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Dean Natural Alliance

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DNA AGM Reports

Chairmans Report for 2015/16

DNA is now just over two years old. The organisation was formed to give a collective and focussed approach to environmental issues in the Dean so a number of separate organisations could have a greater impact on environmental issues affecting the Forest of Dean.

DNA decided to initially work to protect from development and conserve the area known as Cinderford Northern Quarter. For wildlife, public appreciation and open access and this has continued to be the main focus for the year. The emphasis over the last twelve months has been on pursuing a legal challenge and engaging with Barristers and legal contacts. Much of this work has fallen on the shoulders of our legal team. Thanks to Derek Foster, Mary Newton and David Priddis who have all been concentrating on this aspect of our work.

Last year we reported the site is exceptionally good for wildlife with over 1,300 species recorded. The list now stands at over 2500 individual species with the Councils own ecologists substantially adding to the total. The majority of the data was embedded in ecological reports on the council website. This was extracted by David Priddis and then with the help of Andrew Bluett from Gloucestershire Naturalists Society cross referenced with our data to give the figure of over 2500 species. This new figure is now used in our press releases and promotional material.

GWT agreed that DNA could have a half page editorial in their summer newsletter where we could explain our position of campaigning for no development on the site due to the richness of the wildlife and unsuitability for a road. The other half page was GWT explaining their decision to try and work with the Council for a better wildlife outcome through membership of CREF.

The DNA website has been kept up to date. Thanks to Nicky Packer for website updates and Leigh Wood for Facebook and the donation button to aid DNA funds has seen over £2000 given to help with expensive court cases. Thank you to everyone who has donated, it is much appreciated.

In September we wrote to the Forestry Minister Mr Rory Stewart to ask him not to sign the land swop agreement required for the Council to obtain ownership of the College site. After a wait of six weeks the response was that the Minister was minded to approve the scheme citing jobs and development as the overriding interest and that the site had been through all the relevant planning procedures.

Although minded to proceed we understand that the approval has still not been completed (March 2016), possibly due to outstanding legal issues.

We have objected to the continual extension on time frame for the large amounts of Heris fencing on the site which is restricting the movement of wildlife and people.

Developments with P0663/ 14/OUT

1. August 2015 Permission hearing with lawyers present i.e. permission for a Judicial Review in the High Court of the planning permission for P0663/ 14/OUT and to have the planning permission quashed as being in breach of the Habitats Regulations and Directive.

2.September 2015 Judge Cranston refused permission to claim for Judicial Review.

3.Judge Richards Dec 2015 refused permission to appeal the Cranston judgement on the basis of documents submitted but without an oral hearing.

4. LeighDay our Barristers then requested an oral hearing and we expect this to be in July but (strangely) the court have not confirmed this date yet.

In November 2015 the Council announced the start of building work at Nqtr with a media campaign. The work transpired to be removal of scrub and grass from the development area which does not require planning. Since then the site has remained untouched. The latest comment from the Council is that work on the road will now start in April.

Baroness Royale was invited and visited the Northern Quarter in August and was briefed on the wildlife concerns and current planning situation.

The allocations Plan for district wide development over the next five years was held in Coleford in January. The Planning Inspector refused to acknowledge that the Nqr was included in his remit as the site had already been granted planning permission. Special thanks to David Priddis and Mary Newton who kept up the pressure on eight two hour sessions pointing out how this made a mockery of the planning process. The inspector is expected to report his decision in the summer. Thanks to those who made written submissions and did not attend in person.

Finally a big thank you to our committee and you the members for all your support.

 

Chairmans Report for 2014/15

 

DNA was launched in February 2014 and the Inaugural AGM was held on the 14th.  The organisation was formed to give a collective and focussed approach to environmental issues in the Dean so a number of disparate organisations would collectively have a greater impact on issues affecting the Forest of Dean.

 

DNA decided to initially work to protect from development and conserve the area known as Cinderford Northern Quarter. for wildlife, public appreciation and open access and this has been the main focus for the last year.  The site is exceptionally good for wildlife with over 1,300 species recorded.

