Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Friday, 24 December 2010
Thanks to Paul Andrew, local resident, regular walker of the woods and ‘Friend’ of Thorpe Woodlands, there is a real sense of Christmas magic in Belmore woods this year. Paul, like so many others, loves the woods and wanted to do something to raise their profile this Christmas, so he came up with the great idea of inviting everyone who wanted to show concern for their future, to hang a decoration on a particular, appropriately shaped Holly tree in Belmore woods. People’s response has been wonderful and within days the tree has become laden with messages of affection and support, baubles with children’s names upon them, and decorations galore from both those who regularly walk in the woods and others who have come in especially to show they care.
Paul has said that: ‘for every bauble we get in support we will be hanging a fat ball (obviously out of the netting) in the woods to help the birds during this tough time’, so all will gain.
I have been going daily to the woods to take photos of the tree as it’s taken shape, and every time I have had the treat of seeing the look of surprise and delight on unsuspecting walkers faces when they come upon the tree for the first time, most declaring they will be back the next day with their own contribution. This tree has become the heart of the woods and a symbol of the local communities love for the woodlands, people gather to read the messages, discuss with one another the plight of this much treasured place, and to wish one another a merry Christmas, with the added hope of, and ‘May these woods be here for many Christmases to come’ (I quote from one of the messages tied to a bauble). It is impossible, amid all this festive goodwill and community spirit, not to feel the Ebenezer Scrooge like spectre of the Thorpe and Felthorpe Trustees hanging over both the local people and woodlands, and like Dickens’ immortal story, it is their heartless greed and meanness of spirit which casts such a dark shadow over so many lives, but sadly, unlike this moral fictional tale, few have hope that the Trustees will come to see the error of their ways and choose to do the decent thing, and therefore it is up to us, the community, to fight for the woodlands future survival.
But I have no intention of ending this blog entry on such a note, far from it, I want to share with you an email I received from another Thorpe Woodlands ‘Friend’ on Tuesday night:
Just to say the tree looks beautiful, even in the moonlight! My boyfriend proposed to me by the holly tree tonight, so we are officially engaged.... we have left a note on the tree :)
It was a special evening for us, being winter solstice, the lunar eclipse and the anniversary of our first meeting all rolled into one, and what better setting in the snow, under the moonlight, by the pretty holly tree in our woods !
Thanks for your continuing work to help save our woods.
You couldn’t get a more magical or ‘feel good factor’ than that, and in so many ways Lynda’s message sums up what this time of the year and our fight to save the woods is all about.
So congratulations to John and Lynda and a happy Christmas to all our supporters and may the New Year be a good one for man, tree and animal alike.
Monday, 20 December 2010
Friends of Thorpe Woodlands would be very interested to hear from any followers of our campaign from Russia - or indeed from Holland, Germany, Italy, France, Ukraine, Greece, Israel, Niger, South Africa, India, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada or Brazil (apologies to anyone from countries I've overlooked).
Everyone in the world is more than welcome to look at our blog, and it's gratifying that it is attracting such widespread interest. We would really like to hear from anyone abroad who is involved in fighting similar development threats to their woodland or other habitats. Please feel free to leave a comment using the link below, or send us an email to: email@example.com
Wishing all who are fighting to save what remains of our precious natural world a sincere happy Christmas and a successful 2011. And to all who are trying to destroy it for personal gain, we hope your Bentleys get stuck in snowdrifts!
Saturday, 11 December 2010
I suppose it is simply in the nature of this campaign that much of what we have to say is highly critical, though I'd disagree that it is negative. An important fact to bear in mind is that, right from the outset, we have been dealing with a group of people (ie: the Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust and their agents) who have tried every trick in the book to persuade people that they mean well, and that what they want to do will be good for local people and the environment.
It was noticeable shortly after the T&FT's series of charette sessions and meetings that a number of people had been swayed towards the T&FT's side of the argument. These people are extremely persuasive and highly skilled in public communication techniques that succeed in diverting attention away from the basic issue (ie: that they want to turn the woods into a housing estate), onto theoretical and very particular issues that seem quite 'green'. In the early days, their persuasiveness was showing signs of paying off. Several local people commented that although they wouldn't want the woods to be built on, perhaps it would be better to agree with the scheme because the owners would get their way anyway (one of the tactics deployed during the charette was to portray the scheme as if it was a foregone conclusion). Others remarked that as it was the Gurney family we were up against we didn't stand a chance (it's true that the Gurneys have many friends in high places in Norfolk). Others believed that unless they got what they wanted, the owners would fell the entire woodlands out of spite (something one of the T&FT Trustees was apparently heard saying at one of the meetings). Yet others believed the Trustees' tale that they found themselves forced into a situation where they had no alternative but to build on the woods, as they had outlived their economic usefulness as woodland. And many originally accepted at face value the T&FT's claim that the woods were not much more than modern plantations of conifers.
Faced with a situation in which a significant number of people had picked up so many misapprehensions, half-truths and outright lies, Friends of Thorpe Woodlands considered it crucial to set the record straight, and then to provide as much well-researched, factual and reliable information as possible to the public.
So here's the good news: We have gone a long way towards achieving this objective!
On July 6th this year, hardly anyone even knew about the plans being hatched by the previously unheard of T&FT. By July 13th, ie: the end of their charette, hundreds of people were aware and up in arms about it, but there was a lot of misinformation and confusion in circulation as to what exactly was planned and what could be done about it. By August, Friends of Thorpe Woodlands had been formed and, by the end of August we had over 100 people turning out on a demonstration walk through the woods, and all of the Broadland District Councillors for the Thorpe area in full support of the campaign, as well as Chloe Smith , MP for Norwich North.
FTW members and supporters have worked together to raise the profile of the threat to the woods, and their ecological importance, to the point where the issues are now well known and well understood. FTW's membership list has grown to around 400 and continues to grow. Richard Mabey, the well known author and ecologist has publicly stated his support. The Woodland Trust is supporting us, and will issue a position statement soon. Norfolk Wildlife Trust's position statement has been widely circulated and has done much to overcome the falsehood that the woods are not of high ecological value. We have also attracted support and assistance from a wide range of other environmental organisations and campaign groups, though many do not wish to be identified as such yet (though we hope to be able to make some announcements soon).
