ 

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) told the meeting that a second runway would mean 'putting a city on Gatwick'....'public transport links are already overburdened'... 'M25 is a parking lot'.........'national businesses are not impressed with Gatwick's proposal.’


A list of the stands, and text of the air hostesses’ announcement can be found on www.gacc.org.uk/latest-news

Monday 10 November 2014

The West Sussex Environment and Climate Change Board’s Sustainable Food Plan consultation.

The West Sussex Environment and Climate Change Board (ECCB) brings together several organisations from across the County to ensure the challenge of Climate Change is recognised and addressed in West Sussex.  One issue that has a significant effect on our carbon footprint, and therefore how we effect climate change, is food.  The ECCB therefore established it’s Food Group.

The Food Group is intended to enable and encourage new thinking around local food and drink; why it is important to us as individuals and to the West Sussex Economy.  We are the newest sub-group of the ECCB and are currently working on a Sustainable Food Plan for West Sussex.  This plan aims to reduce the food-related carbon and ecological footprint of the County by working to the following principles:

  1. Raise awareness of what local, seasonal and sustainable food means and ensure it is promoted and celebrated by residents and visitors
  2. Enhance education and skills training through high quality information
  3. Encourage the development of market places to help people get access to local food and drink
  4. Address issues of health and obesity in relation to diet
  5. Work with WSCC Waste Services to help residents, businesses and public sector to reduce, redistribute, recycle, reuse food waste

The Sustainable Food Plan will help to reduce the food-related carbon and ecological footprint of the County. Can you help us to make it better?  A consultation on this plan is now open and will run until the 15th December.  We will then write a report of all responses, ensuring anonymity, which will be available by 12th January 2015.

The plan can be downloaded from here and the online survey can be accessed here.

Through this survey, we would like to ask you for your thoughts on the document, whether you can help us, what projects are already being carried out and any ideas you may have on how we can raise awareness and get more people involved.

Your views are important to us. Please take a few minutes after reading the draft plan to complete this online survey.

Friday 7 November 2014

A27 plans damage the environment AND the economy

It makes sense doesn't it?  You’re caught in a traffic jam; clearly we need a bigger road, or a new road, or a road somewhere else.  And, of course, if there was another road then all the other cars would use it, relieving congestion everywhere.

A big, new road is something simple and obvious; you can put a ribbon across it and declare it open, to a fanfare of appreciation from an appreciative economic sector who are now happy (until the next time).

The Department for Transport in developing its A27 feasibility study also seem to be swallowing all these old assumptions.  But life, however, is not that simple.  Simple solutions to complex problems are always wrong.

As in the past, environmental concerns are pushed to one side.  One option for the Arundel bypass will cause the greatest loss of ancient woodland in Sussex for the last 20 years; the other will destroy the setting of two villages.  But to some this is a price worth paying in order to relieve congestion and stimulate the economy.

So we get back to the old “your money or your life” approach of balancing the economy against the environment.

However, whilst the environmental costs are measurable, severe and obvious; the economic benefits are shrouded in mystery, assumption and pre-conception. 

Economic benefit is based reduced travel times and perception surveys about how much better business would be if congestion was removed.  Ask a business how much better life would be and you get an obvious answer; so arguments build up to support a road-building case.  Businesses, however, need real solutions and views very quickly change when the reality of a situation becomes clear.

Road building does not deliver the relief of congestion that is generally claimed – quite the reverse.

Roads generate new traffic and that creates new, and worse, congestion.  This is not the view of an “anti-road green group” but the clear conclusion of study after study.  For an excellent outline of this “induced traffic” phenomenon read this article by Professor Phil Goodwin, a lead author of one of these studies.

“An average road improvement, for which traffic growth due to other factors has been forecast correctly, will see an additional 10% of base traffic in the short term and 20% in the long term”.  This is the conclusion of the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment in 1994.  The same study also looked at roads surrounding trunk road improvements – their use went up on average by 16%.  So, the roads that are supposed to be relived by a new road receive 16% more traffic than the predicted increase.

Even in the unlikely event that the A27 flows more freely following enlargement, surrounding roads in towns, countryside and villages will receive more traffic, more congestion, more hold-ups and more pollution.

What is more, this sort of conclusion, with these sorts of figures, has been reached again and again, on average every 8 years since 1925!

