‘York’s unique character is being threatened by relentless expansion’

Askham Bog nature reserve. Photograph: Yorkshire Wildlife Trust
11 Oct 2019 @ 7.56 am
| Environment, Opinion

York resident Scott Marmion has launched a Parliamentary petition calling on the Environment Secretary to step in and stop the housing development that threatens Askham Bog nature reserve in York. Here he explains why

With the proposed development on the land adjacent to Askham Bog reaching its end game we all need to step up our efforts to save it.

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.

I was somewhat surprised with Prime Ministers Questions last week with the first question from Julian Sturdy 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.

York is under threat

Scott Marmion lives close to Askham Bog
The 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 do many other locals.

Then there is the scientific aspects of it: this area is not just another 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 I think we all agree 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 is obvious the appeal should 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.

Force a parliamentary debate

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust chief executive Rob Stoneman shows Sir David Attenborough round Askham Bog nature reserve. Photograph: Tom Marshall, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust
So I hope everybody will support all petitions and campaigns on this and not just choose one or the other. My petition maybe a long shot but it does no harm to try.

And just maybe if people like Sir David Attenborough were to publicise it and 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 negotiation with a foreign power in under four hours!

Imagine how quick 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.