We have tried to organise some positive events as well as concentrating on getting the message across about the dire threat to the woods. We have considered a litter-picking day and nature walks through the woods, but the T&FT have made it clear that - despite their public assertions that they want to engage in a dialogue with FTW and that they are concerned about protecting the natural environment - they will stand in the way of any such initiatives. On the day of the mass walk in the woods they placed 'Keep Out' notices at all entrances, and they have completely ignored our numerous attempts to engage in discussion with them.
To conclude, although the facts can be somewhat depressing I don't think we have been unduly negative. It is simply undeniable that unless all who care about the woods do whatever they can to save them, they could be buried under streets named after the wildlife that once lived there. FTW welcomes all suggestions for ways in which we can improve and develop the campaign - please contact us (see 'Your Woods Need You' posted on 2nd August) if you'd like to suggest anything or become a member. And feel free to add a comment via the link below.
Sunday, 28 November 2010
Answers aren't hard to find. If Broadland District Council were to grant planning permission for 800 houses, they would effectively be handing T&FT a winning lottery ticket. Let's remember before going any further that T&FT already own the woods outright, which puts them in a very advantageous position compared to most would-be developers, with no cost to them for development land.
The conventional rule of thumb employed by developers is the 'third-third-third' rule. This means that, when estimating profits, the assumption is that roughly a third of the final sale value of houses is made up of land cost; another third is made up of construction costs; and the final third is profit. According to this rule, T&FT could expect TWO THIRDS of final sale prices to be profit, as there is no land cost in their case.
The 'third-third-third' rule is, of course, only rough, but has historically been surprisingly reliable. In the current economic situation the profit margin may be somewhat lower. It may seem excessively generous to reduce it by, say, 30% - leaving T&FT with 36% profit on every house sold - but I am doing so here to safeguard against any accusations of exaggeration. This is, effectively, allowing up to 64% of the sale price of each house to be accounted for by construction costs alone.
On this basis, T&FT's profit projections work out as follows (if you dislike figures, please skip to the last three paragraphs, and return to the intervening section if you want to see how the conclusions were arrived at).
We start with 800 houses. If the full 40% requirement for 'affordable housing' were to be met (and this is unlikely as developers have many ways of getting away with providing a far lower percentage), this equates to 320 houses.
If we call the average sale price of each affordable housing unit £100,000, this gives 320 x £100,000 = £32,000,000
This leaves 480 houses. If we say that 30% would be 'average' price, this means 144 houses sold at c£170,000 = c£24,480,000
This leaves 336 houses. If we say that 50% would be 'exectutive' style houses with an average price of £275,000, this means 168 houses sold at c£275,000 = c£46,200,000
This leaves 168 houses. If we say that 50% are a bit more expensive, with an average price of c£350,000, this mean 84 houses sold at c£350,000 = c£29,400,000
This leaves 84 houses. If we say that 50% are 'high-end' houses, with an average price of c£450,000, this means 42 houses sold at c£450,000 = c£18,900,000
This leaves 42 houses. If we say that these are 'luxury' houses with huge gardens (such as those envisaged for Brown's Plantation), with an average price of £650,000, this means 42 houses sold at c£650,000 = c£27,300,000
TOTAL sale price for all 800 houses = c£178,280,000
Going by the profit margin estimate given above, the T&FT would make 36% profit on £178,280,000 which is £64,180,000. That is nearly £13million for each of the five Trustees.
If we revert to the 'third-third-third' rule, the profit figures could be almost doubled. These figures are only estimates. But even when accounting for falling house prices, static labour costs and rising materials costs - and even when deducting tax payable on profits - the net profit on 800 houses with no initial land costs would nonetheless be huge. Trusts are generally set up with at least an element of tax avoidance in mind: without knowing the details of the T&FT's tax status it is impossible to guess to what degree the Trustees might benefit in this respect.
The £££ signs must have lit up in the T&FT's eyes some time ago. From their perspective, many millions of pounds is what they have to lose. The members of Friends of Thorpe Woodlands and thousands of other local people have no financial stake in this game, but we have 205 acres of superb woodland to lose. Money can be made, lost and made again, but once the woods are gone, they are gone forever.
Sunday, 21 November 2010
Take a look at these maps. The first is the Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust's 'Masterplan', as shown to the public at their 'charette' final presentation on July 13th. Notice the overall greenness of the image, suggesting (so they claimed) that lots of woodland would remain even after their 631 houses were built.
Thursday, 11 November 2010
From the moment the Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust embarked on their charette in early July, the Trustees sought to persuade everyone that they were genuine, sincere people who had found themselves lumbered with a difficult problem. Their problem, they told us, was that their woodlands - which consisted of conifers planted after the war - had grown to the point where they were due for 'harvesting'. They told us that the conifers had been planted for pit-props, a market that vanished with the closure of the coal mines, and that they were left with an area of land on which lots of commercially valueless conifers stood. Because of this, they desperately needed to find alternative uses for their site. They spun this tale so convincingly that a few people actually felt sorry for them.
Luckily, they had come up with a brilliant idea: they could build some houses in the woods and keep the rest for everyone to enjoy - not just as they are now (full of dodgy trees that could fall on people or burst into flames at any moment), but greatly improved, with proper paths, cycle tracks and a lot more wildlife than the existing overgrown Christmas trees (or was it pit-props?) could ever hope to harbour. They earnestly urged us to consider that although the woods might look superficially nice to the untrained eye they were in reality not very nice at all. Definitely in need of a good tidy-up, and building a few decent houses would enable them to do just that for the benefit of all.
Their idea would not only solve their dilemma but would also bring big benefits to the local community. They wanted to share it with us and find out what we thought about it. They were nothing like typical developers: they wanted to involve everyone with any interest in what happened to the woods right from the start, they told us. Time and again they declared - standing up at public meetings, speaking at their 'drop-in' sessions and through their printed material - that they really wanted to know what we all felt: How many houses would we consider acceptable? What should they look like? What about the layout? Would we like any other facilities?
