THE FIRST THING I NEED TO MAKE ABUNDANTLY CLEAR IS THAT ANY TWEETS POSTS AND ANY OTHER MEANS OF COMMUNICATING INFORMATION POSTED BY ME REGARDING THE NEW VISITOR CENTRE AT SPURN ARE PURELY MY OWN VIEWS AND HAVR NOT BEEN INSTIGATED BY ANY OTHER THIRD PARTY ORGANISATIONS INCLUDING THE SPURN BIRD OBSERVATORY TRUST.
Just as I thought things were quietening down at Spurn.....
Not many reports of the Unimog disturbing waders, not many reports of motorbikes or dogs accessing the peninsula no obvious breeches of planning conditions (Well Field aside). There was nothing major to report and I was able to start spending time doing what I love most-wildlife photography at Spurn. I'd not posted anything about the Visitor Centre in over a month then out of the blue I received an email from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust telling me I'm banned from Spurn for my continued harassment of their staff. Eh?
I have since written back to them completely rebuffing their allegation.
In all of my time reporting breeches and infringements I have been very careful to remove any reference to names and my criticisms have always been aimed at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust as an organisation not any particular individual.
What was interesting was their reference to the 'sheer quantity of negative tweets and complaints'.
I sat in Spurn Liaison Group meetings for the first 7 months of last year making perfectly reasonable requests for information that largely were getting ignored by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. There were only a small group of people at those meetings and when the minutes were issued they were not wholly reflective of what had been discussed and agreed.
Eventually last August I took the decision to provide my version of what was happening and make it public via my blog. It was also obvious to me that the planning conditions and other areas requiring statutory compliance were also not being adhered to.
The Visitor Centre was located in a very sensitive place to wildlife and other suitable places were available. The decision was made to build it in the triangle despite the objections of some 2800 people. I accepted the planning decision because it had been made using due process, however if it stated that something had to be done in the planning conditions then in my view it had to be done-to the letter.
If a specific requirement or action wasn't being carried out relating to statutory compliance, it had to be brought to the attention of the relevant authority (Planning Enforcement, the Environment Agency or Natural England for example). It is also important that those failings are brought to the attention of the wider public so they can form their own opinion and lodge a complaint if necessary. Ultimately I have always had the best interests of the fragile habitat and wildlife at Spurn at heart and if those entrusted to look after it aren't doing their job something needs to be done about it.
100 voices shout far louder than one.
It is important to note that the way that the planning process works, is that pre-commencement conditions have to be signed off prior to the works starting then it is the responsibility of the developer (in this case the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) that all of the remaining conditions are complied with. The council will not proactively manage every condition but they will react if something is being compromised as a result of the development. They are wholly reliant on local councillors, members of the public and other statutory bodies to advise them if they think a breach has occurred and they will make a judgement if any further action is required.
So when the YWT talk about the sheer quantity of negative tweets and complaints, I would look at the sheer quantity of infringements and breeches in the first place. Wherever there is an action (or lack of one) there is a reaction, and if there wasn't the sheer quantity of things to complain against there wouldn't be the sheer quantity of information to tweet out.
They also suggest that maybe we could 'experience a more positive relationship in the future'. If the YWT and I have a more positive relationship in the future, that remains to be seen. But, how about creating a more positive outlook at Spurn? Most importantly, ensuring positive action is taken to ensure that the fragile habitat down there is protected properly and balanced against coping with visitors who want to experience such a magical place?
I think that the efforts of many other people as well as myself have made a huge positive contribution to what has gone on at Spurn following the granting of Planning Permission for the new VC. for example;
A Management Plan (MP) is required by the Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations. A freedom of information request to Natural England revealed that a MP was not in place for Spurn. As a result of my complaint I was informed by Natural England that they would work with the YWT and one would be put in place 'as soon as possible'. The management plan template provided by Natural England calls for exemplar standards on a National Nature Reserve (hence my point about planning conditions and statutory compliance being adhered to by the letter). Hopefully the introduction and implementation of a management plan will now provide some better control. For example the correct use of the Unimog avoiding damage and disturbance will be stipulated within the MP.
The Unimog itself has been better controlled as there were far too many incidents of it accessing the peninsula over high tide and disturbing roosting waders. YWT's timetable has been revised to avoid clashes and therefore reduce disturbance.
The Unimog also causes damage to the fragile dune system and hopefully that will also be addressed in the MP.
To the best of my knowledge the MP has not yet been finalised but it is work in progress.
Artificial Lighting (Planning Condition 5)
The car park lighting scheme was clearly unacceptable and the whole of the night sky was lit up when it was first switched on. The planning condition and associated references for this stated that the sky should remain 'intrinsically dark'. As a result of the complaints arising from this, the East Riding of Yorkshire council imposed a restriction on the lights that they can only be used 15 minutes after dusk so preserving the need for darkness on an National Nature Reserve.
Drainage (Planning Condition 15)
The drainage scheme for the car park has potential for surface water run-off to cause flooding in the village (as stated within the Flood Risk Assessment) by highlighting this issue the drainage to the car park is currently under investigation and as an outcome any fears for flooding to occur should be removed.
Highways (planning Condition 17)
There is a planning condition for inspections for the highway to take place every 6 moths by the ERYC. This is to monitor the condition of the road for wear and tear as a result of extra traffic generated by the VC.It was brought to ERYC attention that those inspections had not been taking place. However the ERYC acknowledged that and carried out an inspection. Not long after the whole road was resurfaced (I'm guessing this was done as a result of the survey) however it resulted in a positive outcome.