About every 10 years we go through the same process.  First we insist on forgetting the lessons of the past and push for new roads.  Roads get built, the environment suffers more damage, traffic gets worse and congestion increases.  This results in demands for yet more roads and more environmental damage until, eventually we have to realise the reality of the situation and seek more sophisticated solutions.

Interestingly, Phil Goodwin’s article was written in 2006, the last time we went through this repeating process. 

The editors comment at the end was interesting – 

“Don’t lose this – we might need to publish it again in 2014”!!

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Mineral extraction in West Sussex and the National Park: a meeting organised by the Wiggonholt Association

West Sussex County Council (WSCC) and the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) are developing a joint "Minerals Local Plan” for future mineral provision for this area.  This aims to ensure that sufficient raw materials are available to support such activities as house-building, road development and new airport runways.

Mineral extraction could have significant adverse environmental implications so it is clearly an issue that should concern residents and conservation bodies alike.  At present the plan is at an early stage and a wide range of potential extraction sites (quarries) are being considered prior to any formal site allocation.  Nevertheless, sites are now being discussed and there is a need for local people to understand the implications and make their views known.

In this regard The Wiggonholt Association is organising a meeting at 7pm on 3rd November 2014 at Pulborough Village Hall.  Speakers include Richard Bate (an environmental planner and specialist advisor on silica sand and sand extraction) and Pat Arculus (West Sussex County Councillor for Pulborough).

Pulborough is under particular threat as an extraction site is proposed just to the east of Pulborough opposite Mare Hill and Broomer’s Hill.  The mineral here is silica sand, which is particularly sought after so there is a high likelihood that this site will go forward – with the consequent noise, disturbance and environmental damage.

I am unable to attend the meeting (although I hope someone from SWT will be able to go), but I recommend that anyone worried about having a quarry on their doorstep does go along to find out more.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Re-wilding – an idea finding its time?

A few months ago I wrote a series of blogs on re-wilding – the idea that we can re-naturalise parts of the British countryside, reinstating natural processes as an alternative to management by people.  This was largely stimulated by George Monbiot’s excellent book “Feral”. 

The idea, however, is not new and discussions about nature versus nurture have been going on in ecology for decades.  It could, however, be an idea finding its time. 

In 1995 Bill Jenman and I wrote an article called “A Natural Method of Conserving Biodiversity in Britain”.  This contained many of the points that are being made today.  The Sussex Wildlife Trust has reprinted it with the kind permission of British Wildlife (Volume 7, Number 2, December 1995).

Re-reading it today I find that many of the ideas being discussed today were already well-advanced 20 years ago.  Some of the terminology might have changed (we didn't use the term “re-wilding”) and conservation management, rather than the promotion of natural processes, was perhaps more prevalent then than it is now.  Also some emphasis might have changed slightly.  We recognised the importance of top predators but today we would probably give even more prominence to the role that predators have in influencing grazing animals and through this the way that vegetation develops (the so-called “trophic cascade”). 

The article was, perhaps, too optimistic in promoting new wildernesses in Britain as we have not seen large areas reverting to nature.  However, progress has been made with some major areas of re-naturalisation being delivered by private landowners as well as charities (see my last article in “Natural World”). 

I also remain optimistic that a greater appreciation of natural processes has worked into the thinking on conservation management throughout nature conservation.  20 years ago management planning started from the perspective of managing nature, today we work from the perspective of how nature works before implementing management regimes.   Our whole Living Landscape theme is based on the idea that by working on a landscape scale we have to think about the processes that deliver a rich and varied wildlife – natural processes as well as human processes like agriculture and forestry. 

Take a look at this British Wildlife article today.  I don’t think we were either mindless dreamers or way ahead of our time.  It promoted many of the things that are being put forward today under the title of Rewidling Britain - perhaps the difference now is that there is a strong momentum building behind re-wilding, with more people involved and more people pushing for it.  Hopefully it really is an idea finding its time.  

Thursday 11 September 2014

Another New Town doomed to fail?

Following the growing controversy over the proposed new town to the east of Henfield, Jane Simmons from “Locals Against Mayfield Building Sprawl" (LAMBS) has sent me the following article showing how some of the ideas here are not as new as we may think. 

As the promotion of Mayfield Market Towns rumbles on, it is easy to forget that Sussex already has a ‘New Town’; just 12 miles up the road.

This New Town is arguably not as ‘new’ as it was a generation ago; but it was at its concept, exactly the sort of visionary place described in Mayfields’ rhetoric.

This ‘New Town’ is, of course, Crawley; built as a post war initiative more than half a Century ago around a quaint Sussex market town in a near perfect location.