They repeatedly told us that if the answers they received indicated that people didn't want any houses built in the woods, none would be built. Before the charette's final presentation many people imagined that T&FT were thinking in terms of a couple of dozen houses, but the overwhelming response was still a resounding NO! Despite this, at the final presentation the T&FT announced that - having considered everyone's views - precisely 631 houses would be the best number to build.
They went on to tell us that '50% of the woodland would be retained', and that this would be managed to maximise its wildlife habitat value. This would be an improvement because, they implied, if they simply left the woods alone and did nothing, they would soon deteriorate into a dark and sinister, lifeless place.
Friends of Thorpe Woodlands came into being around this time and researched T&FT's claims, to which the facts bore little resemblance. The woods were clearly not recent conifer plantations; they were even better wildlife habitats than anyone expected; the proposed housing would eradicate virtually all of the County Wildlife Site quality habitat and turn what little remained into ecologically unsustainable, fragmented pockets; and the '50%' figure for 'retained' woodland was hugely inflated. The only way the 50% figure could be arrived at turned out to be if virtually every garden, formal open space and patch of trees were included. The only part of the woodlands that might, according to their own masterplan, be retained in anything like its natural state would be a corner of Belmore Plantation, and this amounted to less than 15% of the 205 acre total. The truth of this will be demonstrated in further blog posts.
Throughout their 'consultation' the T&FT spun a web of misinformation, highly selective facts and distorted figures to support their case. Even when these tactics palpably failed, they maintained their butter-wouldn't-melt facade to the media and local council members. They told the press that they "welcomed the formation of Friends of Thorpe Woodlands and looked forward to a productive discussion on how to conserve and improve the woodlands". They told Thorpe St Andrew and Broadland District councillors thEy they would hold a public meeting where local people could raise their concerns. They told the press that they are "committed to the conservation of the environment". And they told everyone at their final presentation that they would make the video recording available within a few days.
Every one of these promises and assertions has proved false. The T&FT has failed to engage in any discussion with FTW, despite our repeated attempts to do so with them. They abandoned their public meeting, having first tried (and failed) to skew it to suit their agenda. They have clung doggedly to their development plans despite the obvious fact that these would obliterate an enormous area of the environment they say they're committed to conserving. They have stalled for four months on the video they promised to release directly after their final presentation.
But it gets worse. They have now let it slip that they want to build "the maximum number of houses that a site of this size in this location could accommodate". Justin Meath-Baker said as much to the Evening News on November 3rd, in response to FTW's revelation that they have surreptitiously increased their proposed housing numbers from 631 up to 800.
They offered no excuses for keeping this drastic change quiet, but they did try to justify it by saying that: "Low density with large house sizes is not necessarily what the local market needs, which is looking for a sizeable affordable housing provision". They can't even speak honestly on this - far from responding altruistically to 'local market needs', they are responding to a requirement of the GNDP's Joint Core Strategy, the Examination into which began on November 9th. The T&FT have strongly contested the JCS's stipulation that 40% of large developments should consist of 'affordable housing' (affordable housing isn't very profitable). They have apparently realised that it might help their case if they came up with a higher proportion of affordable housing and, rather than simply increase that proportion within the original number, they have tacked it on top. Where these extra 'affordable' houses would go is unclear - the T&FT have been characteristically reticent on this.
One thing we can be sure of is that the heavily greenwashed images shown during their charette were as meaningless as their housing numbers, and almost everything else they have uttered. It's a safe bet that, if T&FT ever get their way, the number of houses will creep ever upwards. At their charrette they assured everyone that their development wouldn't remotely resemble another Dussindale estate - but they have already shown that this is pretty much what they will create if given the chance. Unless we all make a concerted effort to speak out for the conservation of the woodlands in their entirety, there is a risk that they will get their collective foot in the door and, from that moment on, there'll be no stopping them.
T&FT's original strategy of trying to smooth-talk the public via their charette has severely backfired. They are working behind closed doors now, and will go over the local community's heads from now on. They are desperate to convince the planning authorities that the big area shown on the JCS maps as Green Infrastructure, Area of High Landscape Value, Area of Core Biodiversity and County Wildlife Site doesn't really add up to much, and that the benefits of their scheme will outweigh the environmental costs. The JCS Examination can't concede specifically to the woods being built on, but it might uphold the 'Growth Triangle' concept, the boundary of which encompasses the woods. Alternatively, it might throw out the Growth Triangle, or even the entire JCS, leaving Broadland District Council to come up with new development policies for its area. Either way, everything will ultimately depend upon BDC, which has the ultimate say on whether development can take place on the woods at all.
Whatever the results of the JCS Examination turn out to be, T&FT will undoubtedly put a great deal of effort into lobbying BDC councillors and planning officers. Unless we make an equally concerted effort, we run the risk that T&FT may wear BDC's resistance down.
We already have several important BDC councillors on our side: these should be encouraged to continue working to save the woods. But the time is approaching when we must tell the rest of BDC how we feel, especially the planning committee. As soon as we have a fair idea of the outcome of the JCS Examination, we will publish details of who to contact, with suggestions on key points to raise. Keep watching the blog!
Saturday, 6 November 2010
EEN & EDP
Local Councillors and MP contact details
Broadland District Council
Deputy Leader of the Council and Portfolio Holder for Planning Policy & Conservation - Andrew Proctor firstname.lastname@example.org
Thorpe St Andrew North West
John Fisher mailto:email@example.com
Ian Mackie mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Nigel Shaw mailto:email@example.com
Thorpe St Andrew South East
Kim Davis-Claydon mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Suzanne Hayes mailto:email@example.com
Graham Walker mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
MP Chloe Smith mailto:email@example.com
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
The video should contain footage of the heated exchanges between Save Thorpe Woodlands supporters and Duany, which exposed his lack of knowledge or, apparently, interest in the woodlands' ecology. The use of the term should is necessary because nobody has yet seen the video. The T&FT have been sent innumerable requests for it (to their email address: firstname.lastname@example.org ) dating from July 15th up to last week. T&FT ingnored all emails until this fact was highlighted in a letter from FTW to the Evening News on September 3rd. This prompted a brief flurry of email responses, merely repeating what they'd said during their 'charette' and failing to challenge anything FTW has said about their scheme. These emails promised that the video would be made available "soon" on their website.
