‘An alarmingly familiar picture’: UK on course to miss most biodiversity targets

Out of 24 indicators of ecological health, 14 show long-term decline, according to new report

Phoebe Weston www.theguardian.com

The UK is failing on its long-term biodiversity targets and seeing “relentless” declines in wildlife, according to government data that shows public sector investment in conservation falling in real terms by 33% in five years.

Out of 24 biodiversity indicators, 14 showed long-term decline, including continued deterioration of UK habitats and species of European importance, as well as a decline in priority species, according to the 2020 UK biodiversity indicators report, which gives the most comprehensive overview of the action the government is taking on the most pressing wildlife issues.

“The picture is a painfully familiar one of relentless decline in species and habitats,” said Dr Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link. “Unfortunately, there were no surprises in this report – I would have liked to be surprised. It’s an alarmingly familiar picture.”

A lot of the data was used in the RSPB report that found the UK government failed on 17 out of 20 UN biodiversity targets agreed in Japan in 2010. The data was also part of the 2019 State of Nature report, which found that populations of the UK’s most important wildlife had fallen by 60% in 50 years.

The report showed that in 2018/2019, government funding for UK biodiversity was 0.02% of UK gross domestic product. “One thing that jumps out is the rather worrying decline in public sector spending on biodiversity,” said Prof Richard Gregory, head of monitoring conservation science for RSPB. “With the climate and biodiversity crisis, nature-based solutions are part of what we should be doing, so it’s crazy we’re not investing in this.”

Natural England, which is sponsored by Defra, has seen its budget cut by £180m since 2008, and continued cuts are having a huge impact on the protection of habitats, conservationists warn. “It’s a real ski-slope decline in funding. Government agencies cannot act to do the really great things they want to do … They need to put money there to have real action,” said Gregory.

Generally, habitat “specialist” species do worse than generalists; farmland birds have declined by 55% since 1970 and woodland birds have declined by 29%. These declines are not just historical – numbers have continued to drop in the past five years.

The report did show some improvement in the designation of protected sites, such as an increase in sustainably managed forests and fisheries.

Conservationists say that if the new Environment Land Management programme is designed well, it could bring a significant boost to nature funding, but it is not being rolled out until 2024. The issue has been worsened by the significant financial losses many charities have faced and projects being put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This report shows just how far we have to go,” said Green party peer Natalie Bennett. “Not only are we running out of time to tackle the climate emergency, there is also increasingly little time left to reverse this catastrophic decline in nature and wildlife.”

Joan Edwards, director of public affairs at the Wildlife Trusts, said: “There’s a loss of woodland and farmland birds, long-term decline of pollinators, and the condition of important habitats is deteriorating. We need investment and action on the ground to put nature into recovery and we need it now.”

A Defra spokesperson said the report showed positive signs in terms of the contribution of UK forests in mitigating climate change and the increase in bat populations. “However, there remain huge ongoing pressures on the country’s biodiversity, and many of our native species are in decline, which is why we must continue to act to restore and enhance nature.”

High charges for rural broadband investigated by Ofcom

Ofcom is to investigate why BT is quoting some people thousands of pounds to get broadband connections.

www.bbc.co.uk

It follows legislation to introduce a universal service obligation (USO) giving homes and business the right to request broadband with speeds of at least 10 megabits per second (Mbps).

BT’s job is to assess the costs of providing a connection.

It said it “strongly disagree with Ofcom’s assessment of our delivery of the USO”.

Mike Hooper lives in Cumbria, and currently gets 4Mbps broadband speeds. He told the BBC he was given a quote of £152,000 to provide fibre broadband to his home and five neighbouring properties.

Another person, living in south Cheshire – only 2.5 miles from the telephone exchange – told they BBC they were quoted £133,000.

“While the cost of some connections will be high due to the remoteness of any of these premises, we are concerned that BT may not be complying with the regulatory conditions correctly where it assesses excess costs for a given connection,” said Ofcom.

“This could result in some customers’ quotes for a connection being higher than necessary.”

BT said it was disappointed that Ofcom had opened an investigation when “we’re fully committed to working with both Ofcom and the government to find better ways to connect the hardest to reach”.

It added: “We are obliged to send USO quotes to customers when they request them, and appreciate that for the most remote properties some of these can be unaffordable. We’re working hard to enable communities to be able to share the costs of an USO connection to help drive down costs for individuals. We will launch this as soon as possible.”

