Response to Councillor Monk

Our Response to Cllr Monk’s comments in the F&H Express March 10-16, Kent Online and The Folkestone Herald

inyourarea.co.uk

Cllr Monk: “This protest is either a protest fueled by misinformation and rumour, or another delay tactic.” (Congratulations for fitting the word “protest” twice in one sentence).

Our reply: There is no misinformation in the fact that council contractors were instructed to cut down trees in the bird nesting season without first undertaking an effective nesting bird survey. The close season for nesting birds is March to August as identified in the official guidance for local planning authorities which is available here: https://www.gov.uk/…/wild-birds-surveys-and-mitigation-for-…

Regarding delay, it is our belief that there should have been a delay to protect nesting birds, purely and simply. We naturally do not want the area to be built on but this tree clearance was undertaken on the opposite bank and outside of the development site. It could have been done over the winter well in advance of the nesting season. It even states in the council’s own advice that the work should have been completed by the end February to avoid the close season and the possibility of a breach of the Countryside & Wildlife Act 1981

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Cllr Monk: “It’s also incredibly irresponsible for these individuals to be congregating when the rest of the district is … following the Covid rules…”

Our reply: We wonder if Cllr Monk has ever visited this section of the canal? We are certain he has not been here since covid came to our shores. The area has seen a huge increase in visitors since last March as people have been increasingly furloughed/working from home. There are more people walking and cycling here than ever. The area the council closed to the public is large and could easily support the amount of concerned residents and visitors that were there that morning with no fear of breaking covid restrictions. It was not a protest, it was not some illegal rave, it was concerned people who normally use and live in the area who wanted to know why the trees were being cut down with birds nesting in them and why the path had been closed with no prior notice. There were no signs describing the work to be done or visible notices informing of the closure of the canal path for three days.

The police should have attended to investigate the possibility of crime under the Countryside and Wildlife Act. Instead, they attended firstly claiming we were breaking covid rules, which they quickly admitted was not actually the case, then they said we were protesting which was illegal currently. No one was issued a fine because no offences had been committed – although the crime that we reported under the Countryside and Wildlife Act, went uninvestigated, the officer accepting the word of the operations director at the site. The ecologist, under whose supervision the work should have been completed, was not present that morning and to our knowledge was not on site for the entire day.

Is it not irresponsible to cut down trees when all the advice states that you should not disturb birds between March and August?

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Cllr Monk: “Vegetation removed has comprised of dead trees, brambles….”

Our reply: Such areas are habitat for animals including grass snakes (which were recorded in the area) and for birdlife. We dispute the idea that all the trees were dead (see photos) and wonder if so many were dead, why had they not been removed previously as they would have surely posed a risk to visitors to the area?

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Cllr Monk: “Nesting birds are not being disturbed….No vegetation containing nesting birds is being disturbed.”

Our reply: Please view the attached pictures and see if you agree that so many trees could be cut without disturbing the birds. There was loud noise from chainsaws, industrial shredders and also a tractor on site. The birds that were present would have left immediately, abandoning the areas in which they were nest building, an activity which is often hidden without a properly conducted nesting bird survey. The area was thick with vegetation and trees before being cleared.

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Unfortunately, Cllr Monk’s claims do not stand up to scrutiny and are an attempt to vilify local residents and belittle their opposition to environmental destruction.

Local green councillors have taken up the issue and are working with the police to ensure the matter is properly investigated.

Save Prince’s Parade (via Facebook)


 

Nesting bird survey

Green Cllr Treloar has confirmed that the ecologist was NOT present when the tree clearance works were to commence on Monday. In the absence of a nesting bird survey and the absence of a qualified ecologist the work should have never been authorised. Our complaint to the authorities to stop should have been upheld and a thorough investigation completed before work was allowed to start.

It’s official! A reliable nesting bird survey was not carried out prior to tree felling on the north bank of the Royal Military Canal at Prince’s Parade. An ad-hoc assessment was done by the ecologist at the time (Correction! The ecologist was not even present although the council operations manager had suggested she was in attendance) the work was carried out and as such is completely unsatisfactory. Natural England and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs give guidance for local planning authorities which you can read here: https://www.gov.uk/…/wild-birds-surveys-and-mitigation-for-…

Here are some extracts from this document:

“ASSESS THE IMPACTS
Assess the impacts this development would have on wild birds if no mitigation measures were planned. Impacts to consider include:

-damaging or removing breeding sites
-disturbing birds and their young – this is an offence for certain birds
-removing vegetation and changing habitats

First, consider whether the development could be done differently to avoid affecting birds, eg by:

– siting the development away from breeding birds
– avoiding parts of the site
– doing works at a different time of year. NO WORKS SHOULD BE UNDERTAKEN IN THE BREEDING SEASON (MARCH TO AUGUST)
– ensuring important habitats are protected and maintained
– remove habitat features when they are not being used by birds, eg remove habitat before nesting season
– Provide replacements for any nesting sites you remove, such as:
– nest boxes…
– creating new habitats”

Cllr Monk has branded these facts as misinformation on our part. Quite incredible when it is readily available as guidance for local planning authorities. The amount of secrecy that has surrounded this development from its inception, belies the undeniable reality that if anyone is responsible for misinformation, that claim should be laid firmly at Cllr Monk’s door. How much misinformation have he and his cabinet fed to other members of the council?

