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The biggest threat so far to the Dagnam Park Nature Reserve

Havering Council obviously have it in mind to build a solar array on much of the land recently added to our Nature Reserve.

Del Smith 22/7/16

Latest News  (January 2017)

Great news from the 25th January 2017 Havering Council meeting. Lead Councillor Roger Ramsey made this statement

"The proposal for two solar parks in the borough (which was agreed as an item of the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy) is part of a wider strategy to provide clean, sustainable and renewable energy and also to generate significant income to maintain vital services in the face of loss of much of government funding. Following the outcome of an initial public consultation prior to any planning application we have been considering with officers how to proceed further. We are grateful for the interest and views on both possible sites. 
I have have had meetings with officers of the Friends of Dagnam Park and other individuals. I have also carried out inspections. On Friday 13 January I toured the whole site with officers and on Friday 20 January I walked through the area with the Chairman and Secretary of the Friends Group and a concerned resident. I am grateful to them for their time and courtesy. 
Although work is continuing on financial and practical analysis I can say that we do not now consider that the Dagnam Park proposal should proceed in its current form. 
My particular concerns include the size of the area proposed and its topography. If a smaller scheme for Dagnam Park is to be suggested the form and content of consultation will be discussed in advance with the Friends Group. If no scheme is proposed no further consultation will be needed. I hope to be able to give final confirmation on this by the next full Council meeting." 

So beware, a battle is won but the war may not be over.

News update (December 2016)

Since The FODP first started hearing rumours and seeing unfamiliar characters wandering the fields with their notebooks last summer things have moved on apace. In August the FODP wrote to every Havering Councillor expressing our concern and asking for more information. A few Cllrs responded one being Cllr Roger Ramsey the leader of the council. The story was publicised on this website and on Don Tait’s Dagnam Park and RM3 Facebook pages. It led to a spontaneous uprising of park users past and present. It led to letters to the press a huge petition and recently an enormous demonstration outside Havering town hall. The biggest for decades. The opposition hasn't diminished if anything it has increased as more and more people have become aware of the magnitude of the proposals. The people of Harold Hill of all political persuasions and none have risen up in opposition to the project. There has even been some non violent Guerrilla action, which I couldn't possibly support.

They are encouraged by the complete disarray in Havering Council's ruling group led by the Conservatives and supported by a group of Ratepayers. Over the past few years a whole series of contradictory press releases and public statements have underlined the confusion in their ranks. Don Tait’s Facebook pages have provided a platform for all to voice their opinions. With very few exceptions they have opposed any development in the Nature Reserve or on any green belt land “adjacent” to the Dagnam Park NR.

Lorraine Moss, an intrepid, determined and articulate campaigner summed up the story so far in her recent post reproduced below. She was prompted by a Romford Recorder article.

  “This article is extremely significant and I would like to thank the Romford Recorder for publishing it.
This article highlights what I can only describe as being "misleading". "dishonest", "wasting public money" and being totally inefficient !!
We are already aware of the fact that the council referred to the proposed site as being "land adjacent to Dagnam Park" in their consultation letters. This was despite the fact that they had made several announcements stating that the land in question had been made part of the park. This was done in one of their own press releases and on the Conservatives own website ! They even wasted public money going through the planning process for the status of this land to be changed.
We then have the issue of the signs that were installed over Dagnam Park in the summer with a map showing the additional land.
Well, it would now seem that as well as having the Officer in charge of the proposal pretending to be someone else on a public forum, we now have incorrect claims of support from one organisation. Roger Ramsey said ; “Friends of the Earth and the RSPCA encourage this kind of development in creating green energy from our most prolific resource, the sun, and creating wild life havens such as might happen here [Dagnam Park].
Friends of The Earth said; “We do not think this [Dagnam Park] is an acceptable location.
“To import a large solar array would damage the biodiversity and spoil an amenity that the local residents are proud of.”
This is again highlighting how flawed this proposal is and the reality is that it should be abandoned with immediate effect”

The FODP have not remained idle, since we kicked off the campaign all of our members have actively fought against the proposals and many new members have joined us in the past few months. Committee members have had discussions with various council officers and councillors as well as escorting many councillors around the reserve. The most recent meeting with the leader of the council Roger Ramsey on 12th December lasted more than an hour and covered a broad range of issues centred on the solar array. Alan York sent the following brief account of the meeting to our members on the 13th December.

