Godmanchester nature reserve under pressure from scheduled development

17:22 Tuesday 21st October 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Almost 1,400 people have signed a petition saying they don’t want a road to be built through a nature reserve in Godmanchester. There’s no plan on the table to do this yet, but with over 10,000 homes planned for the area in the next twenty years or so, a new link road and bridge is needed somewhere in the area of Godmanchester. The Wildlife Trust which runs Ouse Valley Living Landscape, wants to make sure it doesn’t go through the reserve. Martin Baker is the Wildlife Trust Conservation Manager for Cambridgeshire. He presented that petition to Cambridgeshire County Council’s Environment and Economic Committee today. I’ll be talking to the chairman of that in just a moment or two, but Martin earlier on gave me his view of how it had gone.
MARTIN BAKER: … proposal is road east of Huntingdon, between Huntingdon and Hemingford Abbotts, to link Hertford and Godmanchester, but mainly to serve a proposed massive new development at RAF Wyton. And the route shown by the County Council on their plan going between Huntingon and Hemingford Abbotts will have to pass through historic river valley landscape, which has the Wildlife Trust’s nearest nature reserve at Godmanchester, but also the ancient flower-rich meadows and a Site of Special Scientific Interest at (UNCLEAR) Common. And overall a very peaceful tranquil and one of the best bits and highest environment quality areas of the Ouse Valley.
CHRIS MANN: So tell us how the meeting went.

MARTIN BAKER: How the meeting went .. unfortunately very disappointed to report that the County Council hasn’t removed the proposed Hertford/Godmanchester link road from their long term transport strategy at this stage. Having said that, there were some encouraging signs in that most of the councillors who spoke recognised the value of the Ouse Valley as a high quality landscape, worthy of protection, recognised that it was loved and well used by local people and that over 1,300 people had bothered to write in opposing it. And they’ve also recognised that they need to undertake a lot more detailed studies to understand the full implications, not just on the environment, but also is it even affordable. As well as look at a wide range of other alternatives, some of which were suggested at the meeting. So although they’re not removing it at this stage, I think there is still a reasonable prospect that we can get them to scrap the road, although not now, when hopefully once they start to look at it in more detail.
CHRIS MANN: Martin you’ll know that Cambridgeshire is under huge pressure to build more houses, and infrastructure as well. Is this just a case of nimbyism, not in my back yard? Are you just standing in the way of progress?
MARTIN BAKER: No we’re not. definitely not. There’s been plenty of housing that’s been built and is in the pipeline already, where for example the Wildlife Trust hasn’t issued fundamental objections. But in delivering the new housing, and encouraging the economic growth that people want to see round here, you also need to have a high quality environment that’s going to attract companies and attract businesses to want to come here. And if you destroy some of the best bits of the environment, and valuable green spaces and open spaces that people love and use, then ultimately you’re not going to attract the sort of companies you want or achieve the sort of development you want. Yes there needs to be houses, but they need to be the right houses in the right location.
CHRIS MANN: So what’s next as far as you’re concerned Martin?
MARTIN BAKER: Our campaign will continue, not just with the County Council and their long term transport strategy, but it also needs to move on to Huntingdonshire District Council, who will be revising their Local Plan. And also central government, who obviously .. the MOD own RAF Wyton, and I think we need to get them to re-examine their plans for over 3,000 houses at RAF Wyton, because if that level of proposed housing at RAF Wyton depends on this road, then you have to ask the question is RAF Wyton the right location for that amount of development. Is it environmentally sustainable? And the answer may be no, it can’t be developed to that scale.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Martin Baker Wildlife Trust Conservation Manager for Cambridgeshire. Councillor Ian Bates was chairing that meeting. he joins us now. Hello Ian.
IAN BATES: Ah good evening Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Some pretty deep concerns there from Martin. How do you answer those charges, the worries he has?
IAN BATES: Well I think the first thing to say is I think all the committee recognised the concerns which have been expressed by Martin. Not just by Martin but for all the people who signed the petitions. So I think the first thing is there was a realisation that .. the concerns of the residents, and of the Trust. So I think there was that understanding of all members of all parties.
CHRIS MANN: So you were discussing possible link roads in that part of Cambridgeshire. Is he right to be concerned? Are you going to put roads through this what appears to be a very valuable wildlife area, bridges and all the rest of it.
IAN BATES: Well ..
CHRIS MANN: Are you going to bulldoze the Green Belt there?
IAN BATES: (LAUGHS) No I don’t think we’re quite that far advanced yet Chris, and I want to give that reassurance. No decision has been made. There is no concrete route for this link road which has been identified yet. I think Martin summed it up reasonably well and reasonably .. I congratulate him on giving a very good presentation. We need to look at it. We know the developments in Alconbury. We know the developments in Wyton and in St Ives area will bring a lot of pressure on transport. Lots of people have said in the past that we are building the houses but where’s the infrastructure. And some of this is not going to be easy.
CHRIS MANN: But are you committee to protecting the environment Ian?
IAN BATES: Of course I am, like I’m protecting the Great Fen Projects up near Ramsey, like the Hinchinbrooke Country Park. We ‘ve got lots of .. if you go through Fen Drayton. We have got lots of those areas. And that needs to be where the balance comes in I think between what they call development and the environment.
IAN BATES: Important to get that balance right Chris.
CHRIS MANN: OK Thank you for coming on to answer that. County councillor Ian Bates there, chairman of that committee which Martin Baker was at today.