Local campaigners, the Walks Action Group, are challenging the bid proposals on two main fronts: the council run ‘preliminary’ public survey was deeply flawed in that it failed to include ‘the likes’ expressed by those surveyed. This had the effect of distorting the results on which the council state they have based their plans for restoration. Campaigners also point to the fact that this survey was called a ‘preliminary’ survey and was carried out prior to the Stage 1 bid. No further survey was undertaken and as the tree proposals have changed radically they ask how the council can claim a ‘broad consensus’ in favour of their plans. Their second target is to challenge the historical basis for what is proposed. Details of the proposals, including copies of documents submitted with the Stage 2 bid can be viewed by logging on to scottwilson.com/the walks. For campaign details log on to the Walks Action Group site www.thewalks.co.uk.
Serious concerns are also being expressed on the evidence for the proposed tree removal. The initial hazard survey of the trees undertaken by OCA (UK) Ltd carried out prior to the stage 1 bid, was simply updated in March 2004. A drill investigation was also carried out randomly on 40 trees and two soil investigations undertaken. Close scrutiny of the various reports does not support Council claims that the reason for the removal is that the trees are declining rapidly.
On the contrary, the OCA UK Ltd report states that there has been ‘no major deterioration in the condition of the trees in either of the main walks’ during the 5/6 years since the initial survey and the fact that the growth rates for the Horse Chestnut and Limes ‘would appear to be within the normal parameters’ is hardly evidence supporting their rapid decline. Statements in the soil investigations by Voelcker Consultants claiming that the trees ‘have struggled and shown reduced final growth’ are presented as fact when not in fact proven. What is clear however is that any replacement trees, having been nursery grown, will require optimum soil conditions if they are to be successfully established. This makes their establishment a high risk strategy.
Complaints to HLF have received acknowledgement but campaigners are not hopeful that even undermining the veracity of council claims of a ‘broad consensus’ will tip the balance against the tree proposals. It is becoming clear that HLF are determined to grant approval for schemes which fulfil the agendas of those who determine policy rather than fulfilling the aspirations of local people. It seems that those who pull the strings value ‘the heritage and aesthetic value of tree avenues of consistent age’ above the individual ‘heritage’ trees.
Scott Wilson and the Council, in an attempt to diffuse opposition, are looking at the ‘feasibility of retaining a small number of the oldest and finest trees on the site where this does not significantly compromise re-establishment of the new tree avenues’. This is hardly consistent with the PR message being given out by the Council at every opportunity. The Council pledge to fell the trees whether or not their HLF bid succeeds is another cynical ploy designed to head off any suggestion that the trees are being felled primarily to fulfil the design objectives - avenues of consistent age structure - and that but for HLF funding the trees would have many years of useful life.
Meanwhile it is clear that current proposals may lead to the destruction of wildlife habitats for three species on the RSPB red and amber list of birds which are of conservation concern. Bats are known to be present in Red Mount - one of the listed structures to be restored - but the consultants have so far not released details of any bats present in the trees under threat. Campaigners suspect that the reason is to enable this information to be ‘managed’ in a way which minimises any PR fallout on a project which promises to be soured by insensitive and unnecessary tree removal. It is ironic that whilst HLF funds projects under its Urban Parks Scheme which place such a low priority on preserving wildlife, they fund the conservation and acquisition of wildlife habitats under other schemes.
The outcome of the Stage 2 bid will be known by January 2005 and if the current proposals receive the go-ahead the felling will start in Autumn 2005. So much for the green ‘lung’ of Kings Lynn. Roll on the Machine!
Tricia Ross - Tr1shar@hotmail.com
Supporter Walks Action Group
6 October 2004