· Cllr Ramsey summarised where the project stands so far.

· FODP support the council in finding alternative ways of funding the £60 million shortfall due to pending government cut backs.
· Other alternative solar panel sites were discussed.
· The council's policy regarding building on green belt sites was questioned.
· FODP pointed out that higher security would be required if the panels were ever to be installed.
· The effects on the wildlife and the biodiversity report were challenged.
· How and why the nature reserve boundaries were moved was questioned.
· Both sides agreed to have future meetings and to co-operate more closely in future.

The Full Council will debate a motion on the Solar Array on January 25th, protesters will turn out again in even bigger numbers. The battle will continue until the Council accepts that our Nature Reserve and Havering’s green belt are far more important to the voters than they ever imagined. When the plans are finally dropped we will need to press our demands to have all of the new land formally included in the nature reserve and preserved for all time. Every scrap of green land on Harold Hill has been built on, the whole character of the estate has been changed by constant infilling. Stealing The Manor is a step too far.

Del Smith 19/12/16

First a little history

 The ten fields in their study were all part of the old Neaves’ estate that were compulsory purchased in 1946 by the LCC when they bought the land to build Harold Hill. These fields were then leased to local farmers to make up for land they lost beneath the homes in Harold Hill. These farmers, Watt and Quilter held the agricultural tenancies for more than fifty years. When the LCC became the GLC in 1965 all the assets of the LCC were transferred to the GLC and likewise when the GLC was abolished in 1986 the land was inherited by Havering Borough Council who is still the owner. By 2000 very little farming was carried on and eventually the agricultural use ceased and the land became de facto public open space. In October 2004 Havering Council agreed to create the "Manor Local Nature Reserve" in what was formerly known as Dagnam Park and in 2012 the Council gave planning consent to a change of use for all the farm fields surrounding the Nature Reserve from Agriculture to Public Open Space. They then announced on their website in Jan 2014 that they had added this former farm land to the nature reserve. In their words “Dagnam Park doubles in size to become the biggest park and nature reserve in Havering” See Opposite.

The present threat

On 22nd April 2016 an application (Z0004.16) was received by Havering Council’s Development Management Dept from a planning consultancy “Parker Dann (PD)” They were requesting what is known as a Screening Opinion. This is essentially a request for a waiver in any forthcoming planning application for the need to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).  PD set out what they have in mind and then by paying heed to guidance and  regulations Havering Council is bound to give an opinion. In this case Havering’s opinion was that an EIA was not required. It’s interesting to note that in spite of their proclaimed intentions to form partnerships with “friends” groups no one from Havering Council thought it necessary to inform the Friends of Dagnam Park of the impending threat to our nature reserve. We found out by accident, by rumour and by leaks.
Parker Dann are not the developers they are employed by the developer which in this case will be Havering Council, the owners of the land, probably in partnership with a commercial developer. A planning application will undoubtedly follow.
What Parker Dann set out in their covering letter was advance notice of a huge solar array consisting of thousands of solar panels over ten fields covering seventy five acres of the nature reserve. About a fifth of the reserve in total. Because an actual planning application has not yet been received we cannot be certain as to its final size. But of course any planning application can be followed by another and another until the available land runs out.

Can Havering Council justify covering a nature reserve with solar panels

Well they obviously could do with the money, and solar energy is carbon free and every little helps in the global fight against climate change. We are fortunate in that there is a precedent for a planning application for a solar array in Havering, at Clay Tye Farm in Upminster (P1249.14) It was a bit larger than the one proposed here and it was on privately owned farm land. Here is what the Havering Council planning committeee had to say about that one.

