Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Treasure nature, then vote to build on it - Labour Councillor Colin Smith

I was saddened and angered at the report that local conservationists failed to save a nature site in Bedminster. The local paper reports that the site is ' a conservation area and a Site of Nature Conservation Interest' (see what these land designations are supposed to mean here and here). Such sites enhance the quality and wellbeing of our lives.

Malago Valley Conservation Group spoke of badger disturbance, bird-nesting habitat loss... Badgers are a species protected by law, including their own Act of Parliament.

These two comments in the local paper from Bedminster Labour Councillor Colin Smith got to me most of all. After visiting the site he said,

'It is a green lung for South Bristol to be treasured and it is almost secret.'

Despite, apparently, treasuring the nature site ie valuing as precious, Cllr Smith said,

'I'm going to have to support the employment issue' to attempt to justify the fact that he had just voted in favour of building over the green space as someone who sits on the relevant planning committee. Sheer hypocrisy!!

And what is the evidence that allowing the nature site to be cleared, hard-surfaced, fenced and lit will produce more jobs? All we have is the word of James Hennessy speaking on behalf of demolition group Wring, who indicated: that the company had employed many people locally over a long time [including a significant period co-existing with the wildlife!]; current jobs would be secured and the prospect of new jobs would be created. Not exactly detailed hard and fast evidence is it and no indication of the scale/size of any job creation.

How far and for how long can we and should we go down this 'treasuring of nature but then building over it' road? What are the limits? What do the terms conservation area, site of nature conservation interest and protected species actually mean in practice?

Conditions attached to the planning permission are better than nothing but far from solving any fundamental problems they may well mean people continue to permit developments that they should not. In this case conditions include ecological management and wildlife protection measures and landscaping. However, the area occupied by nature will be vastly cut and so there will be a very high net loss of habitat and food supply, resulting in loss of wildlife.

The local paper reports that 'If any badger setts are found on the site [they did not look beforehand then!] Wring will have to make arrangements for the animals to be accomodated nearby' . Moving badgers would no doubt distress them and no doubt they will be both stressed and have their survival threatened once 'accomodated nearby'. It may well be that the area of habitat and the food supply will be smaller.

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