Monday, 30 January 2012

Will you be riding rough-shod over nature?

UPDATE: Derby City Council eventually granted itself permission to develop a multi-sports arena in March 2012.  (Application ref: 12/11/01496)  It says any racing track would be the subject of a separate application, but clearly indicated its preferred location on this map.Whilst the Council remained tight-lipped over intentions, Margaret Beckett MP, speaking on Radio Derby, was wonderfully forthright in her opinions of their insensitive actions. I'll bring you a transcript of her interview soon. Meanwhile here's the BBC News coverage from 29 March 2012. The cycling groups mentioned below have since also publicly expressed their concerns over these plans.

Back in May I wrote to Derby City Councillors and sent an open letter (see this post) to Margaret Beckett MP after becoming  concerned that plans to build a Velodrome at Pride Park in Derby might also include the idea for an outdoor racing track to be built over the city's first bird reserve -  a designated Local Nature Reserve (LNR)  The Council wrote back to her, assuring Mrs Beckett that they would not build a cycle track on this important site. But now it seems there is a distinct possibility it might happen.
Sand Martin on the fence at The Sanctuary, Pride Park

After voicing my objections, I was invited to meet with a senior member of staff, Paul Robinson, and Derek Jinks of Derby City Council to discuss their proposal for a Velodrome and associated racing track. One of their suggestions was to put this pay-to-use race track outside the perimeter of The Sanctuary, possibly using just a small part of the LNR along the River Derwent. This idea did have some merit, as it had the potential to bring some wildlife gains to the reserve, so I suggested they worked up one of those ideas further, whilst not offering to withdraw my formal objection.
Lapwing at The Sanctuary (the cycle track is shown in plans
 going along the green strip in front of the fence.)

Last week I was invited back by the City Council, and was saddened to hear that they mow wanted the entire Park and Ride site for their velodrome and car park, and are now thinking of putting a 1.5km x 7m wide track right around the inside of The Sanctuary bird reserve. This would be in just the places I've watched Little Ringed Plover, Sand Martin, Skylark and even a Dartford Warbler, and would eat up more than one hectare out of this amazing twelve hectare bird reserve. 

They've discovered that the Park and Ride car park just isn't big enough (though I could have told them that in the first place). So now it seems that it's important wildlife that comes under threat yet again - this time it is external funding from Cycle England that seems to be riding rough-shod over it.

The planning application for the velodrome is out for consultation right now until 8th February. And sensibly the Council will submit a separate planning application for this racing track at a later stage. And I predict they will have one almighty fight on their hands. But right now the track is there in the plans for all to see. So it's of great concern. 

And it must not remain there. 

Sadly Derby Cycling Group have expressed their whole-hearted support for the velodrome and closed circuit race track. Of course they won't have realised at the time the impact on biodiversity that it would have.  As a keen cyclist myself, I would normally given my unequivocal support for anything that encourages more cycling in Derby. But I can't support such a damaging proposal for a cycle track as this, and I hope you won't either.   

Note: This is my letter of objection sent to before the planning application deadline of 8th February 2012.  
The application reference is: 12/11/01496  (Erection of multi sports arena and formation of associated car parking area)

Dear Sirs

I write to express my immense concern and alarm, and to object strongly to the site Masterplan for the multi-sports arena at Pride Park including a 1.5km x 7metre wide cycle racing track on the site of The Sanctuary bird reserve. This is a designated Local Nature Reserve, opened in 2004 by the former Secretary of State for the Environment and South Derbyshire MP, Margaret Beckett, and the Mayor of Derby, Ruth Skelton. 

I am fully aware the current planning application is not considering the cycle track itself, and that Derby City Council must submit a separate planning application and EIA if it wishes to build on the Local Nature Reserve. But inclusion of this race track on the Site Masterplan means it cannot go unchallenged at this stage.  Any decision by members to approve the Velodrome construction could well result in an assumption that this closed cycle racing track will inevitably go there. And it must not.

A 1.5km x 7metre wide track and verge would destroy one twelfth of this important Local Nature Reserve. It would demonstrate that this Council is happy to ride rough-shod over the national LNR designation process and not care about key biodiversity interests, or scheduled birds, or Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) habitats and species.

At the launch of The Sanctuary in 2004 - and standing exactly where the Masterplan shows the racing track may go - the Secretary of State for the Environment is on record as saying that Derby's first bird reserve was making a considerable contribution to her Department's biodiversity targets.  And when the Mayor of Derby, Roy Webb, unveiled new wildlife viewing platform facilities in autumn 2005 I doubt he envisaged that racing bikes would one day be whizzing past in front of birdwatchers where scheduled species like to walk. Your own Strategic Director for Neighbourhoods, Paul Robinson, wrote to Mrs Beckett on 23rd June 2011 stating "...we do not require any of the Sanctuary land".

The Sanctuary contains Derby's most important bird species and some important BAP habitats. The Little Ringed Plover is a Scheduled Species and has nested here. I have photographed it exactly where the racing track is shown on the Velodrome Masterplan. Other key (BAP) bird species, including Skylarks, Reed Buntings and Lapwings, have bred here too. Sedge Warbler nest along the river corridor, and are found within the LNR; Sand Martins breed in abundance, close to the car park, and would be disturbed if cyclists race by too closely. Wheatears, Snipe, Jack Snipe, Linnets, Ringed Plovers, Whinchats, Stonechats and even the immensely rare Dartford Warbler have all been recorded on this site, and all have used habitat close to the perimeter and most were easily visible from that fence. All would be liable to disturbance. In fact 93 different bird species have been recorded here so far. 

The Sanctuary featured in Alan Titchmarsh's Nature of Britain series in 2007 ( and more recently has been written about in Birdwatching Magazine by TV broadcaster David Lindo ( Unlike Derby's other iconic bird site, it is not well-known. The velodrome could, potentially, improve people's understanding of the importance of urban wildlife, but not if damaged by a race track running through it.

Finally I must also bring to your attention the incompetently researched and incorrectly referenced ‘Site Ecology Walkover Report’, dated 3/1/2011  It fails to mention the Schedule 1 Little Ringed Plover that mates and attempts to breed at the adjacent Sanctuary each year. It tries to suggest that the area west of the riverside pathway is not within the LNR - when it is. (The so-called 'LNR fence' referred to on p6 is not the site boundary of The Sanctuary; inspection of the Management Plan and the Local Wildlife Sites system will show the site boundary runs right up to the riverside pathway).  And the Harris Hawk is definitely not, as stated, a rare species listed in The Sanctuary Management Plan of 2006 – it’s a falconer’s escaped bird.  

I have given my time freely and tried to work positively with staff from the City Council to guide them on ways to avoid damaging the key biodiversity interests of The Sanctuary, and even to bring benefits to the reserve. I do not see in the current plans any measures designed to encourage biodiversity, along the lines I suggested at meetings with your officers, Derek Jinks and Paul Robinson.  So, as a member of the public and Derby resident, I am severely disappointed the Masterplan now exposes this threat to The Sanctuary LNR by indicating a cycle race track entirely within the reserve. And for that reason I must reiterate my objection to the multi-sports arena plan for failing to include the 1.5km racing track within the footprint of the existing park-and-ride car park.

Yours faithfully

Nick Moyes

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