In June 1949, Anthony Minoprio proudly presented his Crawley New Town Master Plan to the Crawley Development Corporation as an aspirational blueprint which was, he said, “the framework of a beautiful and efficient town”.

In common with Mayfields Director, Peter Freeman, Mr Minoprio painted an idyllic picture of socially balanced neighbourhoods; built in sympathy with the surrounding countryside, around friendly village greens, a short bus ride from a vibrant town centre.

Mr Minoprio suggested, “The provision of small socially mixed residential areas, each with its own individuality and its own centre, in order to promote neighbourliness and the social development of the town. Practically all homes are within one-third of a mile (536metres) of their neighbourhood shops and within one and a quarter miles of the town centre.

“The character of the individual neighbourhood centres will vary and the design will spring from the natural features of the area,” he continued. “Local place names have been retained for the neighbourhoods in all cases and the affix 'Green', which is common in the Crawley area, has suggested the creation of a typical English Green at the centre of each neighbourhood.”

So what went wrong?

It is well documented that Mayfields’ master plan for Sussex is a scaled down version of a Garden City; very similar to those being promoted by this government, and in particular by Lord Matthew Taylor, the man behind the UK’s planning reforms (the NPPF). It is also well documented that Lord Taylor is one of Mayfield Market Towns’ Directors, and has been widely criticised for having a perceived conflict of interest. 

Earlier this year his fellow director, Peter Freeman entered the Wolfson Prize for a new garden city. What is most unsettling about Mr Freeman’s submission, titled ‘A Shared Vision’ is that it bears an uncanny resemblance to Minoprio’s “visionary” Master Plan for Crawley New Town.

“We all love villages,” Mr Freeman begins, enthusiastically. “Our Garden City comprises a series of walkable neighbourhoods within a radius of 500 metres (exactly the same size as Minoprio’s). Enough people would live in each neighbourhood to populate a two form entry primary school and to support a viable cluster of shops, restaurants, hairdressers… We envisage that Village Green would be on a main route through the neighbourhood to boost customer support for local traders and bus services.”

And in common with Mr Minoprio, Mr Freeman is also keen to embrace the countryside in his design; which he says would include, “at least one linear park running through the town (incorporating landscape features like a stream or ancient woodland).”

Both plans extol the virtues of public transport (despite the fact that Mayfields would have no railway line) and both envisage the town becoming so successful that local people will be happy to live, work and play within its parameters.

Crawley is to be a self-contained and economically balanced town,” stated Mr Minoprio. “Not a dormitory town to London”.
Once again, Mr Freeman agrees with his predecessor;

“The New Market Town is not designed to be a commuter town to serve London, but rather a town which concentrates on keeping travel local”. (It goes without saying that without a railway line, residents would have little choice).

But perhaps the most worrying thing about this comparison is that Crawley was already failing in its promises just months after the first brick was laid. Despite pledging, like Mayfields, to provide adequate affordable housing for young families, this vision was never realised, even for its very first residents. Crawley’s location in an affluent part of Sussex made this promise impossible. In May 1950 Hansard reported that rents on homes in Crawley New Town were already “beyond the reach of the average wage earner” (475).

 It is too late to go back and correct the mistakes made in Crawley, but we can at least do our best to prevent a repeat. The NPPF promises to allow local people more say in housing decisions because they know the needs of their area best of all. However, in reality these decisions all go before a Government Inspector and are ultimately still made at a national level.

Two years ago (Speaking at the Institute of Civil Engineering in March 2012) the Prime Minister, David Cameron cited planners like Minoprio and his contemporary, Patrick Abercrombie as an inspiration, saying;

“It seems to me that our Post War predecessors had the right idea, embodied in a visionary plan prepared by Patrick Abercrombie in 1944. His plan underpinned the South East’s economic success by proposing well-planned and well-located new towns…”

Maybe Mr Cameron was unaware at the time that Mr Abercrombie was also a founding member of the CPRE; an organisation which is bitterly opposed to lack of protection offered to the countryside by the NPPF and is fighting hard against Mayfield’s proposals.

One thing that we can be sure of is that Crawley has fallen rather short of Abercrombie’s vision for a “beautiful and efficient” new town… and Mayfields (should it ever be built) looks to be heading for the same fate.

