In a post back in February I asked the question “Who protects our biodiversity?” and highlighted the disgraceful behaviour of Derby Council in wanting to build a cycle track that would destroy a large proportion of The Sanctuary Local Nature Reserve. Despite petitions and strong public protest, the Council voted to go ahead with the development and site clearance work quickly began. However a High Court injunction was taken out, forcing them to pause the work until the legal ramifications of using Lottery funding for such a project were investigated.
Well, despite the odds and a seemingly bloody minded council determined to push ahead with the project, all of these efforts have worked: Derby Council has abandoned its plans for the site – it’s been saved! I learned the good news this morning in an email from Nick Moyes from the Save Our Sanctuary coalition. Nick writes:
“I am delighted to tell you that very late yesterday afternoon we were stunned and delighted to learn that Derby City Council had announced it was abandoning plans to build a cycle race track on top of The Sanctuary Bird Reserve and LNR at Pride Park in Derby.
This vindicates all the reasoned arguments and effort that everyone in our coalition of wildlife groups has put in over the last few months, and shows we can all work together to make a difference, and affect decisions that harm the environment. It’s just such a shame that a lot of damage has already been done to the LNR, though this should recover in time, if managed correctly.
I think we all believed this was a flawed project from the start. Well, everyone that is, except for one deputy chief executive and one councillor responsible for Leisure who made it their objective to push through this ill-conceived scheme at almost any cost (plus a Labour leader who publicly gave his support, too). In statements in the press, Derby Council now appears to be trying to blame its sudden decision to pull out on the delays and additional costs caused by the successful granting of a Judicial Review following brave action in the High Court by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Perhaps this is to be expected – it’s easier than admitting it was a flawed project with dubious funding sources which could so easily have been built elsewhere in the city. But they only have themselves to blame for creating this mess by choosing to ignore all the advice and objections offered to them right from 2011 – with inevitable consequences.
It would be a shame if Derby Council cannot admit it simply ‘got it wrong’. It certainly needs to quickly put right the damage it has already done to the LNR. There are so many people to thank, as everyone played their part in one way or another. Over 1000 people wrote letters and lodged online objections, lobbied councillors, flew aerial drones, published blog posts, wrote to the papers, emailed people, wrote press releases, sent tweets, attended consultation events, made placards, organised demonstrations, lobbied people in the streets, joined a coalition, wrote to the papers and so very much more.
No doubt there is still much more of this story to play out. But for now we can all celebrate the fact that a coalition of wildlife groups came together for the first time in this way, mobilised its arguments and its supporters, and collectively managed to defeat a Labour-controlled local authority which was determined to go back on its public commitment to protect a Local Nature Reserve that it once declared as of great importance to biodiversity. Not only that – but there are no doubt many other LNR support groups around the country that will now breathe a collective sigh of relief that this terrible precedent of a council so easily choosing to vote itself powers to destroy and develop a large part of its own LNR has been lifted.”
This is such good news to receive on a beautiful early spring morning! I’d like to think that Tony Benn, who died this week, would have approved of this example of people power in action.