Get the pits debate into perspective

PUBLISHED: 11:04 23 August 2007 | UPDATED: 12:46 04 May 2010

Ongoing issue: Our front page from May 24

Ongoing issue: Our front page from May 24

IT is with some trepidation that I write about Roswell Pits but inevitably many people have written to me and I have been following the letters in the Ely Standard. My views will not be appreciated by everyone, but I do think a sense of proportion and ba

Ongoing issue: Getting people talking on the letters page from June 21.

IT is with some trepidation that I write about Roswell Pits but inevitably many people have written to me and I have been following the letters in the Ely Standard.

My views will not be appreciated by everyone, but I do think a sense of proportion and balance has to be introduced to the debate. I have spent time on site with the owner and meeting those who are concerned.

Before addressing the issues, I do think we need to understand the overall background. Let us not forget that it is just one pit, albeit possibly the largest; the others are in different ownership. It is a man-made pit and from old photographs was an eyesore. It is nature which has reclaimed it and my experience of a lifetime in the countryside is left alone nature will always win.

Countless ponds and lakes have been excavated to look like moonscapes but within a year, the seed bank in the soil has germinated and nature is back in command.

Secondly, we need to understand that effective conservation requires management of the habitat otherwise certain species will crowd out the rest. Thirdly, we should realise that only one bank is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and that is for geological reasons, nothing to do with wildlife. That bank is unstable in places and I understand that Natural England is happy for stabilisation works to take place.

The other aspect is the role of East Cambridgeshire District Council as planning authority. Councils cannot make up the law; they have to work within it. I was surprised to read councillor Higginson criticising the council for lack of leadership, he more than anyone should know what the law says. The fact is that if the council decides that any form of change requires planning consent and the individual disagrees, he can take it to appeal. If the appeal decides the change did not require planning consent, the council will have wasted a lot of our money.

Obviously, what really worries people is not just what has happened but what the owner's plans are. He has told me he wishes to create moorings for up to 50 narrowboats at the western end of the lake; to stabilise the northern bank and possibly allow a footpath there.

He also wishes to increase the area of reedbeds against the railway line. I know many people think 50 boats will take up a large part of the lake and that the occupants will frighten wildlife. I cannot judge the first but I am always amazed at the capacity of wildlife to live alongside people and traffic.

This is where planning issues come in. The pipes have all been laid to serve the maintenance equipment used in the pits and there is a debate about whether planning consent should have been required; personally I doubt it but it's for the council to decide.

The owner has applied to the council for a certificate of lawfulness which will require the council to decide whether all the work done so far is within planning law. If it is not then they can take enforcement action. It would be very helpful if the owner set out his overall plans so that the planners could decide what was acceptable.

This is particularly important as there appear to be some inconsistencies between what I have been told and the documents submitted by the owner's agent. In my view, mooring narrowboats alongside reedbeds is unacceptable.

So let me sum up: this is a private property so the owner can do what he wants within the law and he is entitled to generate some income if he can; however, the people of Ely have enjoyed the lake's facilities for fishing, sailing and walking as well as the considerable wildlife.

I would like it to continue to provide those facilities and I have already agreed with the owner that I will act as 'honest broker' in trying to find ways forward that most people can accept. If that means taking the chair at a further public meeting or any other action, as always I will try to help.

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