And it pointed out that connecting the last 0.5% of the country remained “a challenge”.

It called for a new plan for these “hardest to reach” properties, with other solutions such as satellite needing to play a role.

“We know these are the hardest to reach and most expensive households to connect, where there are real barriers and real costs to deploying broadband, and where further government subsidy may be needed,” said Matthew Howett, founder of research firm Assembly.

“Sometimes eye-watering quotes might arise because of estimates made without full engineering surveys having yet been completed. We’re still at the early stages of the scheme so Ofcom’s investigation may result in useful guidance when calculating quotes for future requests.”

The regulator will now gather evidence and plans to decide what should happen next before the end of the year.

Grade 1 Bicton Park and Gardens “at risk”

Grade 1 listed landscapes are rare.

Here is a brief description of the significance of the formal gardens and parkland at Bicton:

Original layout of the formal gardens with its axial vista dates from c 1735. But the present appearance of this and the surrounding park land is largely the work of John, Lord Rolle, and his second wife Louisa Trefusis on the advice of W S Gilpin circa 1830/40. The reason for this high designation is that the parkland, designed by Gilpin, was in his distinctive style of clumps of trees planted in an “amoeboid pattern”. The lake he created at Bicton has inlets and promontories mirroring the outline of the tree planting.  It is quite simply unlike anything usually encountered in an English landscape park. Comparatively few of his designs survive in a recognizable form today.

(see article  in The Devon Garden Trust Journal Issue 2,  September 2009. Author: Kim Auston, Landscape Architect Western Territory for English Heritage.)

Ownership is complex as described in Wikipedia:

[Note: The Rolle family, mentioned above with estates in East Devon, merged with the Clinton family in 1907. The Clinton estates were based in North Devon. This left them with two Mansion houses.]

“The 21st Baron [Clinton] let and later sold the [Bicton] mansion house and surrounding lands to Devon County Council as an agricultural college [from 1947], now Bicton College, which as of 2016 covers 490 acres (200 ha), and sleeps 231 residential students.The gardens at Bicton were renovated by the baron in the 1950s and opened to the public in 1963. The 22nd Baron [current Lord Clinton] gave the botanical gardens to a charitable trust in 1986, which sold them in 1998 to Simon and Valerie Lister who turned their 63 acres (25 ha) into a commercial visitor attraction named Bicton Park Botanical Gardens. The remainder of the land comprising the former manor of Bicton is still owned by Baron Clinton under the management of Clinton Devon Estates. This includes 17,000 acres (6,900 ha) of tenant farmland, 4,700 acres (1,900 ha) of woodland and 2,800 acres (1,100 ha) of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths. The equestrian venue known as Bicton Arena is also part of the estate.”

From Historic England at risk register:

https://historicengland.org.uk/advice/heritage-at-risk/search-register/list-entry/24592

C18 and C19 country house estate developed from earlier manor. Large park, important gardens and arboretum. Registered park in three main ownerships. The core of the site, including the principal house, has been developed in the post-war era as a land-based college. Continuous pressure for development as the college has expanded has tended to erode the integrity of the designed landscape. The absence of a masterplan to guide and inform development remains a major cause for concern.

Assessment Information

Assessment Type:
Park and garden
Condition:
Generally unsatisfactory with major localised problems
Vulnerability:
High
Trend:
Stable
Ownership:
Mixed, multiple owners
Designation:
Registered Park and Garden grade I, 19 LBs, SM

Desire expressed to ‘Get Seafront Done’ for controversial site

Queen’s Drive delivery group meeting Thursday 15 October

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmNHQruge3LVI4hcgRnbwBw

First a scene setting report from Sally Galsworthy

“I spoke at the Queen’s Drive Delivery Group this morning. What a transformation in style and attitude from the new administration. Felt we were in the hands of grown ups at last.

We are where we are was the continuing theme but if the guardians of the ancien regime think they are off the hook. They are not.

Spirited speeches from the public and committee members and other Councillors who spoke but were not included in the voting.

There was a definite agreement that action must be taken to win back the confidence of Exmouth which has,as eloquently explained,by Cllr Nick Hookway stunning natural capital.

Cllr Megan Armstrong an unstinting campaigner for the ejected local businesses on Queen ‘S Drive was moved to tears at one point when the discussion moved to giving longer leases to the local businesses as she had been pressing for that years ago and she must be delighted that finally Councillors will get to see the real costs of the strategy of the previous regime.