"The proposal would constitute inappropriate development in the Green Belt and would result in significant visual harm, along with harm to the amenities enjoyed by the general public from a public right of way. Very special circumstances that clearly outweigh the identified harm to the Green Belt, by reason of inappropriateness and other harm, have not been demonstrated in this case. The proposal is therefore considered to be contrary to Policies DC22 and DC45 of the Development Control Policies Development Plan Document; Policy 7.16 of the London Plan; and the guidance contained in the National Planning Policy Framework."

Reason for refusal.
During consideration by the committee, members placed different weight on the planning merits and decided to refuse planning permission.

And the statement below, sourced from the Romford Recorder dated 30th December 2014 & the Upminster & Cranham Residents Association newsletter  dated 13th August 2015 reported:

"Members of Havering Council’s regulatory services committee threw out the planning application over fears it would spoil the landscape. The proposal would have put 60,100 panels measuring 1m by 1.6m on green belt land associated with Clay Tye Farm in Upminster. Councillors rejected the plans by 10 votes to nil, with one abstaining, at a meeting on December 18. Cllr. Ron Ower (East Havering Residents’ Group, Upminster) said: “The application was for 60,000 panels, which would have been two metres high. I thought they’d be visually obstructive, detrimental to the green belt and set a dangerous precedent.”

Cllr Ron Ower is now a senior member of Havering Council.

So that all looks promising. What are we worrying about? Well the difference is that this application will come from Havering council and/or it's partner to itself. A strange affair but not that unusual and perfectly legal. Somehow I doubt the solar farm will have many supporters amongst Haverings lovers of our parks and open spaces.

Havering Council's Proud Press Release

See it in full

 

 

Details of the new extension to the Dagnam Park Nature Reserve

In February 2012 the London Borough of Havering agreed an application (P1850.11) to its own planning cttee to add 82 hectares of former farmland to the Nature Reserve. The area shaded red on the map below. This land has been used as open space for some years following the demise of Manor Farm. It has been council owned since it was included in the then London County Council's original compulsory purchase order in 1946. This order bought up the Neave Estate pursuant to the building of Harold Hill. Since 1946 it has been farmed by local tenant farmers from Manor Farm and Hill Farm

Prior to the planning application to change the land from agricultural use to Nature Reserve consultants were contracted by the Council to undertake a series of surveys of the additional land. These reports are summarised here with links to the full reports. The reports are taken from Havering Council's Website.

 

The land added to the reserve in 2012

The land they intend to remove from the reserve in 2016

 

Opposite a map showing the extent of the proposed solar array. Note that each field is fenced separately leaving the hedges outside the development. There will be some small ancillary buildings and roadways (not concrete but substantial) it's not clear how the grassland would be managed around and under the panels. You can download the whole of the Parker Dunn proposal letter here.

SCREENING OPINION

Screening is the process of deciding which projects require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
An applicant for planning permission may ask the planning authority for a "screening opinion" before submitting the application. If it receives such a request, the authority has to issue an opinion within 3 weeks of the date of receipt.
A copy of the screening opinion/screening direction has to be made available for public inspection for two years at the place where the planning register is kept.
The aim of the screening process is to identify those projects that are likely to have significant effects on the environment. In the UK determining "significance" follows a two-stage approach, firstly by applying 'exclusive' thresholds and criteria specified in the EIA Regulations and, secondly, on a case by case basis having regard to the selection.
The broad intention of requesting a screening opinion is that developers can obtain a clear view from the LPA on the need for EIA well before they reach the stage of lodging a formal planning application. This should minimise the possibility of delay or uncertainty. No action will be taken on the planning application until the developer has prepared an ES and submitted it to the planning authority.

Further reading. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2011/1824/pdfs/uksi_20111824_en.pdf

London Borough of Havering's Consultation letter and leaflet

if you prefer you can download it here