University Boathouse Ely Wildlife Fears

bittern17:31 Friday 12th April 2013
Dribe BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Plans to build a boathouse by Cambridge University on a greenfield site south of Ely are not attracting much local support. That at least appeared to be the case with people who got in touch with East Cambs District Council about the University’s planning application. Out of more than 230 comments, more that 75% of those who took part objected. Ewan Pearson is the Boat Club’s spokeman, and I spoke to him earlier. (TAPE)
EWAN PEARSON: Yes, it’s a greenfield, although it’s actually not as green as some other greenfields might be. It’s a dumping ground for silt from the river. It has been for 200 years, and will continue to be so. So that’s one of the reason’s why we chose it. But there are a number of factors we considered. One is it’s actually got to be available to buy. It’s a very simple point, but if we can’t buy the land we can’t go there. The second factor we considered was environmental impact, and it is one of the sites with probably the least environmental impact of all the ones that could be chosen, despite what our opposers said. It’s between a busy road and a busy railway line, and it’s right next to a busy river. So those were some of the factors we took into account. It also has to be quite close to Ely. We wanted to be within Ely, but there weren’t any sites actually inside the city itself, so it’s as close as we could get to it.
CHRIS MANN: East Cambs District Council has been getting opinions. Of the 230 posted, more than 75% objected. How do you react to that?
EWAN PEARSON: Well I don’t think that’s the right statistic for a start. There are as we speak 249 comments on the website, and the ratio is about two to one. And I can explain what’s happened there. There’s a fairly active campaign by the local lobbying group, which is Ely Wildspace, the group you’re going to be talking to, and they have campaigned quite heavily against us, and canvassed a lot of local opinion, and got a lot of people to write in. The range of points that those people have made is fairly limited. So what you’ve got is a lot of people writing in saying roughly the same sort of thing. The supporters of our campaign have written in, despite the fact we haven’t had anything like the same sort of campaign that the Wildspace group have done. So actually whilst there are some 170, 180 people opposing it, there are roughly half that number supporting it, even though we’ve not done a campaign to gain support.
CHRIS MANN: Well the figures that East Cambs District councillors have given us is 182 oopposing, 51 expressing support. That’s the bald facts of it all.
EWAN PEARSON: yes, that’s an out of date set of figures.
CHRIS MANN: The Wildlife Trust and local conservationists are really concerned they say. How do you address their objections?
EWAN PEARSON: Well we’ve already done so in fact. What’s gone on the website, the East Cambridge District Council, yesterday, is a pretty thorough response to all of the concerns from all of the parties. And I would encourage anyone who’s listening in to the programme to actually go to the website and have a read. Now I would recommend don’t print them off. The longer document is 116 pages. So what we’ve done is produce a summary of six pages that might be worth a look first of all. And that has covered very carefully and with some sensitivity all of the concerns that have been put to us by those who have objected. We’ve gone through them literally one by one, collected them all up into the different categories, gone through those categories and responded to each one.
CHRIS MANN: OK. So do you deny the claim that this will have a severe impact on wildlife?
EWAN PEARSON: Oh absolutely I’d deny that. Yes. Our view that’s formed with professional advice from ecologists is that this will have a minimal impact on wildlife. And not only that, but we are more than adequately compensating by our own effort to improve the environment around us.(LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: Ewan Pearson there who is a spokesperson from the Cambridge University Boat Club. Well listening to that is Liz Hunter, who’s Chairman of Ely Wildspace. Hello Liz.
LIZ HUNTER: Good afternoon.
CHRIS MANN: So you object to their proposals. Why?
LIZ HUNTER: It’s not that we’re against rowing. Let me say that first and foremost, because we’re not. What we’re objecting to is this is the wrong building in the wrong place. And Ewan says this is the only site available, which is not true. They had a lot of sites that they looked at, but they didn’t choose ..
CHRIS MANN: I don’t think he said it was the only site. He said it was the one they chose for a variety of reasons. Anyway, could you tell me what your objections are please.
LIZ HUNTER: Well, what we’re objecting to is it’s on a county wildlife site, it’s in a wildlife corridor between two parts of the Roswell Pits and Meadows SSSI. It’s backed up by very poor science, which doesn’t come well from Cambridge University Boat Club. And it really is the wrong building in the wrong place.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. He says it’s between a busy road and a busy rail line. It’s on a busy river. Do you deny that?
LIZ HUNTER: I would take the word “busy” off all of those things. The railway line may be, but this site is ..
CHRIS MANN: Well hang on, you said you want to take the word “busy” of all of them, but not the rail line.
LIZ HUNTER: Well the rail line ..
CHRIS MANN: Well it’s a very busy road there, isn’t it?
LIZ HUNTER: The rail line is not that close to the site at all. And the road is a little used road. And the river is not heavily used. And because of that, and because of its proximity, it’s adjacent to two parts of this SSSI, the wildlife corridor that is actually there, and we can charge it with bittern sightings, otter sightings and so on, you actually see it very clearly as a corridor, it’s essential, because the bitterns and marsh harriers and other birds breed in sediment ponds, which is part of the SSSI, and they move across the river to Roswell Pits.
CHRIS MANN: He says that your comments have been greatly exaggerated by opponents. He said their choices had the least environmental impact of any of the possibilities.
LIZ HUNTER: Well he’s actually standing on his own with one ecologist and fairly weak data, against the RSPB, the Wildlife Trust and Natural England. Natural England is a statutory body, and they were asked in 2010 what they thought of the site, and they told Cambridge University that it as not a suitable site. Now that was the statutory body ..
CHRIS MANN: So you stand by your objections, and that will continue. Yes?
LIZ HUNTER: We most emphatically stand by our objections, in that they’re well backed up by science. They’re well backed up by local people. There is no community benefit in this whatsover. They’re not paying us 106 money. They’re not offering anything to the community at all.
CHRIS MANN: Would that make a difference?
LIZ HUNTER: It wouldn’t make a difference to us, but legally it would make a difference, because the only way that this can be passed, if you look at national planning policy guidelines, and East Cambridgeshire’s own local development plan, is if there was an outstanding community benefit.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Liz Hunter, thank you for joining us. Chairman of Ely Wildspace. And before that you heard Ewan Pearson, who is is the spokeman for Cambridge University Boat Club.