September, 2014

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  • New homes to be built on Richmond Park*

    Greater London has some magnificent places .. Centrally, there is St Paul's Cathedral, the Tate Modern, Trafalgar Square and of course the London Eye.

    Side-on view of the London Eye (c) Tim Webb

    There are also open and natural spaces such as Hyde Park, Epping and Hainault forests, Hampstead Heath, Ingrebourne Marshes, the mighty Thames, Wimbledon Common and London's biggest green lung, Richmond Park.

    Epping Forest

    In fact there are 36 places designated as being Sites of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI] in Greater London. This means they are protected from disturbance and development because of their value to nature and society. In reality, they may soon be as vulnerable to development as any other location, thanks to a decision by Medway councillors.

    They have rubber stamped planning permission for 5,000 new homes to be built on an ex Ministry of Defence site in Kent called Lodge Hill, parts of which are designated SSSI land because it is a breeding site for nightingales. This may not seem a lot, but 1% of the UK's entire population can be found at Lodge Hill. The species is vanishing and building on a site where 1% of the nation's favourite songbird breeds would seriously exacerbate that decline. There are options which Medway councillors could consider to reach their obligatory housing target without all the implications of Lodge Hill. 

    If their decision goes unchallenged, it sets a national precedent leaving all other SSSI sites effectively fair game for development. London's glorious Richmond Park could feasibly be transformed into a housing estate. The RSPB supports moves to build homes and infrastructure. We believe this can be done while saving, and often enhancing special places and wildlife; the things that make up our fabled green and pleasant land and provide natural spaces within our urban settings. We vehemently oppose Medway's decision.

    We have written to Eric Pickles, the Minister responsible for housing, urging him to "call-in" this planning decision for a judicial review. This should allow full consideration of the facts and options. Mr Pickles will be making a decision over the next few days. We have until Thursday 25 of September to show him the strength of public support for precious places like Lodge Hill, Hampstead Heath, Gungrog Flash in Powys, the Avon Gorge, Bodmin Moor, Manchester's Nob End, Aberdeen's Pittodrie, Buttermere and Scafell Pikes in Cumbria, Rathlin Island, the Ribble Estuary or North Yorkshire's Three Dykes .. to name just a dozen.

    Hampstead Heath looking towards the city

    This is an occasion where volume matters. Please add your name to our e-action showing Eric Pickles that people in the UK are passionate about protecting special places and the wildlife which help define our national character.

    * Signing our e-action will save amazing places like Richmond Park ... so PLEASE do add your name.


  • Can Pickles preserve our nightingales?

    "It'll be nice for residents to have birdsong," was the ignorant off-the-cuff comment overheard by RSPB staff who'd been in the public gallery attending a Medway Council planning meeting.

    Local residents, campaigners and developers had attended to hear councillors debate an application to build 5,000 new homes at Lodge Hill  in North Kent on a former Ministry of Defence site.

    Everyone knows homes are desperately needed; for both people and nature. But this planning application is about more than meeting a local housing need driven by Government targets requiring local authorities to embark on a long-overdue building crusade. This application not only condemns a locally important breeding colony of nightingales to extinction, it also throws down a gauntlet that, if left unchecked, would allow builders to trash protected nature sites nationally. I for one am wholly opposed to both outcomes. They're avoidable and unnecessary.

    That overheard comment was based on suggestions some of the resident nightingales would somehow survive the transformation from woodland and nationally protected land into a housing estate. We submitted evidence warning that the loss of the habitat would lead to the loss of these red-listed birds. We contacted councillors and their officers. We aired our concerns in the local media. We also warned that ignoring the sites' protected status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI] would fly in the face of UK Government legislation. Medway Council has chosen to challenge UK law and ignore their moral responsibility to the future of declining nightingales.

    We are challenging their decision and have launched an e-petition urging Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to "call-in" this application and allow the rigorous process of a public inquiry to rule on the matter. If the development goes ahead, it will be one of the largest losses of SSSI land in the country since the mid-1990's.

    Secretary of State Eric Pickles has the power to save Lodge Hills' nightingales and the UK's protected places from unsuitable development.

    Lodge Hill sits on north Kent's Hoo Peninsula. It's a little gem of a spot, not far from London, treasured for its wildlife. It's an area requiring more housing and employment. In short, it needs a detailed review of its needs and a clinical assessment of its full wealth of resources to ensure future development enhances the area for people, nature and its economy. The current plan of action falls far short of what the Hoo Peninsula needs and deserves.

    This is a matter of national importance for the future of the UK's struggling wildlife, especially the immediately threatened nightingales. We'd like to demonstrate to Eric Pickles just how strong public opinion is for nature. So please do sign our e-petition and join us and the local MP, Mark Reckless, in backing the Government’s own guidance on developing protected sites. Save Lodge Hill from this unsuitable, unsustainable, unprecedented, unscientific and over-optimistic development.