Miriam Heppell spoke to me on Good Afternoon about the latest ‘spanner in the works’ delivered by the Green Action Group (GAG2011) in its fight to keep the Dry Street Pastures as a pristine example of that very scarce resource: lowland pastureland.
In wildlife conservation terms it is as important as ancient woodland, but has fared far worse. These Dry Street Pastures have been grazed by horses and thus kept in optimal condition. But the horses are to go.
It seems that Basildon Council does not count the preservation and sustainment of equestrian sport as sport worth fighting for. It appears ever ready to claim sporting credentials because of the spend of public monies on the Sporting Village, yet blithely supports and is indeed a party to a deal that loses a sports centre, an equestrian centre of excellence, the College site for educational purposes and the irreplaceable ancient lowland Dry Street Pastures with their rich wildlife inheritance: pastures that act as a further link in the wildlife corridor that should extend across the Langdon Hills ridge, through the pastures, across the golf course and over to the marshes.
Why is this being done? Quite simply to build an estate of ‘aspirational’ houses overlooking the Thames Estuary. The excuse the Council offers is that the site was part of an area designated for housing and as it is not protected (thanks to Basildon Council’s own failure to carry out a pledge following protests some years ago) and is not Green Belt land, they cannot stand in the way of house-building progress.
What is the benefit? The Borough loses its established, but ageing and somewhat neglected College complete with well-used student parking and gains a smaller college with virtually no parking situated on the Market site, the Market thus needing to be moved in front of the parish Church of St Martin of Tours, thus losing the peaceful tree-shaded area of Town Square.
The existing College site is adjacent to the Dry Street Pastures enjoys additional land for exercise, has its own catering facilities and a wonderful aspect overlooking the River Thames. It is a short walk uphill from the station and bus station (as is Woodlands School) and provides a pleasant site with an adjacent sports centre.
The Dry Street Pastures were supposed to have been given protection: but the Council neglected to carry out their pledge. These ancient grazing lands are ecologically important and offer a precious enclave of rural peace, amazingly close to an urban centre to provide a chance of survival for the diverse flora and fauna that once frequented much of this Britain of ours, a valuable wildlife corridor linking the protected areas of the Ridge to the protected area of the Marshes and a chance for our children and grandchildren to see a little piece of old Essex preserved for the future .
GAG2011 have spotted a possible route that would allow the Council to save face and revise policy. Miriam Heppell, the Group Secretary told me of their immediate plans and indicated possible future moves. Their press statement reads as follows:
Basildon Green Action Group Request Dry Street Pastures be Listed as a Community Asset
Basildon Green Action Group GAG 2011 have today sent a request to Basildon Council to list Dry Street Pastures, a Local Wildlife Site (LoWS), as a community asset. Under the Localism Act 2011 the Community Right to Bid allows community organisations to nominate buildings and land for listing by the local authority as an asset of community value. An asset can be listed if its principal use furthers (or has recently furthered) the community’s social well-being or social interests (which include cultural, sporting or recreational interests) and is likely to do so in the future.
Dry Street Pastures is part of the land owned by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) who have signed a deal with Redrow homes to deliver 725 aspirational homes on their land and the current site of South Essex College. The Green Action Group have opposed this development for many years and recently failed in their bid to get permission for a judicial review in the High Courts to overturn the decision by Basildon Council to grant outline planning permission.
The case for Dry Street Pastures being a community asset has already been established. In 2004 the area, already a Site of Interest for Nature Conservation (SINC) became a designated Local Wildlife Site (LoWS). This was strongly supported by Basildon Council, The Essex Wildlife Trust and the Basildon Natural History Society. The designation of such a site requires it to meet scientifically determined criteria and it was seen as a long term project that would benefit local wildlife and the environment and through that the local community. Many of the species that inhabit Dry Street Pastures are rare and protected, while the pastures themselves and the hedgerows are UK BAP Priority Habitats. The pastures have been grazed by the horses from Longwood Equestrian Centre in a mutually beneficial arrangement but with the establishments forced closure manual cutting of the grass will be required to maintain the pastures.
To add your signature to the petition calling on The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), a Government quango, to reconsider its plans for this site, visit http://www.basildongag2011.org.uk/2014/11/our-new-petition/
To hear Miriam on Good Afternoon, please listen to parts 1 and 2 below: