Why I believe people power can stop housing proposals for York nature reserve: Scott Marmion

Campaigners are attempting to prevent a housing development affecting Askham Bog.
Campaigners are attempting to prevent a housing development affecting Askham Bog.
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With the proposed housing development for more than 500 new properties on land adjacent to the Askham Bog nature reserve in York reaching its end-game we all need to step up our efforts to save it.

Housing developer Barwood has appealed against the council’s decision to reject its application and a planning inquiry will now be held next month, lasting for 12 days.

We have all seen what effect a mass outcry can have with cases such as Clifford’s Tower when all the regular channels had failed to stop it and in recent weeks Sir David Attenborough has reiterated his opposition to the proposals for near Askham Bog, which is on the site of an ancient lake left behind by a retreating glacier around 15,000 years ago.

David Attenborough hits out at Askham Bog development plans

Sir David has said: “So much of the natural world is in peril and now, more than ever before, ancient places like Askham Bog, rich in biodiversity, must be protected.”

The long-running saga saw plans for the development resubmitted to the City of York Council after being initially rejected back in 2016. The proposal was unanimously refused by the planning committee – leading to the current situation where a planning inquiry will now take place after Barwood appealed against the decision.

I was somewhat surprised by a recent Prime Minister’s Questions where the first question from local MP Julian Sturdy was asking if Boris Johnson would be prepared to join him in lying down in front of the bulldozers to stop it happening.

At first I thought he might have taken Boris’ statement that he would rather be “dead in a ditch than delay Brexit” a bit too literally, but it does make a good point.

Askham Bog is not just another patch of land waiting to be cleared in the name of progress.

York’s unique character is being threatened by relentless expansion which needs to be kept in check. Houses are not the only thing that residents need, we need open spaces to be able to get away from the concrete jungle of big cities, catch some fresh air and give wildlife its own homes amongst us.

For me it is the perfect place to take the dog for a walk right on my doorstep, as it is for many other locals. Then there are the scientific aspects of it, this area is not just another ordinary collection of fields so why should we be building homes on the rarest features of our landscape?

So I’ve decided to take a more unusual approach as no stone should be left unturned to prevent Barwood Land from getting its own way.

I have created a petition asking the Secretary of State to intervene and take the final decision himself.

At first I was surprised that after editing some of the wording, the petitions committee accepted it as I was not sure if it was something they technically have the power to address, it seems they do.

It would be an unusual means for certain but the essential fact is this: The fate of Askham Bog will be decided by an individual with no direct personal interest in York’s future development.

I would prefer that individual to be an elected politician than an unelected inspector in this case, as if public opinion alone were consulted it’s obvious the appeal would be rejected.

If given to an inspector it will be decided purely on technical grounds and we all know technicalities can be used to justify anything.

So I hope everybody will support all petitions and campaigns on this issue.

This petition maybe a long shot but it does no harm to try. If we reach the 100,000 signatures required to force a Parliamentary debate who knows what could happen.

This year has already seen an Act of Parliament passed through the Commons which binds the hands of the Government in a major negotiation with a foreign power in under four hours, so imagine how quickly one could be passed when nobody wanted to speak against it at all.

We live in such uncertain times.

At the very least we need to start tackling some of the fundamental problems with planning law as it stands now.

That so much effort and money needs to be spent in order to protect such an important asset is wrong.

To change the planning laws will require people from across the country with their own local issues to work together and force the politicians to make it easier for local communities to protect what assets they choose to value.

The petition can be found here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/276313

Dr Scott Marmion has launched a petition against the Askham Bog housing proposals.