Crest Nicholson has planning permission for 137 homes in Ludford parish off Foldgate Lane. This was controversial at every point but was approved by a planning inspector who had spent a few days in the area. That’s history. The housing is set to be built. Now plans have been submitted from the owners of the Grade II listed Foldgate Farm for a further five homes in their orchard. Impact on heritage, site access and the impact on the orchard are likely to be the biggest issues.
The climate emergency features on Shropshire Council’s agenda on Thursday, 16 May. Not once, not twice or even three times. There is one public petition and three motions from political parties and independent councillors. This is unprecedented and I am not sure how the debate will be managed. It would be a good idea to move the motions from the end to the beginning of the meeting to be debated along with the petition. But it is sea change from the February council meeting, when the council speaker cruelly extinguished a public question on climate change over a technicality.
I am sure the council will get the hint that we need to declare a climate emergency. But this must be more than a token gesture to capture the current public mood. The council must bring forward its plans to become carbon neutral from a target of 2050 to 2030, if not sooner. And it needs to seriously rethink its plans for cuts to bus cuts and building an environmentally destructive North West Relief Road around Shrewsbury.
Look around you. Trees are being felled. Hedges grubbed out. Arable fields are too often growing a monoculture crop boosted by chemicals. Biodiversity is the loser. As will be humanity if we continue this way.
Few of us have heard of the body that published a technical report on the loss and threat to all manner of species today. But that doesn’t make the report from the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) any less important. It is one of the most important environmental reports of this decade. It states bluntly that almost all environmental indicators show the health of nature is decreasing. Biodiversity is dying.
Like tackling climate change, we must do what we can locally. That means ensuring that new developments not only lead to biodiversity gain but deliver that gain more quickly. It means we must cut down fewer trees and hedges. It means we must set aside more land for nature.
If we want prosperity, we can’t destroy the environment that supports our wellbeing. We need to work with nature not against it.
The IPBES is the biodiversity partner of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Today’s report says nature is in trouble and one million species of plants and animals are at risk of going extinct. The scientists blame development leading to loss of habitat, climate change, overfishing, pollution and invasive species. Species are being lost tens or hundreds of times faster than before. The panel’s scientists blame the biodiversity crisis on humanity. They say there is still time to save the planet if governments, companies and individuals act.
It’s a wake-up call. We should heed it.
The IPBES report says that biodiversity is not just about birds, bugs and beasties – it’s a development issue, an economic issue, a social issue and a moral issue. Nature is essential for food production, for pure water, for medicines and for the wellbeing of people and society.
This is a report about global issues. It talks a lot about the large-scale destruction of the natural environment underway on other continents. The question is for us in Shropshire is what we can do here right now. There are many actions we can take.
Shropshire Council’s Biodiversity Action Plan has not been updated for a decade. The council’s excuse is that the government stopped funding it. Surely a council that cared about our county’s future would have an up to date plan for its biodiversity as well as its economy.
Planning policies in the county – and nationally – assume that biodiversity is a secondary consideration. Build first, stick a few trees and plant pond sometime afterwards. We need to insist developers introduce biodiversity improvements early on in developments. Once a tree is cut down – and more than 100 will be cut down for the Foldgate Lane housing development – it will be decades before any replacements host the same richness of biodiversity.
We need to link biodiverse areas into a network of wildlife corridors, not just isolated pockets. The London Borough of Brent is creating a seven mile Bee Corridor. That’s just one example of how we can make biodiversity work at a local level. Why aren’t we doing that in Shropshire?
The council is promoting the North West Relief Road around Shrewsbury despite the damage it will wreak on ancient ponds, silted up oxbows and veteran trees. It should rethink the route and the concept.
We must stop massacring verges in the name of tidiness. We must maintain sight lines for safety. But huge areas are routinely mown down with monotonous regularity because of our obsession with short grass. Shropshire Council made clear last year it doesn’t understand how it can help biodiversity and save money at the same time by changing its mowing regime. It regards biodiverse rich verges as the exception not the norm.
At today’s press conference in Paris, Sir Bob Watson praised the IPBES report:
“But we must recognise that the basic message is the same as what the scientific community has been saying for more than 30 years. Biodiversity is important in its own right. Biodiversity is important for human wellbeing and we humans are destroying it… In 1992 the Earth Summit in Brazil… recognised that biodiversity loss needed to be halted. Since 1992, the loss of biodiversity has accelerated. We ignored the warnings of 30 years ago. Unless we act now, we undermine wellbeing for future generations.”
We should not wait for national and international bodies to negotiate agreements. We should make promoting biodiversity central to all our policies and actions in this county.
We must stop wringing our hands and muttering apologies for what we are doing to our planet. We need to protect and enhance what we have. The time to do that is not tomorrow. It is today. We have a biodiversity emergency. We need to tackle it at local, national and international level. We must tackle it root and branch, if you will excuse the pun.
Shropshire Council has been consulting on drastic cuts to local bus services. The council is only concerned with saving £455,000 – plus an unspecified saving on concessionary fares. This is a slash and burn exercise driven by a council that doesn’t have a strategy for the future of public transport in the county.
The proposals will cut Bishop’s Castle off except for the school run. It is bad news for sustainable transport in Shrewsbury with a substantial hike in park and ride costs. In Ludlow, the popular 701 town service will be cut by a third.
These cuts will disproportionately disadvantage older and vulnerable people, along with those of limited mobility. Shropshire Council has failed to assess the impact of the cuts on people, communities and the environment.
Buses are a social service. By providing access to medical, retail and social facilities, they promote health and wellbeing. That lowers costs elsewhere in public sector, including the care sector and the NHS.
Shropshire Council was always determined to remove the 120 recycling bring banks from around the county. It had managed them badly and that allowed the council to make excuses for scrapping the service by saying the recyclables were contaminated and that businesses were disposing of their waste there. But of course, Shropshire Council only wanted to save money. The council’s waste contractor Veolia described the withdrawal as: “A great opportunity for residents to re-examine their recycling and to make full use of the kerbside service.” But we are more likely to see a lot more recyclables go into the black bin and incinerated.
It’s better news that Shropshire Council has abandoned plans to charge £40 a year to collect green waste. The council realised that it was going against the grain of emerging government policy – ministers are calling for free garden waste collections and weekly food waste collections.