Friday 5 September 2014

Game-changing response required to tackle State of Nature crisis

Finding game-changing solutions to the crisis facing nature was the theme of the landmark Conference for Nature, held on 3rd September this week.  The event featured high-profile delegates including Sir David Attenborough, The Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP, Germaine Greer and key people from business, politics, the utility sector and conservation.

In May last year, the UK’s leading wildlife groups released the State of Nature report, which revealed 60 per cent of our native species are in decline and one in ten are heading for UK extinction.  This national picture is probably reflected in Sussex where we have noted long-term declines for example in woodland butterflies, bird species and flower-rich hay meadows.

More than a year on, the State of Nature report partners, with support from Sir David Attenborough, are striving to encourage new ways of tackling the crisis facing our wildlife.
Commenting ahead of the event, Sir David Attenborough said:  “From the food we eat to the popular bedtime stories we read to our children, nature touches everyone’s lives more deeply than we can possibly imagine. The escalating erosion of wildlife from our planet is a direct threat to many facets of our own quality of life. Because of the complex relationship society has with nature, it is obvious that our response to saving it must extend from every possible quarter too. From you and I in our own domains, from business magnates to politicians, and from farmers to faith leaders, everyone has an opportunity to save nature. With an increasing global footprint, mankind is intensifying the crisis for wildlife, but as individuals we can all be a part of the solution for saving it too.”

More than 250 people attended this seminal conference including leading figures in industry and Government as well as all the UK’s major wildlife and countryside organizations; demonstrating the level of ambition for tackling the huge challenges facing nature.

Mike Clarke, is the RSPB’s Chief Executive. He said: “Last year’s State of Nature Conference set out the context for the devastating declines in some of our best-loved species, such as the turtle dove, common toad, and Atlantic salmon. However, saving these and other threatened species requires inventive solutions and creative partnerships with many sectors, underpinned by a meaningful commitment from Government. This conference is the platform for all to come together and achieve just that.”

Helen Ghosh, Director-General of the National Trust, said: “The evidence that nature is in trouble is overwhelming. Our challenge is to find radical and practical solutions to restore the health of our natural environment, which we know is loved by people across the UK. At the heart of this approach must be collaboration and partnership – working together to think big, be bold and to deliver real change on the ground.”

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said:  "As a country, we are experiencing increasing levels of obesity and diabetes; and one in four of us will suffer with our mental health at some point in our lives.  Active contact with nature can help prevent and cure these health problems so we need to help our natural environment to recover and get back in touch with it.  That’s a big change and Society will only prosper when genuine political leadership is shown on this issue.”

The Conference for Nature was organized by the State of Nature Partnership, a coalition of 26 NGOs, including RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife and was attended by figures from a wide range of other industry sectors including housing development, water, retail, agriculture, mineral extraction, finance, transport and infrastructure.

For more information and to read a digital version of the report visit The Wildlife Trusts’ webpage here 

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Road building – Its yesterday once more!

Nostalgia is not, as they say, as good as it used to be.  The current push for new roads seems to harp back to an imagined golden age when, it was thought, all you had to do was invest in infrastructure and everything would then be fine. 

Indeed, if I remember correctly, around the mid 1990’s there was a proud boast of the biggest road building programme since the Romans left.  So, as there seems to be some attempt to live in the past again, perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves of the level of environmental damage that would have resulted from this previous rush for roads.

Going from east to west the list of devastation seems almost unimaginable today:

First at Rye there were proposals for a major road changing the character of the old town and extending across Rye Harbour.  This would probably have impacted on a Special Area for Conservation - an internationally important wildlife site appreciated by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. 

Then a road was proposed to run the length of the beautifully tranquil Brede valley, devastating the wetlands there before sweeping through the ancient woods north of Hastings and carving across the Combe Haven Site of Special Scientific Interest. 

Then there was a proposal for a dual carriageway running across Pevensey Levels and through our own nature reserve.  Again Pevensey is an internationally recognised wildlife site and one of the most important wetlands in the whole of Britain, to say nothing of its historical interest and landscape quality.

Further west there were proposals to run a length of dual carriageway from Eastbourne to Lewes through what is now the National Park. 

Then we got to Worthing and proposals for a dual carriageway cutting through the Downs and passing under Cissbury Ring – a fantastic Iron Age Hill fort and also a nationally important wildlife site.  The quiet setting here would have been destroyed in a futile effort to push traffic away from Worthing itself.

A little further west and of course there was a cluster of proposals to run a dual carriageway through the largest ancient woodland on the coastal plain in order to build an Arundel bypass.

