Vivien Pomfrey
BSc (Hons) (Open)
DipNatSci (Open)
MSc (Science) (Open)

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Wanton destruction of the rural environment

The Kensey Valley Housing Estate

FROM January 1997 to April 2002 I campaigned, alone and with other members of the Kensey Valley Protection Group, against the construction of a housing estate on a greenfield site near my home in Launceston, Cornwall.  This work included lobbying, photography, research, helping to produce a library exhibition and recording local wildlife.

I moved to my present home largely due to its peaceful rural nature, and there was no hint of plans to concrete and tarmac over my surroundings in the search documents returned to my solicitor by the councils.  This was despite the fact that, as I discovered later, there were plans to demolish my garage to make way for a new relief road, which was proposed to run close to my garden.

When I learned about the housing estate, I began to walk the fields recording wildlife.  I learned a lot during those walks.  But I started to find the walking more and more difficult, and in 1999 was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, sometimes called M.E., CFIDS or post-viral fatigue syndrome.  Information about this illness can be found at

http://www.afme.org.uk/allaboutme.asp

and details of research into the illness can be found at

http://www.meresearch.org.uk/

Protection – what protection?

I and others contacted a wide range of bodies responsible for protecting the environment.  We soon found that the protection appeared to be non-existent.

The Wildlife Trust

I sent my detailed but amateur lists of wildlife that I had recorded to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust to help them to do their own surveys.  They did not do their own surveys, but to my astonishment and horror submitted a response to the council, who had consulted them, which stated:

“The proposal does not fall within any designated site, neither does the area of development appear to hold any species of particular nature conservation importance...”

But

    1. they had not visited the site, and only had my amateur records which were produced using popular books.  I had stressed to them that I was not certain of my identifications and that the lists were not comprehensive.  They were intended to give an indication of the types of habitat, and thus to facilitate further studies.
    2. my lists DID in fact include ‘species of particular nature conservation importance’, such as bats and barn owls.

I demanded that the Trust retract its submission and submit a more accurate one. They refused.

English Nature

Members of the Kensey Valley Protection Group examined the ancient Cornish stone hedge in the middle of the proposed building site, counting the number of woody species within a 30-metre section of the hedge.   [Click on photos to view full size image 175kb to 215kb]

Kensey fields and hedge

Detail of hedge
 

Detail of hedge

Along with stipulated ‘associated features’, the hedge clearly met the criteria for ‘important’ status.  However, the group was informed that these criteria only protected a hedge from being removed by a farmer, not from being removed for the purpose of constructing houses or roads!  

The Environment Agency

This advisory body, which took over from the National Rivers Authority, has repeatedly stated on radio, TV and the press, and in correspondence, that it opposes/advises against construction on flood plains.  DON’T YOU BELIEVE IT.  Part of the Kensey Valley development site is part of the floodplain of the River Kensey.

We repeatedly pointed out the position of the floodplain, along with the facts that the whole area was very wet, that the soil was clay, so soakaways could not be used to dispose of surface water, and that there was a high incidence of flooding in the area.

Astonishingly, the Agency considered that the floodplain could be regarded as part of the buffer zone required between rivers and development.  It is obvious that, when the floodplain floods to its full extent, there is no dry land to act as a buffer, and the part of the housing estate built on the floodplain will in fact be flooded and effectively overlap with the river!

In the end, the agency appeared to just roll over in the face of the power of the construction lobby.  A letter from the district council to me dated 20th February 1998 stated:

“One of the Agency’s roles is to advise planning authorities on matters associated with surface water drainage, including the implication of development proposals increasing the risk of flooding.  In both cases the Agency raised no objection...” (my emphasis)

The Government

New government guidelines introduced in 2000/2001 opposed construction on floodplains.  But it seems that once permission has been given for construction on a particular site, it does not matter if new findings or guidelines militate against such construction;  later applications cannot be turned down on the grounds of such new findings.

If such rules applied to the criminal courts, people convicted of murder could not be acquitted in the light of fresh evidence which proved unequivocally that they were innocent.

..................................................................................

The housing estate was given the go-ahead, and the peaceful fields have been transformed into a sea of mud which is gradually being covered with houses.  Where previously the only sounds coming from the fields were those of animals and weather, the dominant sounds have become those of mechanical diggers, drills and the other intrusive accompaniments to environmental destruction.


Update 24th October 2005

I was not going to return to the site, but found myself there recently while on a walk and, after the initial shock of seeing half of the former fields covered in houses and the rest dotted with piles of earth and rubble, I have returned a few times. Yesterday I was heartened to find that most of the hedge has been retained, along with the three mature oak trees within it. Perhaps the authorities did take some notice of the lobbying after all.

It is sad, though, to see this historic, wildlife-rich structure now surrounded by human habitation and activity, instead of in the fields where it once formed part of a larger ecosystem.

I will update this site with photos of the development when possible.


 

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