Opinion: Stratford needs climate action, not just words
By Dr Kevin Bond
Chair, Stratford Society
The Stratford Society is the civic society for the town of Stratford-upon-Avon. The society is not just involved in protecting the past but believes that development is vital to maintain the health and prosperity of our town and those who live in and around it.
We believe that we, residents and visitors alike, are at a turning point in the history of our town. The three main councils responsible for our town have all declared a climate emergency. They have all published plenty of words and have committees looking into impact and response. What we now ask for is action and not just words.
The nightmare of the marina development [off Seven Meadows Road] is another legacy of the horrible 1970s planning regime. The impact of the habitat destruction is apparent to all who view the site. No mitigation plan appears to exist.
The Environment Agency, in its consideration of a previous amendment to the original planning decision, states that there will be greater flooding impact to surrounding lands due to this development on the flood plain. The potential of a further 250 canal and river boats will increase the emissions from mainly diesel engines with little in the way of emissions control. There are also significant pollution risks from oils and fuels and disturbance to fisheries and river bank erosion.
These boats are likely to be queued at the intersection of the river and canal, right in the middle of our town, causing both noise and emissions pollution. How is this going to improve the visitor attraction? So what about our climate emergency?
Of course, the developer, having begun the construction of the marina, is seeking changes to the planning permission, re-siting buildings and, we understand, shortly asking for a roundabout on Seven Meadows Road.
Well, we say to the planners: no. There should be no changes agreed until or unless significant mitigation to the development is promised and a full wildlife and environmental case is made.
Further, The Navigation Trust should introduce regulations to control emissions. Engines should be turned off while boats are waiting and limits on transfer times between the canal and river placed on the locks. There should be no free passes to causing pollution and degrading our natural and personal environment.
Recently, two other planning decisions have come to Stratford District Council. The first is the big wheel and the second is the extension of the Waterside market. In both cases local people objected, as has the Stratford Society. In both cases, the current district council policies for the locations categorise them as areas of heritage importance and for enjoyment of the open venues.
The neighbourhood plan also included the locations as important for enjoyment of the open spaces. Due to the frequency of the markets, it is increasingly clear that markets are no longer temporary and are all but permanent. There has been no change of policy by district or town councils. Local traders are unhappy that they pay business rates while the market does not.
So we have our councils saying again that they will follow policies but ignoring them when new developments come along. What was the use of voting on the neighbourhood plan to have local views ignored?
Even worse is that, while the district council has a publicly-stated enforcement policy for those who fail to adhere to planning decisions, it appears that the council has chosen not to apply this to itself.
The market, which sells food and has been held opposite the Encore pub for some years, is without planning consent. The solution? The district is seeking retrospective consent to their ongoing breach of their rules. Yet others in the town who do not follow the council rules can find themselves facing the enforcement policy.
Of course, a market has been held in the town since medieval times but the Waterside market is mainly for visitors and more recent. That is more cars and more pollution. Where, in the decision by the council’s cabinet is the mitigation of the increased pollution? Where is the discussion with the residents? Neither is there.
So we have words about climate and environment but actions speak louder than words. On the basis of the ongoing breach of its own rules on enforcement, we see the council as compromised. Decisions such as these should be given to an outside inspector. They should not be, nor be seen to be, both judge and jury.
Finally, the proposed riverside development from Fisherman’s car park to Seven Meadows Road is a critical test for all involved. On the northern part, the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is talking about a local nature reserve and the need to “minimally” manage the land.
Most of the land of current wildlife importance is under the control of Stratford Town Trust. So far nothing of importance has been said about how the proper protection of the wildlife and management of the site will be undertaken. We have seen artistic designer plans.
We must see a proper environmental assessment of the costs and benefits, and not the simplistic economic costs and benefits.
Why is there a proposal to place some sort of mobile catering concession at Fisherman’s car park and develop toilet facilities when the leisure centre is already developed and requires little in addition to cater for changes?
What about ensuring an absence of artificial light around the local nature reserve? Wildlife responds to night and day, for example, while the semi-urbanisation plan is likely to result in demands for ever increasing car parking and pathway lighting.
In this case, the residents of the town must hold both the district council and town trust to account to ensure that the correct balance between income generation, enjoyment and environment is maintained.
To ensure that our town recovers, we must look beyond short-term income generation. Get the environment right, get the traffic management right, encourage alternatives to individual cars. Each and every planning application and/or application for variation should be assessed not just by buildings design but on the environmental impact.
We must demand environmental mitigation measures. Each bag of cement consumes energy and resource, each panel of wood reduces CO2 absorption. The marina roundabout request requires a “no” and a simple direction to turn left only – any form of crossing of traffic to or from the site or roundabout will increase traffic queueing and more pollution.
The Stratford Society will ask these questions to all planning applications. We ask readers of the Herald to also ask these questions. Hold the decision-makers to account.
If we do not get change from our local planning officers and elected members to put people and our environment first, then we ask residents to consider what future their children are being asked to endure.
To our children, we ask: please police the decisions of the planners and elected members – remember they are someone’s father, mother, grandparent, and the inappropriate decision made now will impact generations going forward. If we change and get this right, our town will prosper.
Finally, we are out of time to make changes. We are unlikely to hit the targets defined in the Paris accords. Climate is changing. We face problems in the coming decades we do not currently have answers for. Our town’s heritage is dependent on making the correct planning decisions today. Actions, not words, please.