It didn’t stop with the south coast trunk road either.  A recognition that this would drive congestion elsewhere meant that proposals for new roads throughout Sussex came thick and fast.

“Improvements” to the A24, A23, A22 and A21 going north–south, some of which have now happened some have not.  But a dual carriageway was gong to be run through Ashdown Forest, the biggest heathland in the south east, appreciate by thousands and again internationally important for wildlife. 

An A272 upgrade was proposed, that would have impacted at several places, including our own nature reserve at The Mens near Wisborough Green and driving up traffic through several villages. 

There were even suggestions for an “outer” M25 running roughly through the middle of the Weald of Sussex to relieve the pressure on the current M25.

I suspect that half the people reading this today might say that it couldn’t be that bad these days.  The other half might feel that a road building programme like this is a good thing.  We need roads, so wildlife, once again, will have to be compromised.  But look again at the ever expanding list and, even ignoring the destruction of rural Sussex, you don’t see a solution, you see a treadmill.   What starts as just a little bypass here and there ends up as a treadmill with travel increasing and congestion getting worse.  Road building is not a solution – it is a politically expedient waste of public money.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

There’s never been a traffic jam on the M25!!

One of the most worrying features of the current rush for road building is the severe lack of strategic thinking in the proponents. 

The solutions put forward are surrounded by the appropriate jargon – “route-based strategies”, “transport infrastructure”, “strategic road network” and so on – but they are all basically knee-jerk reactions.  Traffic jams are predicted and a new road is pushed as the answer.  Predict and provide in its simplest form. 

A bypass here, a dual carriageway there, then it all needs expanding again.  Some wish to see the whole south coast with dual carriageways of motorway proportions along its length.  Bigger, then bigger again until we have something like the M25 running through Sussex – and after all, as well all know, there has never been a traffic jam on the M25!

Simplistic road building strategies fall apart when you start to consider what then happens.  Build a road in one place and the jam just moves to somewhere else – and demands increase for a new road there as well.  Traffic then increases elsewhere and again road developments are demanded.  Environmental damage is bad in one place, but magnified up by all the increasing demands for new roads and it becomes much worse.

This would be bad enough with a constant level of traffic, but new roads generate new traffic.  Even if one location is eased, people will then perceive the slight ease in congestion so will travel more often, so increasing traffic.  Those who believe that new roads will reduce congestion are fooling themselves.  A few favoured locations may be relieved, but overall the level of traffic throughout Sussex will increase.

Bear in mind also that many are proposing these roads specifically to drive an increase in traffic.  Road building is wanted in order to “unlock areas for development” – to enable more of the countryside to be built on.  Tarmac over part of Sussex so you can concrete over other parts.  Development may be needed, but this has to be carefully designed sustainable development, not just a rush to build roads and houses.

So what are the answers?

First we have to question a few “truths” we are told.  Road traffic is not shooting upwards, indeed some think that road traffic has peaked across the developed world.  People are finding other ways of gaining access to their needs and a focus back on roads risks bucking an otherwise good trend.  Also I’m old enough to remember nearly 20 years ago we were told that if we didn’t get bypasses round Arundel and Worthing then the economy would collapse.  20 years later we have been through a period of strong economic growth.  Sussex did not become destitute.  We were told cycling would never increase – it did.  People wouldn’t use buses – they do.  There would never be more people working from home – there are.  Teleconferencing is impractical – it isn’t.  And so on.

The truth is, as we’ve learned many times before, you can’t build your way out of the problem.  Answers have to be sophisticated not simplistic.  They may include some minor on-line improvements to roads, but to ease flow not to add capacity.  Improvements to public transport will be part of the mix and, as most journeys are short, cycling and walking are perhaps where some large gains could be made.  But the key long term solution is to reduce the need to travel – modern technology, developments in communication, management systems improvements integrated planning and so on all aiming to reduce travel.

We live in a small over crowded part of the country, imagining that there is always unlimited space to expand roads into is a dream world.  Building roads to add to the congestion is no solution.

Monday 4 August 2014

Fracking and River Management

One of the concerns about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is the potential impact it might have on the water environment.  Large amounts of water are needed as the injection fluid in the process and the waste water flowing back then has to be disposed of.  This clearly has implications in terms of the available water resources and then there are concerns in relation to how large quantities of polluted water are treated.  In turn this could have impacts on the ecology of rivers, water bodies and the way they are managed.