On September 8th I sent T&FT an email requesting confirmation that the full video would be made available and that it would not be an edited and sanitised version. Their reply, of October 1st, reads:
"We are sorry that it has taken so very long to get the video up onto our website, we have in fact had to change our website providers in order to do this, we really do hope to have it up and running within the next few days. The charette and final presentation were all fully public events: to provide an edited and sanitised version would be completely counter to our approach"
As I write it is November 2nd, and still no sign of the video. In fact the T&FT's website hasn't changed since July 13th. One can't help wondering whether T&FT would rather not let anyone have a video recording of their representative displaying his ecological ignorance, or repeating the assertion that the woods are merely conifer plantations due for harvesting like a farm crop. This is an important matter because the video will provide solid evidence on a number of important points, not least of which being Duany's statement that the outcome of their 'charette' was that they had decided on 631 houses for the woods.
The Examination in Public (EiP) into the GNDP's Joint Core Strategy starts on November 9th. If we had that video, we could discredit the T&FT's statement to the EiP that the outcome of their 'charette' was that 700-800 houses could be built. We wonder whether they'll manage to fix their technical problems by then?
It is very hard to believe that the T&FT, which could afford to spend around £300,000 on thier 'charette', can't find a web designer capable of making the video work. And - if it really is so problematic - why can't they simply make copies on DVD and post them to whoever requests one, as was implied by a member of the 'charette' staff immediately after the final presentation? Surely such stalling must be completely counter to their approach?
If you think T&FT should keep their promise and, at the very least, provide a DVD copy to FTW, why not email them and ask? That email address again: email@example.com . It would be useful if you could copy any emails you send, and any replies, to FTW, on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Friday, 22 October 2010
As previously reported here, before the EiP had even been scheduled an important element of the JCS - to make the Growth Triangle a 'strategic allocation' - was rejected due to the weight of objections, meaning that the further public consultation the GNDP were so anxious to avoid will now have to happen after all.
This has bitterly disappointed the predictable bunch of big developers who supported the strategic allocation: as well as the likes of Persimmon, Hopkins, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt, the list of pro-development enthusiasts includes - quelle suprise - the Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust.
Because of blunders by the GNDP the deadline for submissions was extended from 8th to 15th October. The T&FT exploited this extension by hurriedly submitting reams of hastily written papers, revised in the light of the scrapped strategic allocation.
Most of the developer's comments struggle to justify reinstatement of the strategic allocation while whinging that the restrictions on development on wildlife sites, woodlands etc are too strict. Most are long-winded, but the top prize for verbosity goes to T&FT, whose relentless outpourings of corporate-speak-ridden, heavily greenwashed waffle engulf page after page. The Trust seem utterly convinced that the more they say, and the more pretentious the language they use, the more seriously they'll be taken.
The T&FT's submissions contain comments that are by turns telling, worrying and risible. You can read the whole thing on the GNDP website ( http://www.gndp.org.uk/our-work/joint-core-strategy/jcs-examination ), but here are a few tasters:
"The T&FT carried out a master planning exercise with local stakeholders through a Charette held in July 2010. This identified that circa 700-800 new homes could be brought forward as part of a sustainable urban extension on T&FT controlled land alone"
So the T&FT are not only implying that their charette was a success, they are also claiming that the charette's outcome was that up to 800 houses were intended! The 631 they said they'd settled on at the charette's final presentation was bad enough. To now inflate that figure by 27%, while implying that 'stakeholders' were somehow involved with coming up with these numbers, is outrageous.
Parts of the T&FT land are allocated as a County Wildlife Site (CWS). However, the GNDP recognise that there are requirements that will need to be satisfied with regards to ensuring the protection and enhancement of areas of ecological value but that this can be done alongside the sustainable growth and through the provision of appropriate and attractive green infrastructure. The CWS is not a prohibition or, in principle, an onerous restriction. It requires an understanding of the reasons why the CWS was designated, the current land use and its impact and an understanding of the impact/benefits of a new development"
What the T&FT would like the inspector and planning authorities to "understand" is that the CWS was not designated for good reasons, the current land use (ie: not woodland but 'commercial forestry') has become outdated and needs reviewing, and that the 800 houses they want to build would have no negative impacts and massive benefits. Oh, and by the way T&FT, all the woodland is designated as CWS, as you know.
"The County Wildlife Site designation on the plantations is not an impediment to development. Indeed, without development the heathland restoration aspirations of the two authorities simply can not be achieved in the context of a plantation and woodland crop. Equally the opportunity of development will enable an enhancement of the woodland which can be managed to prioritise amenity rather than commercial purposes"
The 'two authorities' reference presumably applies to BDC and NCC, both of which are members of the Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership which supports restoration of heathland. In view of the fact that the T&FT's plans would entail building up to 800 houses with supermarkets, roads etc, right on top of some of the best habitat on the site, it seems improbable that any sane authority would view their scheme as offering opportunities to enhance anything but their own wealth. Not only that, but the heathland - which has done nicely without any intervention so far - could easily be enhanced within a sympathetic woodland mamangement regime.
