Kennet Valley Park ? latest information

Kennet Valley Park ? latest information

I attended a meeting of the Friends of Linear Park (Calcot) on 14th February at which the Prudential team made a presentation of the proposal and invited questions. Some updated information was available.

The Planning Application is now expected to be submitted in October and, with appeals etc, is likely to take up to two years to reach a final decision. Before the application is submitted, a traffic study will be completed on the impact on junctions 11 and 12 of the M4 etc and this should be completed by August. There will also be two large consultation workshops inviting groups with an interest to discuss mitigation measures etc before the PA is submitted.

The traffic issue engendered some contradictory comments. While on the one hand, the development is designed be all about using new public transport (buses and trains) and walking and cycling, in discussions about the pressure on Junctions 11 and 12 of a new road link, the presenters told us how hard they had worked on trying to get direct access onto and off the motorway through a new junction or via the service area. Traffic, encouraged in this way, could seem inconsistent with this eco-friendly development approach.

Of more immediate importance is a plan to develop housing on Phase 3 of Green Park. The aim is to seek planning permission for this in the next 6 months, a mixture of offices and housing (600 houses) was mentioned and this would appear to be something of a ?test? case, on the flood plain, would this possibly weaken objections to Kennet Valley Park if it is passed?

The Prudential team claim that the area chosen for development is outside the ?functional flood plain? and acts as water or flood storage as there is no flow of water between the lakes. This point will no doubt be considered by the Environment Agency. The point was made that the water seems to come up through the ground in winter and in gravel areas presumably, barriers are not effective anyway.

The presentation used words such as ?wildlife would be enhanced? and on this point, a current theoretical solution is to use the western edge of the landfill site at Smallmead, the eastern side of the railway which has yet to be reinstated, as a replacement area and they say this ?relocation? work would have between 2007 and 2010, when the first houses are built, to develop as suitable habitat. The methods of relocation were not explained. Specific questions about the Nightingales and Grey Herons were not answered. The Smooth Snakes are also a concern for the developers, as are the water voles in the area.

Much time was spent on the nature of the Trust for the meadows. This concept was not well understood by the audience and the Prudential presenters are also a little vague on how exactly it works. The concept seems clear, that the land, or long leases on the land will be put in the trust (by the landowners) plus a pot of money (from the consortium) to ?kick start? the trust. The trust would then raise money via grants and fund raising and employ staff and resources as necessary to maintain the land for the many, varied aims of the population. The suggestion was made from the presenters that Prudential would ?take it back? if it failed, or inject more money, but after the development has completed this seems unlikely in practice if not in law! The Trust would possibly have trustees from the local councils and key groups of interest with possibly a scientific advisory committee able to guide on the conservation and management issues. Some comments about charging for car parking, a tea room and entry fees for visiting nature reserve areas caused some distraction from the main points but were raised in the context of the Trust developing its own sources of revenue. A good question was about the status of the organisation which needs to be appropriate to the types which have access to grant aid ? a point taken on board by the Prudential team.

There will be severe conflicts of interest for the meadows. With an extra 15,000 or more people in the area, any access limitations will be hard to enforce, the risk of dogs getting into wildlife or stock grazing areas must be high even if ditches are used to separate areas, which is one concept under discussion. Replicating the lost (Searles Farm) habitat almost certainly cannot be done here but Prudential do see some scope for wader scrapes etc in the wet meadows if access issues and management issues can be overcome. Little was said about population pressures and the impact of many more children playing, walkers, cyclists, fishermen, and possibly vandal behaviour on the area.

From the perspective of the ROC, I believe we must remain opposed to this development. We have no evidence yet of how wildlife will be ?enhanced?, we have no idea how wildlife will be ?relocated? and we have no idea what the impact of so many additional people will have on the areas wildlife. We continue our discussions with other groups and have already started raising awareness amongst groups with a common interest in protecting our wildlife and environment. We ask members to remain vigilant and report any issues of relevance to me or Renton Righelato to assist in keeping up to date with events.

Colin Wilson –

16 February 2005