An excellent article written by Simon Dixon on “The River Management Blog” reviews the current state of knowledge regarding this aspect of fracking.  I strongly recommend those with an interest in the subject to take a look at this blog (and, bearing in mind the possible threat to the Sussex countryside “those with an interest” should include the entire population of Sussex!).

Friday 25 July 2014

Using Less, Living Better

With economic development seemingly drifting back into a 1960’s model of unrestrained expansion, ignoring the environmental consequences, it is refreshing to realise that there is a large movement now towards a far more strategic approach to development. 

In my last blog I criticised an approach to road building that is based on the assumption that continued expansion will cure our problems.  This is a symptom of a bygone approach – prosperity can only be provided by continual physical expansion.  We live in an overcrowded county, in a highly populated country, in a world that is living far beyond its ecological limits.  Damage to wildlife is a symptom. 

The old-school approach is to carry on regardless and hope we can wrestle just a bit more GDP growth out of a reluctant natural world.  To read much in the press one could be forgiven for thinking that this is the only development model on offer.  However, as David Attenborough said, continued expansion in a finite world is only believed possible by madmen – and economists!

This old fashioned approach, however, is not the only game in town.  Solutions are being found by people with a much more strategic view about the future and this is exemplified by West Sussex’s “Environment and Climate Change Board” – an independent board established by the County Council a few years ago. 

The approach taken by the Board is summed up in the mission statement “Using Less, Living Better” – a simple but fundamental statement and, when you think about it, if we meet this aim then the world does have a future!  The Board is chaired by Russell Strutt who has now written an excellent blog investigating some of these concepts.  I would very much encourage people to read this, and maybe look at some of the sources he quotes.

Our battle against the environment looks like something we are in danger of winning!  Read Russell’s article for an alternative view.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Roads to nowhere

They say that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it – and so it goes with road building. 

Blowing a thick layer of dust off plans that have already failed several times, an A27 Action group has now formed to promote major road expansion across Sussex.  This seems supported by a s so-called evidence gathering exercise is now being rushed through by Department for Transport.  This will effectively tell us where the traffic jams are (I thought we already knew that!); this skewed exercise – only investigating traffic and only asking about road constraints - is designed to come up with the answer of more roads.

We’ve been here before – many times.

That proposed roads will damage the environment is unarguable.  Likely outcomes include devastation of ancient woodland, construction of dual carriageways through the National Park and the ignoring of climate change implications.  At a time when we should be enhancing our natural environment, rebuilding our natural prosperity and achieving major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, these proposals simply take us in the wrong direction.

Other lessons forgotten from history include the point that roads like this do not even achieve the narrow objectives set by their proposers.  The “predict and provide” approach of yesteryear has re-emerged on the na├»ve basis that if you predict where the traffic jams are going to be, expand the roads at those points then all the problems will magically disappear. 

The opposite tends to be the case. New roads generate new traffic.  Even in the unlikely event that the current traffic hot-spots might be eased, the effect of this will be to draw more traffic into the area generally.  More traffic through the lanes and villages of the National Park, more traffic and congestion in the cities, towns and villages along the A27 corridor.  Another turn of the treadmill with the following demands for yet more road building.

The reason for this is obvious.  If any one of us thinks that traffic jams are a little less likely then we will simply use our cars a little more often.  This phenomenon of generated traffic is well-known, although seems to be forgotten in current plans.

The pity here is that there are some in the economic sector that seem unable to think at a strategic level.  We live in a small, heavily populated county.  Transport will always be constrained.  Building an economy on the principle of moving more goods and people over longer distances will always be a vulnerable economy.  Instead we should be looking to the already good work being done to massively improve energy and resource efficiency, far greater use of IT and digital technology and far better integration of transport with planning. 

Approaches like this, and many others, should aim to deliver environmental prosperity and economic growth in ways that reduce the need to travel.  Setting us off in the wrong direction yet again is just a distraction from the sort of progress we should be looking for.

Monday 23 June 2014

Lies, damn lies and (housing) statistics.

I had the privilege of attending a packed meeting last Friday, organised by LAMBS, in opposition to the new town that a developer is proposing in the countryside outside Henfield.  Around 500 people crammed into a large hall in Burgess Hill to express their concerns.

The panel of speakers included Arundel and Downs MP, Nick Herbert; Mid Sussex MP, Nicholas Soames; Mid Sussex District Councillor, Norman Webster; Hosham District Councillor, Brian O’Connell; Founder of LAMBS, Anthony Watts WilliamsDr Roger Smith, Sussex CPRE, Kenneth MacIntosh from Hands Off Henfield and I was there too.