"It will be important, in developing a landscape framework for the new growth area, to recognise the fundamental shift in the character of the area, from urban fringe towards a transformation into an integral set of neighbourhoods within the fabric of the city. While the preservation and enhancement of natural features will be key to establishing a high quality environment and conservation is important in its own right, such features must respond to a changing role in landscape, environmental,recreation, productive and leisure conditions within the geography of the city"
A polite way of saying that the countryside around north-east Norwich, including its woodlands, will (if T&FT et al have their way) be consumed and turned into a vast extension of the city - with a few remnants kept to make the sprawl a bit prettier. The T&FT's vision for the future is expanded on in the next snippet:
"A multifunctional network of greenspaces and green links connecting to Norwich and the rural hinterland will have been provided. Physical linkages between the older villages of the Growth Triangle and suburbs of its hinterland will have been created to support community integration and equity in access to services and facilities. Within the Growth Triangle economic growth will have been achieved including within green industries and knowledge economy, building upon the ecocredential and economic attraction created by development within the Growth Triangle"
"The T&FT considers that it is important to conserve, manage and enhance the natural environment... It is the intention that such features are integrated into development in order to create a sense of place and a quality environment in which to live, work and visit... This will result in more sustainable growth whereby communities have appreciation and respect for the natural landscape as well as improved opportunities for interaction with the natural environment. The natural landscape is also crucial to creating a high quality environment which in turn attracts people and builds value in the area"
Isn't preaching the importance of respect and appreciation for the natural environment, while planning to bulldoze most of it and wipe out irreplaceable habitats, a bit incongruous? Are these people blind to the fact that we already have a very high quality environment in Thorpe's superb woodlands?
Saving perhaps the worst for last:
"The area being promoted as a sustainable urban extension by the T&FT is fortunate in having a number of attractive landscape features"
NO, T&FT, your land is not fortunate in having a number of attractive landscape features - IT IS an attractive landscape feature - leave it alone!
Through their 'charette' the T&FT asked the local community (sorry, 'stakeholders') what level of housing they would consider acceptable in the woods. The answer back then was a pretty unequivocal 'NONE', and any equivocation has since hardened into total opposition to loss of any woodland. If the tiresome locals won't agree to 631 houses, why not go for 800? It seems likely that the T&FT's approach will harden drastically from now on: it will probably come as some relief to be able to drop the nice guys facade they'd strained to project.
We will be keeping a close eye on them. Keep watching the blog for more news.
Saturday, 16 October 2010
Kew's research shows that the main threat to plant biodiversity is habitat destruction, generally caused by agricultural conversion. Contrary to the assertions of pro-globalisation enthusiasts this does not mean the conversion of wilderness into fields for the benefit of malnourished people. Instead, the vast majority of natural habitat loss is due to industrial-scale exploitation to supply consumer demands in the rich world, eg: biofuel production, rubber, palm oil, cotton, soya and maize for beefstock feed etc. Deforestation remains by far the greatest factor in the extinction of terrestrial species, both flora and fauna.
Stephen Hooper, director of Kew, explains that their research will contribute to the forthcoming Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Nagoya, Japan, at which representatives of worldwide governments will, supposedly, agree on policies to halt loss of the world's biodiversity by 2020. Stephen Hooper says that the 2020 target may seem ambitious but that in a time of accelerating loss of biodiversity it is essential that all nations scale up their efforts.
The Thorpe woodlands are already recognised as a Core Area for Biodiversity by the Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership, which includes Broadland District and Norfolk County councils. This is because of the sheer size of the woodland area, and their designation as County Wildlife Sites. But little in-depth research has been carried out into the biodiversity of these woods, beyond the CWS surveys in 1997. If expert surveys were carried out into the woods' fungi, lower plants, invertebrates, birds, bats and other mammals it is almost certain that they would be found to be of even greater conservation importance than previously realised.
Thorpe's woodlands provide, in microcosm, a local example of the importance of forest for its habitat value. One only has to refer to the species list (see the menu bar at the right of this page) to appreciate the enormous biodiversity significance of these woods. We can't afford to lose them, and their 'owners' must not be allowed to deprive the entire community of them for their personal profit.
Saturday, 9 October 2010
Firstly, they wanted to change the status of the development area from a broad location for development into a Strategic Allocation. This would have fixed the boundaries of the growth triangle on an Ordnance Survey map. By fixing the boundaries, land that would normally have been safeguarded from development, such as woodlands, would have been up for grabs if insufficient land of lesser conservation importance were found to be available to meet the 10,000 houses target for the triangle.
Secondly, Broadland District Council (BDC) wanted to prepare for development by means of a Supplementary Planning Document rather than an Area Action Plan. What does all this planning jargon mean? Well, development under a Supplementary Planning Document does not require any public consultation, whereas under an Area Action Plan, it does. In other words, this artful use of the planning system would have bypassed the democratic process, meaning that the whole 'growth traingle' would have been immune from any public say all the way through to 2026 and beyond. It would have been entirely up to BDC to decide what could be built and where, throughout the entire area, for at least the next 16 years.
However, due to the efforts of a few local campaigners, the meaning of the otherwise incomprehensible consultation document was unravelled and broadcast to members of Friends of Thorpe Woodlands and other local campaign groups. As a result, 189 written objections were submitted, and their weight of numbers and the soundness of their arguments had to be acknowledged. The GNDP has announced (in terms that avoid any reference to the influence objectors had, or the fact that its proposed changes were completely unjustifiable) that it has decided to scrap the changes and leave the previous 'Growth Triangle' policy as it was.
The significance of the area no longer being changed to a 'Strategic Allocation' is great: it means that Broadland District Council will now have to hold a public examination of the growth triangle concept and - if the growth triangle goes ahead at all - consult on what kinds of development will be considered acceptable, and on what types of land.
If the 'Strategic Allocation' wording had remained, it would soon have become obvious that there was no way of meeting the 10,000 new houses target without sacrificing large areas of land within the 'triangle' boundaries that would normally be safeguarded from development. Thorpe's woodlands would have been under considerably greater threat if this policy hadn't been defeated.
This victory for reason and commonsense, pleasing though it is, does not mean that the Thorpe woodlands scheme is dead: it merely means that it should become even more difficult for the landowners to convince BDC that permission should be given to build on them. We need to maintain our efforts against the landowners' vile scheme - but we can take heart that, given enough effort, reason and commonsense can prevail. Writing letters to planning authorities, politicians etc can seem futile, but this small victory proves such pessimism to be misplaced. People power CAN work, and letter-writing DOES make a difference, as long as the letters are reasonable and enough people write them, at the right time. We need to remember this when, or if, the landowners ever submit a planning application for the woods.