The Delivery Group voted to include The Ocean in their remit as they only learnt very recently officially that the Council now owns it This is a very sensible idea. The offer on that part of the Seafront should be looked at as a whole.

Overall very encouraging meeting and it is obvious that the leader Cllr Arnott is going to lead this very effectively.

Eileen Wragg summed up that she was optimistic Exmouth people welcome the openness of the new approach.”

 Now a Press report which also summarises the history

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

Councillors have expressed a real desire to ‘get seafront done’ but that the views of local residents have been listened to.

Described as ‘The Brexit of Exmouth’, the saga of what happens to the Queen’s Drive site has been rumbling on for close to ten years.

While phase 1 – the realignment of the road and the car park – has been completed, and phase 2 – the new watersports centre – is on the verge of completion and should be fully open early in 2021, the final phase of the regeneration remains as unclear as ever.

Planning permission for the redevelopment of a 3.6-hectare swathe of Queen’s Drive has been granted, and has been implemented, the council say, with the realignment of the road, but the attractions currently on the Queen’s Drive space – the replacement for the former Fun Park – only have planning permission to stay on the site until March 2022, with no further extension allowed under planning law likely.

The Exmouth Queen’s Drive Delivery Group meeting on Thursday morning heard that there was an acceptance that something had to be decided sooner rather than later for the future of the site, but that it was vitally important to get it right and for the residents to be in favour of the proposals.

The latest scheme, which followed a Wayne Hemingway led consultation last year, would have Exmouth seafront redeveloped with a high quality waterfront restaurant, an 80 bedroom hotel, and an area for play and leisure uses.

East Devon’s cabinet in February agreed to go out and test the market for the proposals – but following it being called in for scrutiny, the coronavirus pandemic, and a change of administration – that decision has now been reversed, with no clear way forward yet having been agreed.

The current view of the Exmouth seafront site

Thursday’s meeting saw members of the public and councillors thrash out some historic grievances over what has happened in the past and saw a consensus that residents needed to be in support of any proposals for the site, but that no decisions as to what should happen were agreed.

Laura Woodward-Drake, the chairman of the Exmouth Chamber of Commerce, said that they need to move forward and forget the problems of the past. She said: “The Hemingway plans did reenergise the seafront. There are concerns, but from a business point of view, it combined business and beauty well, and combined leisure and culture. We need to get it moving as have wasted a lot of time in the past.”

Justin Moore added: “We cannot allow this to slip through our fingers. The Hemingway design was balanced and the hotel will complement the Sideshore development that is taking place. Exmouth will be turned from a staycation in the summer to an all year round destination. I was apprehensive and I see positive change, but we need to deliver – it is fast becoming the Brexit of Exmouth.”

But Gordon Hodgson said that the site needed to be unburdened from the need to raise large sums of cash, the public had to be involved in the decision making process, and to remove any requirement for a hotel.

And Daphne Courier added: “A hotel was bottom of the council’s own questionnaire, so what is the point if the people driving it take no notice of the public response?”

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, said that they must look to the future, but added: “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to make the same mistakes. We have to get on with this –but the economic aspects have changed, and we need to have an idea of what we would want for next Spring.”

Tim Child, Senior Property & Estates Manager, said: “Officers are ready to support members, whatever they choose to take forward. Once the next steps are scoped out, we will consider the resourcing implications. This is a great opportunity to complete the final stage of Queen’s Drive project, working together with members, residents and business, to bring forward a scheme that reflects the aspirations of all, supports Exmouth, and provides a sustainable legacy for current and future generations.”

Cllr Paul Millar said that the intention has to as Cllr Joe Whibley said, to ‘get seafront down’. But he added: “The plan was the market the site only for a hotel accommodator, but that’s a narrow remit, and Hemingway had a narrow remit. The public consultations haven’t been meaningful and last year the former leader of the Council said it would either be a hotel or your council tax has to go up, and that went down like a pint of cold sick with the public.

“We should market the sites but with a wider remit. I’m not predetermined whether for or against a hotel but some are, and local residents don’t want a hotel and we need to listen to local residents. We need something that is commercially viable but we cannot ignore the views of residents.”

Cllr Whibley added that this was such a complex issue and they need to look to answer the questions over the future by involving the public and look to do something, ‘as everyone in Exmouth just wants something done’.

Cllr Olly Davey said that if East Devon get it right, it will be fantastic, but ‘if we get it wrong, it will be an absolute mess’.