It was an excellent meeting, giving a very clear message to these predatory developers and I recommend that you read Jane Simmons piece about the meeting on the LAMBS website.

There was, however, one thing we did not have time to delve into.  We did not really question the propaganda that is constantly promoted by developers.

We all know the story.  We need houses, the environment is a block on development, and all these protesters are just being NIMBYs by preventing people getting homes!  The constant line we are fed is that there is a lack of capacity – not enough homes, we must build more and governments are judged on how many houses they build.

But simple answers to complex problems are always wrong.

Let’s have a look at a few statistics.

If this lack of capacity was true then we would expect to be seeing increasing numbers of people being crammed into ever smaller houses.  The truth, however, is the opposite.

About 10 years ago there was an average of 2.4 people per house.  Today there is an average of 2.3.  The drive for more house building is largely a result of fewer people living in each house.  Broadly, what seems to be happening is we are spreading the same number of people into a larger number of houses. 

To take this to a ridiculous extreme you can project this continuous decline of the number of people per house into the future.  If you do this you get to a point in 230 years time where there is nobody living in any houses no matter how many you build!

A mindset based on predict and provide has obvious shortcomings.

We seem to accept, unquestioningly, that we need more houses so that young families, in particular, will have somewhere to live in the future.  Yet building more houses alone does not solve the problem.  We just end up with fewer people per house and those young families can still not find a home. 

There are far more complex issues at work here requiring social, economic and political answers – why are people needing homes not able to get them whilst others are able to spread into more houses?  Gritty problems way outside the remit of a Wildlife Trust, but problems our politicians should be addressing.  We are being deflected in a “homes versus the environment” argument as an alternative to finding more complex solutions.  This deflection benefits no one except the development industry.

We have become obsessed with housing numbers because of the “frame” of the argument, set by developers to their own advantage.  If we spend all our time arguing about who can build most houses and where we are going to put them, then developers do very nicely out of it!

In practice, as ever, the environment is used as a scape-goat.  Instead of addressing socio-economic problems driving a lack of homes we vaguely hope that destroying a bit more environment in order to build a new town will somehow be the solution.  It won’t be but in the mean time the developer will have moved on to his next lucrative project.

Monday 16 June 2014

A New Town near Henfield - public meeting

Henfield, Woodmancote, Shermanbury, Partridge Green, Twineham, Wineham, Sayers Common, Albourne, Hickstead, Hurstpierpoint and more – all at risk from a developers plan for a town that could be larger than Burgess Hill.

The proposal undermines the local planning process, is opposed by locals, MPs, Councillors and many others, and is set to devastate 1,200 acres of beautiful rural Sussex along with its treasured wildlife. It seems to have nothing in its favour other than the clamour to produce more houses whatever the environmental cost.  Nevertheless “Mayfield Market Towns”, the developer, is set to press ahead with the formal planning application process.

Unsurprisingly there is strong local opposition to the plan.  Locals Against Mayfield Building Sprawl (LAMBS) are therefore holding a public meeting to fight the proposal.  This is on Friday 20th June at 7.30 and will be held at St Paul’s Catholic College, Jane Murray Way, Burgess Hill, RH15 8GA.  Key speakers will be MPs Nicholas Soames and Nick Herbert, and Anthony Watts from LAMBS.

The Sussex countryside is under threat and guardians of our countryside, like LAMBS, deserve our support.

Friday 13 June 2014


Brighton & Lewes downs is the first new UNESCO World Biosphere site in UK in 40 years

Today saw the first completely new Biosphere site in the UK established for almost forty years and the first ever in south-east England. The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere was awarded this designation by UNESCO’s International Coordinating Council (ICC) of the ‘Man and the Biosphere’ (MAB) programme, which met in Sweden on Wednesday 11th June.  It joins a global network of more than 600 “world-class environments” in over 100 countries, and is one of only a handful worldwide to include a city. 

Achieving the status of a new World Biosphere site follows six years’ work by the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere partnership to develop its bid. The partnership of some forty organisations, with Brighton & Hove City Council as a lead partner, includes other local authorities, public bodies, voluntary organisations including the Sussex Wildlife Trust, educational and community organisations and private sector business.

Martin Price, Chair of the UK National Committee for UNESCO’s Man & the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, reports from the UNESCO meeting in Sweden: “I am very glad to say that the decision was taken today to approve the Brighton & Lewes Downs as a new Biosphere for the UK, so it is now a globally-recognised site of excellence where many individuals and organisations work in partnership to foster all aspects of sustainable development across the region.”

