There's A Better Solution To The County Park For Ely

PUBLISHED: 12:00 29 January 2009 | UPDATED: 10:43 04 May 2010

THERE is no doubt that Ely needs its green - and watery - belts. So what could be wrong with a country park? Unfortunately, there are reasons for rejecting the present proposals and seeking a better solution. For a start, Country Park is a contradictio

THERE is no doubt that Ely needs its green - and watery - belts. So what could be wrong with a country park? Unfortunately, there are reasons for rejecting the present proposals and seeking a better solution.

For a start, 'Country Park' is a contradiction in terms: once a park, it will be country no more. A park will be designated, promoted, signed, mapped, interpreted, wardened, probably dotted round with car parks, and the paths all more or less paved. You will be told where to go and what to see. Country people expect to find their own way, to splash unconcerned through puddles and mud, to observe and listen and find out for themselves what grows there. Making a park will be just one more part of the great dumbing-down for people who have never stepped off a pavement. With it will come trampling and traffic, litter and noise, and ever more disturbance. Gone will be the solitude and the country.

'Managed Natural Environment' is another contradiction in terms, when you think about it. In this context 'natural' means undisturbed, and some of the proposed area has been undisturbed for a long time - long enough to become a wilderness, and to attract the shyest of wild plants and animals. 'Management' cannot help but make disturbance, and for the wild parts of the area this would probably be the worst thing we could do. Protection is more important.

Much of the land is low-lying enough to be flood-prone, and so protects itself from building development. There is a case for protecting the higher ground and edges from development - especially as the costs of a country park would most likely be used to justify development around the margins. Such development by stealth should be foreseen and forestalled by having a properly planned green belt. Existing paths and rights of way are protected anyway by the Countryside Rights of Way Act. They need to be maintained, but it does not take a park designation to do that. Designation would seem designed to destroy.

Lastly there is the nature of local authority. How can it be appropriate for a council that is already overstretched to try and reach beyond their statutory responsibilities (such as planning, rubbish collection, parking)? How can it make sense for ECDC to take on new commitments for which there is no spare cash, no authority and no basis of experience?

Local democracy can never be expected to balance the interests of countryside and wildlife against population pressure and tourism. This is no slight to present incumbents - it is a simple recognition that the structures of local government cannot achieve this. Present processes are inevitably subject to being overridden by short-term economic interests, and by lobbying from special-interests with the deepest pockets.

Surely we should think twice before casting our countryside into the clutches of the local council? We should beware of abandoning what wilderness remains to the vagaries of flawed political process. Would it not be better for

i) the wildest area to gain the protection of a Nature Reserve, and

ii) for the other low-lying countryside to be left much as it is?

If we value the fact that Ely is rural and different and special, we should insist on a solution along these lines to ensure a genuine balance of interests. Otherwise we are mutely accepting the creeping urbanisation that is so evident throughout the south of England.

The Ely Riverside Association.

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