We must not merely hope that BDC's updated policies will include very strong presumptions against any loss of woodland - strengthened even further where woodlands are County Wildlife Sites, Areas of Core Biodiversity or Areas of High Landscape Value (as are the Thorpe woodlands) - we must do whatever we can to ensure this happens, by writing more letter & emails to BDC members and senior planners over the next couple of months.
Sunday, 3 October 2010
Broadsheet 086 - September 2010 with FTW article
Saturday, 25 September 2010
Friday, 10 September 2010
The letter was published on 3rd September. The Evening News reaches the shops around mid-day. By 4pm, T&FT were sending emails right, left & centre to people who had emailed questions to them since their charrette started on 6th July. We are sure it was just coincidental that they got round to breaking their silence hours after our letter was published!
The T&FT's replies are interesting in that they merely reiterate everything they've already said, without challenging any of the material on our blog or giving meaningful answers to any questions. They were also evasive about the video recording of the charrette's final presentation that Andres Duany promised everyone present. Many of their replies failed to mention this at all, and those that did merely said that the recording would be available 'soon', on their website. That was a week ago, and their website still hasn't changed since July 13th. I wonder if it ever will?
The public meeting debacle continues. The latest is that T&FT want to postpone their next presentation until after the GNDP Joint Core Strategy public examination has been completed. This could well mean that the meeting won't take place until November or even December. T&FT have, apparently, promised that they won't abandon their promised meeting altogether. It wouldn't be surprising if this were to change though, as it is hard to imagine them looking forward to it eagerly any more. The tide of public opinion has turned very decisively against their scheme, with many people who were originally won-over by their charrette having contacted FTW recently, expressing their disgust at the way they were sidetracked and misled, and wanting to join the campaign. It is doubtful whether T&FT have any supporters left at all, and understandable that the prospect of appearing in front of a large audience of well informed opponents doesn't appeal to them.
FTW volunteers have been distributing leaflets around the area, and membership has grown steadily - fast approaching 400 today. Leafletting will continue, with the Thorpe End area to be targeted next. It is unlikely that anyone living in Thorpe End welcomes the prospect of the woods' destruction any more than people in Thorpe St Andrew, Sprowston and Heartsease. If anyone would like to help with leaflet distribution etc., please contact Lorna.
Tuesday, 7 September 2010
Saturday, 28 August 2010
Amusingly, the landowners (Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust) had hurriedly placed 'No Trespassing' notices at every entrance to the woods. They'd even gone to the trouble of dating them, as if to highlight that they were aimed at the protest walk. Perhaps there is a mole within Friends of Thorpe Woodlands, as we hadn't publicised the event other than via contacting the membership list. We don't really mind as we've got nothing to hide - and remember, moles can go in both directions!
100 people was a good turnout by any standards, but especially so given that we hadn't even thought about organsising anything until 36 hours earlier. Also attending the demo were five of the six Broadland District councillors representing the Thorpe area: Ian Mackie, John Fisher, Nigel Shaw, Suzanne Hayes and Graham Walker (pictured below) accompanied the march along Pound Lane and into Racecourse Plantation. All expressed their wholehearted support for the campaign to prevent the loss of any of the woodland. The sixth BDC councillor, Kim Davies-Claydon, was unable to attend due to other commitments: FTW are hoping she will also come out against the development concept. Several Thorpe Town Council members were also present in support of FTW.
Despite the developers' desperate attempts to deter demonstrators, all were able to freely enter Racecourse Plantation. The sun shone, birds sang and dragonflies whirred above our heads as everyone had a good look around the interior of the woods, many for the first time. People were amazed to see what T&FT had described as a 'commercial forestry plantation of conifers planted after the war'. Several walkers remarked that they had expected it to be like Thetford Forest and were astounded at T&FT's audacity in trying to make people believe this. Hardly a conifer in sight - just a handful of tall pines among the proliferation of hazel, birch, sweet chestnut, sycamore, beech and oak, some of which have clearly been there since the Crimean war. Admittedly, T&FT have never specified which war they were talking about!
The 'No Trespassing' notices were something of an own-goal by T&FT. Until now, T&FT have gone out of their way to present as nice and friendly an image as possible, telling everyone at the Town Council meeting on 7th July how kind they had been in tolerating unauthorised use of their woods by local people. Their friendly facade is clearly well rehearsed, and seemed to have won a few people over a few weeks ago. But since the indisputable facts about their scheme have been made known even the early sympathisers' views have changed, and many feel understandably deceived by assurances that only the least ecologically important parts of the woodland would be built on, and that the best parts would be retained. The areas identified by T&FT as 'best' are indeed good, but the rest is even better from an ecological perspective!
Nobody appreciates being taken for a fool. Judging by the feedback from today's mass walk in the woods, many feel this is exactly what they have been taken for. The reality of the woodlands' age and species composition is clear to see, even from a casual glance from any of the roads bordering them, but especially when in the heart of them. People remember being told, by T&FT representatives, that they had never considered any development proposals for the woods until now (the minutes of the 7th July meeting bear witness to this). When local people realised that T&FT had drawn up proposals for a very similar housing scheme for Racecourse Plantation as long ago as 2000, and had objected to the BDC Local Plan in 2005 on grounds that the woodlands should be allocated as potential development land, and that T&FT submitted their woodlands as a potential site for an 'eco-town' in 2007, any remaining faith in T&FT's words evaporated.
The public meeting that had been proposed for September has already been put back until early October, at the request of T&FT, who say thay are still working on their plans. It is rumoured that they are now looking to put it back even further, possibly until November. FTW understands T&FT's dithering, in view of the fact that they must be stumped as to what they can say to undo what have been exposed as their previous - shall we say (to paraphrase Hilary Clinton) - mis-speakings.
We still don't know when the September/October/November meeting at Thorpe High School is to be held, but we will post this information on the blog as soon as we have it. What we can say is that, according to BDC councillor Nigel Shaw, the T&FT has reluctantly agreed that the meeting will not be under their control but will be chaired by Thorpe Town Council. We understand that it will take the form of a presentation by T&FT of their latest plans, followed by a presentation by FTW of their case for preservation of the woodlands in their entirety. We hope that, following these presentations, members of the public will be able to ask questions of both parties.