He said: “A hotel was the least popular with the residents and I’m not convinced a hotel on that site is the way to go. Something has to be commercially viable and generate income for the council – there has to be something that will be self-financing, but should not necessarily pay off the historic debt.

“What is there is fantastic and what we need, and we need to build on what we have to make it more attractive, but we need something else to compliment it and help pay for it.”

Exmouth seafront’s current play park

Cllr Megan Armstrong said that the previous attractions on the seafront where want people wanted, but just ‘upgraded a bit’. She added: “We have poured loads of money into the project that is getting nowhere. The public have to be involved in this and there have to be facilities for people who have little money.”

Cllr Steve Gazzard said he was impressed the current Queen’s Drive play space is superb and what the tourists are looking for, adding: “If we do anything that takes away from the jewel in the crown, it will affect people coming to Exmouth,” while Cllr Eileen Wragg said that they need to be careful as whatever the council chooses to build will be there for a very long time.

The council’s portfolio holder for the economy, Cllr Paul Hayward, said that Exmouth is the biggest town in East Devon, so it was critically important to the economy and the reputation of the council that they do the right thing.

But he said: “If you have an artificial deadline to hit, you will make poor decisions, and it may be that we need to extend the planning deadlines as I would rather kick it down the road than make a poor decision now.

“If we need to park a final binding decision then we park it until we see the outturn as to what Brexit will give. I would like to lock everyone in a room with pizza and coffee and not leave until we have a consensus view, and I think that is going to be necessary.

“The potential is incredible, but the potential to balls it up or foul it up is equally high. We cannot be tied down by artificial deadlines, and if it is prudent to do so, then should, as we need to make the right decision for the people of East Devon.”

In terms of what the plan for the site for 2021 would be, Mr Child said that a decision would need to be made within the next couple of months.

He said: “We need to scope out initial thoughts. The existing traders would like to be there next summer but there is a question around the need to tender. We need to be clear by Christmas what the plan for next summer is but it needs to be driven by members, and are you looking uses in line with previous years or something different?”

On the planning permission, he said that the 2012 outline and 2017 reserved matters permission had been implement by virtue of the road and the car park being done.

While the current temporary uses planning permission expires in March 2022, Mr Child added it is not usual for a temporary permission to be renewed for a third time unless there are exceptional circumstances regarding why a permanent planning solution cannot be brought forward for the site with a detailed planning application.

He said: “If it is not permissible to pursue a further temporary planning application, the council needs to consider what it will do with the site from March 2022 when the site has to close. In practical terms this will mean that the council has to erect fencing around the site to prevent access to the facilities which may well need to be removed.

“Notwithstanding the possibility of an extension to the temporary uses, it remains the view of officers that the council does need to give consideration to how it wants to take forward a more permanent development of the site in the near future (already delayed) so that when any further temporary permission expires, the council and any developers/operators are ready with legal agreements, planning permissions and funding in place to commence work in redeveloping the site very soon after the site closes to the public.

“The site requires further investment before too long, not all of the site is used, and the layout is not ideal with poor integration of the events area to the rear thus not affording optimum use of the site for the enjoyment of the public and the generation of income.”

The notes and comments from the meeting will be collated and brought forward to inform future discussions over the way forward, with the next meeting scheduled to take place in the second week of November.

One suggestion that had been put forward was to write to every household in the town to gauge their views on a variety of options.

The committee also agreed that the future of the Ocean building should be brought into the scope of the Queen’s Drive board – and made that recommendation to cabinet for approval when they next meet.

THE HISTORY OF QUEEN’S DRIVE

In 2012, plans to redevelop the area between the old lifeboat station and the Maer, known as the Splash Zone, formed part of the Exmouth Masterplan which sets out future regeneration in the town

The controversial plans divided opinion in the town in 2013 when more than 500 people completed questionnaires about the authority’s intention to redevelop the area between the old lifeboat station and the Maer, known as the Splash Zone.

When asked for a general opinion, 52 per cent of respondents of the questionnaires were in favour of the overall proposals with 41 per cent against. The remaining seven per cent did not express a preference.

In December 2013, East Devon District Council’s Development Management Committee gave the go-ahead for the development of the Queen’s Drive area in Exmouth.

The outline permission includes the realignment of the road to give easier access to the beach and stunning views from the proposed new watersports hub, cafe and public open space.