F&HDC have a real problem with transparency. This is being highlighted by some councillors who themselves have to apply freedom of information requests in order to obtain basic information that should be readily available at least to them, if not the wider public.

We will try to keep you informed of any activity, but equally please let us know if you feel there is anything we should know. We will do our best to reply although as we are all small group, please allow some time for a response. Also, you can head to our refreshed website which contains a wealth of information from reports and objections to planning documents and membership enquiries https://saveprincesparade.org/

Save Prince’s Parade (via Facebook)


 

A sad day

Yesterday (8 March 2021) was not only a sad day in the fight to save Prince’s Parade, it was also a sad day for wildlife and for those that believe nature must be protected in law.

Local residents and campaign supporters including 5 councillors came together to investigate the tree felling along the canal path. Around 50 people became shut in by steel fencing after the police were called due to a report of a covid regulation breach. The area between the bridges is big enough to comfortably hold that many people with ample social distance and most likely regularly has done since covid arrived on our shores.

The people were not there to protest, they were there because they knew significant harm was planned to the trees and birdlife and because no accurate information had been provided by the council. As a group, these people care about their local environment, something that you would expect a council to cherish and foster by creating opportunities for engagement so that issues could be sensibly resolved.

Not so with F&HDC as a whole. For too long the ruling cabinet has made unpopular and unwise decisions against the will of the population at large, excusing it’s actions as a result of central government policies/housing targets and refusing steadfastly to uphold objections to it’s plans. Despite numerous emails over the preceding days and local councillors battling to obtain further knowledge of the site clearance, no response from the council was forthcoming.

Many people wanted to know why the council had altered their own plans, which state that it was important to complete these works by the end of February because of the risk to nesting birds and their letter confirms their knowledge of the Wildlife Act in this regard. Again, no clear response. A report was mentioned but has thus far not been produced. When questioned, the operations manager said a “walk through” of the site had been done with an ecologist. When pressed he revealed this had occurred while the tree clearance was being done and as such could not realistically be regarded as as a nesting bird survey, being extremely ad-hoc in nature. It was also days before the start of work yesterday and so was too late to be of value. He also stated that only dead trees have been cut, something we dispute.

Sadly, yesterday also proved that the police, rather than seriously investigating the report of a potential breach of the Countryside and Wildlife Act, chose instead to focus on proving that we were protestors and that we were breaching covid restrictions, excusing themselves by stating they were not going to get into politics or that the breach of the wildlife act was a civil matter. Unfortunately, the true reason may be something more basic, who wields the more power? Rather than the law being the guiding principle, it seems other factors came into play.

So yes, yesterday was a tough day on many levels, not least for the wildlife we seek to protect. That is why we continue to do all in our power to hold the council/developer to account.
Many emails have been sent to Cllr Godfrey, the cabinet member with responsibility for the development. Has anyone received a response? To our knowledge no-one has.

We hope that more information will be forthcoming as a result of Cllr Whybrow’s FOI request amongst the many other communications sent to the council but it should not take this level of action to gain basic knowledge from a council that supposedly acts in the best interests of residents.

You can join the campaign by emailing membership@saveprincesparade.org or like our Facebook page to stay up to date with our activity. There is still much the council must do before the development can be built and we intend to fight it every step of the way. The council must make every effort to keep the public informed, especially if there is a change from the plans laid out in the application. They have a duty to be as transparent as possible.

Save Prince’s Parade (via Facebook)


 

Permission to Appeal Refused

Unfortunately we have not been granted leave to Appeal against the JR decision.

This is of course bad news and the end of the road for the legal challenge against the planning decision. However this is but one hurdle overcome by the District Council who still have a load of very difficult problems to deal with in practice.
Our formal challenge was only against the planners – because that is all that can be challenged by Judicial Review – whereas our real challenge is against the development itself. FHDC cannot ignore the fact that the vast majority of local people do not want this development, as witnessed by the 2019 local elections, because it decimates a highly valued and much used amenity. The true value of PP has certainly been felt during lockdown.
For example, FHDC still has to overcome the many objections against “stopping up” the road: When they genuinely know the real costs they will certainly have to justify them as well as overcoming extensive environmental, drainage and ecological issues. They will fail on all those fronts. The PP solution is certainly not the cheapest and quickest means of providing a new swimming pool, in spite of what FHDC has claimed in the past.

Result of Judicial Review

Sadly we have just heard that our claim was dismissed by Justice Dove. On the advice of our solicitors we have appealed to Justice Dove to review his decision.

Great News

This afternoon we have been granted permission to proceed to the substantive hearing of the Judicial Review after challenging the previous decision in court.

Thanks to all who have helped us raise the funds for this.

 

Update on the Judicial Review

We are aware that the council have today issued this statement:

“Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s (F&HDC) planning decision has been upheld by the High Court with the judge – Mr. Justice Lieven – rebutting the arguments for judicial review in turn.He has awarded up to £5,000 to the council in costs.The applicant has seven days in which to ask for the decision to be reconsidered.”

SPP has received the judge’s comments, and they are disappointing. However we are advised by our solicitors that this initial refusal is almost standard practice. The judges comments included an invitation to request a permission hearing. What is clear is the judge wishes to hear the arguments in person and we are busy preparing for the hearing with our barrister. We had anticipated having to go to a permission hearing but we had hoped it would not be necessary because the arguments are so clearly in our favour. As the judge as requested, we will happily make our arguments to him in person.

So there is still plenty to be positive about.