Finally, despite T&FT's expression of welcome for the formation of Friends of Thorpe Woodlands (please see previous blog post), they have still not rseponded to our formal request for the video recording of their final 'charrette' presentation of 13th July. All present were clearly promised a copy of the recording, by Andres Duany. We can't help but wonder whether they have something to hide - possibly Mr Duany's obvious lack of knowledge about the woodlands and anything remotely related to ecology? If you would like a copy of the video recording, send an email to: email@example.com to request it, and ask for an explanation for the delay (it is nearly seven weeks since the promise was made).
Keep watching the blog for more news as it comes in. Events are happening thick and fast. We have some very interesting information from (as yet) anonymous sources on arboricultural (tree-related) matters. All will be revealed in due course! To join FTW, please contact Lorna C Beckett at: firstname.lastname@example.org
[Photos by Jason Beckett, text by John Allaway]
Sunday, 22 August 2010
A somewhat concerning revelation has recently come to our attention. Ian Mackie has told us that he, and other councillors, had been led by the Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust (T&FT) to believe that they could remove the woodlands whenever they wished, regardless of whether they obtained planning permission for their development scheme. This is a grave misrepresentation of the truth: no landowner can remove woodland without (a) obtaining a felling licence from the Forestry Commission and (b) obtaining planning permission from the local planning authority (BDC in this case) for change of use. The fact that T&FT apparently succeeded in convincing people - including councillors - that they could, has caused some to believe that it might be better to accept the development than oppose it and end up with no woods at all. FTW immediately informed the councillors of the true situation, but there must be several people in the area who still imagine that they could lose the woods altogether unless they agree to a fraction of them being retained as part of the development, and we must work hard to correct this misapprehension.
Thorpe St Andrew Town Council (TSATC) had intended to hold a public meeting on 23rd August at the Dussindale Centre, at which T&FT were to announce progress on their plans. However, this has now been cancelled. Steven Ford, TSATC clerk, told us that he'd decided such a meeting could pose public safety issues. Apparently, so many people contacted him when they found out about this meeting, the view was taken that far more than would fit into the room would turn up.
Slightly worryingly, TSATC has now decided to hold a private meeting on 23rd August at which Gail Mayhew of T&FT will meet with the clerk, the mayor, Cllr Barber and Cllr Shaw. The purpose of this meeting is, seemingly, to discuss the public meeting that TSATC called for on 7th July, to be held in September at Thorpe St Andrew school.
Much more worryingly, the September meeting has been thrown into confusion. At the 7th July meeting, attended by some 200 people, TSATC voted unanimously to adopt the motion: "The Town Council supports and fully understands the anger of local residents at the plan to deprive them of one of the few open spaces in the Town: it will oppose this scheme by all means available to it". Furthermore, as the minutes of that meeting record, Town mayor Russel James "asked if those present would like a public meeting in Thorpe St Andrew and there was overwhelming support from the audience. Mr James said it would be best left until September when the outcome of the Joint Core Strategy was known".
In answer to a question from FTW on 20th August, Steven Ford confirmed that there has been no change in TSATC's position. However, it seems that TSATC is now considering allowing the September meeting to be controlled by T&FT. Mr Ford has told FTW that as T&FT will be paying for hire of the venue, it could be considered 'their' meeting! Despite our protestations, in which we have referred to the minutes from 7th July, Mr Ford appears to remain of the view that TSATC may need to ask for T&FT's kind permission to allow FTW and the public in general to speak!
If it turns out that the September meeting is to be under T&FT's control, and a re-run of their final charrette presentation - at which Andres Duany did his best to avoid taking questions on the principle of the scheme and on anything to do with the woodlands' ecological importance - it will be a travesty. This was supposed to be a public meeting called by TSATC on behalf of the people it represents - not an opportunity f0r the developers to tell people what they think they should be told.
We will know more after tomorrow - watch this space.
(Read on for article 'Campaign news update')
There has been some very good press coverage of the campaign recently, with several letters in the Evening News and EDP. On 21st August, an excellent half-page article by Kim Briscoe was published in the Evening News.
In this article a spokeswoman for the Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust (presumably Gail Mayhew) is quoted as having said: "The Trust welcomes the formation of Friends of Thorpe Woodlands and looks forward to a productive discussion as to how to conserve and improve the areas of quality woodland within the plantations". We can't help wondering whether the T&FT's welcome is any more sincere than many of their previous claims about the woodlands and their scheme.
The second part of the quote gives a clue as to their angle, in that it refers to 'conserving & improving the areas of quality woodland within the plantations'. Their previous statements have made it clear that they consider only certain parts of the woodlands to be of any 'quality' and, interestingly, although these areas are good, they are less interesting from an ecological perspective than the rest. They have obviously taken advice only from foresters, who regard as 'good' only tall, straight conifers with clear stems that are marketable to the timber trade. We must hope that the T&FT will concede that although the areas they've identified as 'good' should be retained, the rest of the woodland is even better and should also be retained. As soon as they understand this, they can save themselves further work and expense on pursuing their development ideas, and save us the trouble of correcting them at every turn!
In the same article, the spokeswoman said: "We look forward to the Friends' views on how to eradicate fly-tipping and vandalism within the woods". However, once again the facts are against them. The level of flytipping and vandalism is actually amazingly low - far lower than at any comparable sites around the fringes of Norwich. There are a few spots where people have dumped small quantities of garden waste, and a pair of burned-out scooters in Racecourse Plantation. But there is a surprisingly small amount of litter and, although it is possible to find the odd small tree that has been snapped, evidence of significant vandalism is elusive. FTW would be happy to discuss ways of reducing flytipping, litter and vandalism even further, but this will have to take a back seat until the future of the woodlands as a whole is secure: after all, what greater vandalism can there be than bulldozing most of the woodland to oblivion?
The spokeswoman went on to say: "The Thorpe and Felthorpe Trust, like the Friends, are committed to the conservation of the environment and are developing proposals through public consultation to develop areas of lesser quality plantation woodland for various uses, including housing and local amenities. This would enable a long-term management regime to be put in place to enhance the woodland to enable public enjoyment while at the same time delivering development that is sustainable and location efficient".