Chair of the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere partnership, Chris Todd says: “This is world recognition for the fantastic environment we have here and for all the hard work that local people put into looking after it.  Now we have this accolade, we aim to build on the partnership to do even greater things. This is not about telling people what to do but creating a vision for the future.  More and more people are living in cities and we need to find ways of making them more pleasant places to live. We need to make sure that we build nature into the equation while raising awareness of how the natural environment contributes to our wealth and well-being.”

Jeremy Burgess, Eastern Downs Area Manager for the South Downs National Park and Vice Chair of the Biosphere partnership said: “Getting Biosphere status for this part of the South Downs and surrounding area is a great achievement. It means that an area already protected nationally for its special landscapes has been recognised internationally for the importance of its wildlife and the role it can play in improving quality of life and boosting a greener economy for the millions of people who live around it. The National Park isn’t an island and we hope that Biosphere status will help us reach out and encourage more visits, research and investment across the area.”

The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere area covers all of the land and near-shore coastal waters between the two rivers of the Adur in the west and the Ouse in the east. The northern boundary of the South Downs National Park marks its northern limits, while it also includes the city of Brighton & Hove and neighbouring towns of Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Shoreham, Telscombe, Southwick and Shoreham Beach. Extending two nautical miles out to sea, it also includes part of one of the first ‘Marine Conservation Zones’ designated by the Government last year.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Mayfields vision of a garden city in Sussex misses the mark

Below I reprint an article from Jane Simmons, of LAMBS, which looks at a vision for a garden city which seems to be the sort of thing planned by the developers for the east of Henfield.

Mayfield Market Towns' ‘vision’ for a Garden City in Sussex has failed to make today’s shortlist for the much publicised Wolfson Prize.

The prize was created by the Conservative Peer, Lord Simon Wolfson, as an incentive to find the best way to deliver 'a new Garden City which is visionary, economically viable and popular’. 

Mayfield Director, Peter Freeman entered the competition in March, with an 83 page document championing a Garden City of 10,000 homes on 1,000 acres of land. His model is notably short of the Government’s published ideal "which is locally-led, includes at least 15,000 homes and has the backing of existing residents". 

His submission, titled ‘A Shared Vision’ does not mention Mayfield Market Towns by name, but refers to a location about 50 miles from London where, Mr Freeman says, he is “confident” of success:

“We are at the early stages of promoting a Garden City in a location about 50 miles from London. In due course, we are confident that we will succeed because of the underlying need arguments and the advantages of a comprehensive, planned Garden City over many add-on schemes.
“However, in the short term, Councillors are unwilling to engage, given their interpretation of the Localism Act as releasing them from an obligation to meet need. It would be more fruitful for all stakeholders, local residents, future residents, businesses and the Council if we could be building a shared vision at an early stage. We hope that the Wolfson Prize will help all stakeholders see the merits of Garden Cities as a solution to the Housing Crisis.”
And, in contrast to the much feted Localism Act, Mr Freeman goes on to imply that Garden Cities should be Nationally led:
“We see this as a National challenge, requiring some form of Government action,” he says “– just as the investments following the post-war New Towns programme was part of a national effort.”
Amongst the many pages of financial and economic predictions, Mr Freeman also touches on the subject of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) and monetary compensation for local residents. The solution, he says, is to offer;
“A simple, modest compensation to ordinary residents who feel their lives have been adversely affected… even though the new amenities and extra demand from new residents may increase the value of their homes.”
And on the subject of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO), he states that;
“The existing owner should receive as a minimum the full value (excluding any hope value) prior to the permitted change of use of any land acquired by CPO or threat of CPO.”
Despite the length of Mr Freeman’s submission, the vast swathes of countryside which would be affected by this development are mentioned only briefly, in a paragraph just twelve lines long:
“The countryside,” says Mr Freeman, “makes a vital contribution to Britain’s heritage, leisure, health, food production, tourism, ecology and overall sense of well-being”.
Mr Freeman’s current position as Director of Mayfield Market Towns is omitted from the report.
The Wolfson competition judges shortlisted five entries – the overall winner will receive £250,000. Mr Freeman’s submission failed to reach the shortlist but won a £1,000 commendation for his ‘wide range of ideas on securing popularity’.
Peter Freeman’s full report can be seen here.