A plan by Newcastle City Council to build 350 houses right next to Gosforth Park Nature Reserve has got the locals up in arms. In many ways their struggles reflect our own, because the culprit at the end of the chain of command is the National Planning Policy Framework, a jumbled nightmare of a policy that promised to ‘make it easier for councils to challenge poor quality and unattractive development’ and ‘give better protection for the environment’.
It actually does the opposite of this. By erring on the side of development it has given us jerry-built estates of astonishingly poor houses and it has signposted to developers that edge-of-town countryside is theirs for the taking.
The policy also removes most of the incentives for using brownfield sites before green, which forces councils to pack their green fields into ‘Local Plans’ whenever they’re offered up by farmers with pound signs in their eyes. And what drives councils is the fact that they have lost 47% of their revenue, in real terms, since 2010. They just want more people paying council tax and they want the £19,000 stipend for every new house built.
The policy is utterly disempowering and has made local people and nature lovers across Britain lose all faith in the so-called democratic process.
Like us, the people of Gosforth Park have fought back with their own figures: surveys, studies and investigations. One study concluded that the footfall in the nature reserve would be increased by 1,500 people. So we can expect more than 4,000 extra dog walkers in Decoy. Another study, more alarmingly, finds that the cats associated with the new residents there could reasonably be expected to kill 15,000 animals within the reserve over 10 years.
There are two key differences between this battle and the NA3 development that will cut off (and cut into) Decoy Park. Gosforth Wildlife Park is much bigger than Decoy, and the development next to Decoy will be more than three times the size of the Newcastle Project. So simply extrapolating their figures, we can expect the pets of our new neighbours to kill something in the order of 53,500 animals within Decoy Country Park in each decade, presumably increasing as NA1 and NA2 are built. Cats, after all, can range very far when hunting.
At this rate of loss, and with its corridor to the countryside choked off, Decoy Country Park will cease to be a home for nature.
We already know this of course; Natural England, among others, have pointed it out. But the figures should shock anyone who loves Decoy Park and wants it to be anything but a dead, silted pond full of crisp packets; its woods silent and its pathways a minefield of dogshit. But at least we’ll have a fitting memorial to the careers of Christophers, Bullivant and Clemens.