FTW have to dispute this. Treating over 200 acres of wildlife-rich woodland as a potential building site can't, by any stretch of the imagination, be regarded as being "committed to conservation of the environment". The reference to "areas of lesser quality plantation woodland" is, again, interesting. The T&FT's masterplan shows virtually all of Racecourse Plantation covered by buildings and roads. It would help everyone if T&FT would take the trouble to educate themselves about woodland ecology. FTW would be very happy to discuss ways by which a long-term management plan could be drawn up to enhance the woodland for public enjoyment, but only if the development proposals are permanently withdrawn.
Any one wishing to join FTW, and who is in agreement with its mission statement and objectives, is welcome to contact Lorna Beckett on: email@example.com or on 01603 438603.
Saturday, 7 August 2010
- The Save Thorpe Woodlands campaign is now featured on the Guardian's 'Piece by Piece' website - find it on: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/06/2 Please take a look and leave a comment.
- Two members of the campaign met Karen Buchanan from Radio Norfolk at Belmore Plantation on Friday 6th August. We showed Karen around the woods and pointed out the obvious fact that they are predominantly broadleaved semi-natural woods - hardly a conifer in sight except for a few in small corners. Mike Ryder from the Woodland Trust also attended and gave his / the Woodland Trust's views. Karen seemed somewhat amazed when she saw for herself the woods that the Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust had described as "commercial conifer plantations, planted after the war". The interview is to be broadcast some time during the week beginning 9th August. Karen's show is 11am to 1pm every weekday, so tune in if you can. If you miss it, you can listen again on BBC iplayer.
- While we were waiting for Karen Buchanan and Mike Ryder to turn up we were approached by a chap on a bicycle who stopped and offered us a leaflet, entitled 'Save Thorpe Wood'. It turned out he had independently found out about the development scheme and produced these leaflets himself - we are now working together! We also found some laminated posters alerting people to the threat to the woods at various points aorund them - our new contact hadn't made them, nor had we, so somebody else has taken their own initiative to fight against this scheme. There are probably others doing the same sort of thing. Let's all get together so we know who we all are and can combine forces. Divided we'll stand, but united we stand even stronger!
- This blog has attracted a phenomenal number of 'hits' since it started two weeks ago. It is currently coming up near the top of the first page on Google, using the search terms: 'save thorpe woodlands' or 'belmore park'.
- The campaign continues to gain support, not only from concerned individuals but also from conservation organisations. Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the Campaign for Protection of Rural England (CPRE), and the Woodland Trust are backing the campaign's objective to prevent the woodlands being severely damaged (or destroyed pretty well altogether in Racecourse Plantation's case). The wildife author Richard Mabey is also supporting us, and we hope to gain support from others as the campaign progresses.
- We have compiled a full species list for Racecourse Plantation - this will soon be added to the blog as a separate page, together with a gallery page of photographs of the woodlands' wildlife and landscapes. The species list is very impressive, including numerous scarce and rare species of flora and fauna. We welcome input to the species records - if you know of species not mentioned on the list (when it's available), please let us know by emailing Lorna on: firstname.lastname@example.org . In order to treat records as reliable we must have your name and address, together with details of what species you noted, where in the woodlands, and when. We have to reserve the right to hold publication of submitted records until verified, as we must maintain high standards of accuracy.
- The landowners, ie: the Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust, a.k.a. the Broadland Land Group, went to great lengths during their 'charrette' to assure everyone that they were acting openly and honestly, and were keen to involve the local community as much as possible. They told us they would be happy to answer questions if people sent them via email to: email@example.com Well, we have sent them a number of questions since the end of the 'charrette' (July 13th), and they have not answered any. People who sent questions received a brief response on 23rd July promising that they would receive proper answers soon. No answers have yet been forthcoming. This doesn't do much to help the squeaky-clean, 'only trying to do what local people want' public image they've been so eager to present. Our questions have been very reasonable, eg: Andres Duany told everyone at the 'charrette' final presentation: "There's no need to take notes - this whole thing is being recorded [motioning towards a tripod-mounted camera with big fluffy microphone at the back] and you can all get a copy of the recording after this is over" - When will people be able to get a copy of the recording, and in what format? - no answer. Are they prepared to confirm that their description of the woodlands as "commercial conifer plantations planted after the end of the second world war" was wildly inaccurate: - no answer. Are they willing to concede that Andres Duany's assertion that the housing density would be: "3.1 per acre - that's low density housing, nothing like Dussindale estate" was grossly misleading: this figure can only be arrived at if dividing the whole 200+ acres by 631 houses: when taking into account the clear fact that his 'masterplan' shows the vast majority of housing on Racecourse Plantation, in which a small proportion of open space is retained, the true figure here works out at more than double that density! No answers to these, or any other questions so far.
- Anyone who feels like asking these people any questions should do so by sending them to: firstname.lastname@example.org
- At their 'charrette' drop-in session on July 13th (to which only two people other than myself turned up, incidentally - and they were both from Broadland District Council) I found myself debating the ecological implications of their scheme with Gail Mayhew, the Trust's consultant. Gail was keen to tell me how all sorts of allotments, market gardens, cycle paths and other green things could be created every time I asked about the destruction of irreplaceable wildlife habitats. When it became obvious that I wasn't going to be deflected away from my queries, Gail kindly showed me the door, telling me the session was closed for the day. But not before I managed to ask her whether they had ever had an ecological survey carried out on the woodlands. Her reply was an unequivocal: "Of course we have". When I asked if I could see it, she told me it was publicly accessible at Broadland District Council to whom they had submitted a copy. Surprisingly, despite having made a concerted effort to track down anything resembling an ecological survey from the Trust or Broadland Land Group, BDC has been unable to find anything even remotely answering that description.
- Save Thorpe Woodlands will keep you updated at least once a week until this is over. Please look out for the 'gallery' page and the species list page. Please also make your feelings known where they count (reasonably and politely please!). Full contact details can be found on the previous blog post.
- Your comments are very welcome - please click on the comments icon and say what you want to say.