Signage (planning Condition 22)
The signage erected for the car park was wholly inappropriate and was not in keeping with the Heritage Coast. There was a flood of complaints against them which ended up with the YWT taking down the signs and they were replaced with something more suitable-another positive outcome.
Drainage (Planning Condition 16)
It was a specific requirement from the Environment Agency that a licence would be required for the sewage from the VC to discharge into a nearby drain. The EA confirmed that the licence had not been applied for and in fact an offence had been committed by YWT in not doing so.The EA have now put measures in place to ensure that the sewage discharge is properly monitored in accordance with the relevant legislation.
Wildlife Disturbance (Planning Condition 7)
Wildlife was being disturbed by YWT contractors during the works giving lots of people cause to complain. This was acknowledged by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council. ERYC stopped the works on at least one occasion for 3 weeks (there were more incidents of this nature in the lead-up to the works being stopped) but once that action had been taken there were far fewer incidents of disturbance due to the works.
Bird friendly Glass (Planning Condition 8)
A Planning Condition relating to the glass for the VC windows should have been a special bird friendly type and the proposals for the glass should have been submitted by YWT for approval from ERYC prior to being installed on site. The glass was installed in July and the following January (5 months later) it was approved by ERYC. Whilst there was no residual impact of the glass, it highlighted a failure in following the due planning process.
Recreational Disturbance (Planning Condition 10)
Incidents of dogs on the reserve, people on motorbikes and people accessing sensitive areas have occurred on multiple occasions. One of the primary reasons for granting planning permission for the Visitor Centre was to have better control over people accessing the peninsula. These incidents quite rightly have been shared by numerous people to highlight the inability to control people and prevent them from causing disturbance. Clearly this will need close monitoring and much improvement. Exemplar standards should result in far less incidents of recreational disturbance occurring as what has been happening. When the old Viistor Centre was in place it was alongside the road and the YWT had almost complete control over who accessed the reserve. The New VC is set way back from the road and I would be very sceptical over the clain that it gives better control over people accessing the peninsula.
With regard to Planning Condition 10, it lists out 7 specific requirements to mitigate recreational disturbance. At the time the building was completed none of those requirements had actually been implemented. After some sustained pressure to Planning Enforcement, Natural England and the RSPB 5 out of the 7 points have been resolved and 2 still remain outstanding (those being the spoil in Well Field and the number of Roving Rangers deployed along the peninsula over high tide).
The highlighting of the deer trapped in the barbed wire was another example whereby the massive amount of public pressure to do something positive resulted in some of the barbed wire being removed. The television report suggested that YWT were going to do that anyway. If that was the case you have to ask why there is still hundreds of metres of barbed wire still in position and maybe another bout of public pressure might produce a result?
Highways (Planning Condition 17)
At the second Spurn Liaison Group meeting (February 2017)I attended, I asked if a representative of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council could attend the next meeting to explain the detail around the traffic management and specifically double yellow lines.We eventually got a response 11 months later but again it was a positive result as he confirmed that double yellow lines would not be installed and anybody is perfectly within their right to park on the verges as they have always done.
There were some situations, however that could not prevent a damage or impact.
The damage to the hedgerow on Spurn Road to make way for the lay-bys for example. They were insensitively hacked to bits when a far more sensitive and caring means of cutting back the branches could easily have been used.
Wildlife Disturbance (Planning Condition 10)
The creation of habitat in Well Field as required under Planning Condition 10 remains incomplete. This was required to mitigate the impact of the land lost when the Visitor Centre was built. It is in fact still full of builders rubble arising from the works.This remains a very visible advertisement to the lack of compliance regarding planning conditions. I am at a loss to understand why this has not been resolved. Surely an organisation who purports to have the protection of our wildlife at heart should have completed this by now?
Communication (Planning Condition 21)
Probably the biggest failing was regarding Planning Condition 21. The objectives and terms of reference for the SLG protocol can be seen below. I attended every Spurn Liaison Group meeting and tried at every level to get the Council to apply the necessary pressure to get proper communications going. The local community had one letter from the YWT during the whole build period, meeting minutes were inaccurate and issued late. There was very little useful communications and as for repairing and rebuilding relations I will let you be the judge if you think that has happened. Also note the point about the views of the group carrying a significant weight.....
Now it has to be said that one complaint or one message on social media does not necessarily mean things get done. Unfortunately it got to a situation where some times sustained pressure was needed to get a result. However it had already been proven that the Spurn Liaison Group Meetings were not working so unfortunately other action was needed.
A hundred voices shout louder than one.
Ultimately the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust need to realise that not only is Spurn such a magical place and very close to people’s hearts but it is also protected by some of the strongest legislation we can provide. Site of Special Scientific Interest, Ramsar, National Nature Reserve, Special Protection Area. The expectation bar is set at maximum level, Spurn is Spurn there is nowhere else like it in Europe, probably the World and that comes with a whole host of increased responsibility.
It therefore goes without saying that failing to fulfil their obligations, allowing detrimental activities to go on uncontrolled and failing (at times) to achieve the basic minimum standards is quite simply not an option. If those people entrusted as custodians cannot grasp the enormity of their responsibility that is their problem and they must accept that they are under an intense spotlight and recognise the need to achieve exemplar standards.
Banning people from the reserve for highlighting failure is not the solution, my only interest has ever been for the greater good of the wildlife and landscape of the place I love.
All of the points raised above are factually correct to the best of my knowledge. Thanks for reading