East Devon District Council were then working with Moirai Capital Investments of Bournemouth to put forward proposals to “breathe new life into the nine acre council-owned seafront site at Queen’s Drive with a range of exciting leisure facilities”.

The detailed plans included luxury flats, shops, eateries, a multi-screen cinema and a new Harbour View Café and coastwatch tower

At the same time, a new action group was launched to ‘save’ Exmouth seafront from developers, with Save Exmouth Seafront concerned that the £18m redevelopment would mean some of the town’s oldest most popular businesses closing.

In October 2015, the Carriage Café on the seafront left the town. It had been open for nearly 50 years and the restored 1956 carriage business’s closing brought an end to an era for residents.

At around the same time, more than 1,000 residents and visitors town took part in the Exmouth Seafront Survey, initiated by Cllr Megan Armstrong. Led by author and analyst Louise MacAllister, the survey aimed to discover if plans for a multi-screen cinema, outdoor water splash zone and adventure golf park were wanted by those who would be using the facilities.

Organisers said the survey showed 95 per cent were against the redevelopment, it showed widespread support for the businesses at the time occupying the seafront and that many Exmouth residents felt their concerns regarding the plans have been ignored.

In April 2016, Exmouth residents went to the polls, and around 95 per cent of those who turned out to vote want more consultation on multimillion-pound plans for Queen’s Drive. Called by concerned residents, the parish poll saw 4,754 people – 17.8 per cent of the electorate – take part.

The summer of 2016 Moirai Capital Investments sacked as the developer due to the length of time it had taken for them to bring more plans.

September 2016 saw the Jungle Fun attraction and Arnold Palmer Putting Course closed for the last time. Hours earlier, locals and tourists had flocked to the attraction for one last round. The crazy golf course had been established around 40 years ago.

In November 2016, campaigners in Exmouth staged a protest march calling for further consultation on controversial seafront redevelopment plans. The Save Exmouth Seafront protesters set off from the lorry park in Marine Way and marched through Imperial Road, The Strand and Alexandra Terrace before finishing on the seafront.

April 2017 saw the reserved matters application for the seafront redevelopment approved. It meant the council could now go ahead and build the £18million redevelopment of a 3.6-hectare swathe of Queen’s Drive, but had no plans to do so. Had the application been rejected, it would have meant the outline permission for redevelopment would have no longer been extant and sent the project back to the drawing board.

The Fun Park, run by the Wright family, closed after more than 40 years at the end of August 2017, with a vigil held and floral tributes presented.

A last gasp bid to reprieve the Fun Park from closure failed two weeks later, when East Devon councillors voted 26 to 21 against extending the lease of the Fun Park. The contents of the Fun Park were auctioned off the following day.

The Harbour View café was also due to close at the same time, but has seen its lease extended.

October 2017 saw Grenadier reveal their plans for the Watersports Centre, before submitting the formal planning application in February 2018, which was then approved in June 2018 by eight votes to five.

Work has begun, and is scheduled to be complete this month, with a full opening scheduled for the early part of 2021.

The temporary attractions for the seafront at the Queen’s Drive Space, which include the food and drink area and the dinosaur-themed play park opened in May 2018, having been given planning permission in March 2018.

Permission was initially granted for one year, followed by a second permission for a further three years. That expires in March 2022, and the council will not be able to apply for any further temporary use.

Work began at the end of 2018 to realign the Queen’s Drive road, which was completed in June 2019, although questions have been raised about where the funding for the road, which East Devon District Council paid for, actually came from.

At the end of 2019, HemingwayDesign and Lambert Smith Hampton submitted their vision for Phase Three for Exmouth Seafront to East Devon District Council.

The suggested uses for the site include a new two storey café/restaurant on the existing Harbour View café site to the south of Queen’s Drive, a mix of playspace (including free play) and open public space on the remainder of the site, and an 60–80 bed 3–4 star hotel of high design quality.

East Devon District Council’s cabinet, when they met on Wednesday, February 5, agreed to launch a formal marketing exercise to identify developer/operator partners for the Queen’s Drive site, with a final decision on what to take forward set to be made in July.

But that the council’s scrutiny committee then unanimously agreed that the panel the purpose of agreeing the selection criteria for the commercial development was not properly balanced, and expressed their anger at how they felt Exmouth residents were not being listened to.

Having been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and a change of administration, in August, full council accepted that recommendation and sent it back to cabinet, who are now able to make the decision they wish over the future of Queen’s Drive.