 

DNA attended the Transition Spring Fair on March 22nd which was well attended and DNA were able to show the case against development.  The DNA website has been redesigned and now also includes a donation button to aid DNA funds.

 

Our close relationship with Dean Forest Voice saw us producing a press release on a new mine shaft collapse near Steam Mills School which had good local coverage.

CREF had made apparent statements that wildlife groups supported the development. Bat Group, RSPB, GNS and GWT to write and object. This reinforces the DNA line that CREF membership should be avoided as it presumes development and successful mitigation and is a conduit for adverse media coverage e.g comments at the planning meeting on nov 14th.

Ground investigations proceeded in May with four drilling rigs on site.  DNA asked for a Stop Notice as it as was at the height of the breeding season for GC Newts, Wood White, Grizzled and Dingy Skippers and birds. This was unsuccessful.

 

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust have met twice with DNA in the last year at our request.  On each occasion the Trust have reaffirmed their position that they feel they can benefit wildlife more by involvement with the developer and Council to influence development from within. In the case of Northern Quarter, DNA considers the only option is to object to the whole scheme as the mitigation envisaged is inadequate and likely to damage existing wildlife colonies.

We had two well attended public meetings In the  summer. The first at Drybrook  where we had over 60 people to hear about the wildlife to be found at Northern Quarter and real concern was shown as to how the public could become involved.   This was followed by a meeting at the Speech House where Jonathon Porritt came to give his take on Nqtr which resulted in some good publicity.  

 

DNA lobbied and campaigned to raise awareness on the proposed land swop between the Council and Forestry Commission.  Over 400 objections were logged.  Many from hand delivered cards to houses in Cinderford and Steam Mills.  We understand this land swop of statutory forest has still not happened as one of the stipulations was that all legal actions had been exhausted before the transfer.  There are ongoing and new legal actions currently in place  which may delay this transfer further.

 

This leads me onto the main work of DNA over the last six months which has largely been under the public radar.

PO 663 Hybrid planning application was announced in June for the 1st third of the road and the College as a full planning application. This was fast tracked by the Council and after some delays reached the planning committee in November.  There was a rather rowdy meeting with insufficient time for presentations with an allowance of only five minutes for DNA with David Priddis doing a great job to cover all the environmental issues.  No one else was allowed to present against the application and the council approved planning with only one objection.  DNA still consider development within Cinderford  such as Engelhards and other sites in Valley road to be the way forward.

 

The DNA executive (Chair, Secretary and Treasurer) with the advice from 2 committee members, agreed to seek legal opinion on P0663/14/OUT.  In considering legal opinion and possible costs of a judicial review it was decided to instruct Leighday to lodge leave for judicial review on P0663/14/OUT. ( No win no Fee so max risk is £2,500 if we win and £7,500 if we lose).

 

I would like to emphasise the workload of our legal team, MN,DP,DF who have been undertaking a virtually full time job to examine the options and carefully guide us through to a capped financial situation and what appears to be a strong legal case to move forward with.

Over 7600 people responded to our 38 Degree campaign and signed to express their objection to this development. Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State refused to call it in and hold an enquiry. There were over 570 documents relating to the application.  Natural England and the Coal Authority had considerable reservations but eventually withdrew their objections.

 

DNA objected to the badly considered and implemented mitigation work for removing Amphibians and Reptiles.  4000 Metres or 2.5 miles of Heris fencing has now been disturbing wildlife and people for over six months and the time scale for keeping the fencing  in place has been extended until Nov 15 2015 by the Forestry Commission in spite of our objections.  The NE Newt license has also been challenged as far more amphibians and reptiles where caught (over 10,000) than envisaged.  Again showing what an outstanding site this is.

We wrote to Dan Rogerson Under Sec of State at DEFRA and he refused to rule out development at CNQ saying a decision would be made “ later in the year “. We wrote to Jan Royal but she has not responded yet.

A big thank you to our committee and you the members for all your support.

 

SG 20/04/15