Without warning, nearby residents and college users suddenlt found that the college was clearing the vegetation from their fenced-off field to the east of the college itself, adjacent to the footpath leading Vale Drive to Maidstone Road. The result is as shown in the picture at right, involving the destruction of natural habitats for several species of wildlife.
This was alarming to local nature conservationists, as the field is to an extent protected from destruction under a local policy in the Medway Local Plan document—BNE34, which states the following:
MEDWAY LOCAL PLAN POLICY BNE34:
Within the Areas of Local Landscape Importance defined on the Proposals Map, development will only be permitted if:
AREAS OF LOCAL LANDSCAPE IMPORTANCE
The college said that their site was being secured, as children had been using the field (presumably hidden by the vegetation) to gain access to other college land. This seems odd, as the whole college site tself (i.e. excluding this field) is open anyway...
The situation regarding the above Policy BNE34 is apparently that: "The BNE 34 protects the landscape value of the area but does not prevent contractors form clearing the site of vegetation."
This is not really satisfactory, though little can be done before the new planning policy framework methodology comes into being. Meanwhile, we have suggested to the greenspaces manager (and the relevant Portfolio Holder) that this policy will need to be tightened up, to give us better control over such situations in future.
We have also recommended working with the conservationists to take advantage of their expert knowledge, so that any such work can benefit from their expert knowledge and can in future be done sensibly and with notice.
Because there is a less than ideal relationship between the conservationists and the college management, we further suggested that the greenspaces team might act as a kind of mediator where college sites are concerned, and offered to provide contact details for this.
Hopefully, on this occasion, not too much damage has been done (as there is at least a lot of open space and habitat nearby) and perhaps we have helped set things up to prevent or at least minimise future issues of this nature.
The college's second field (to the south of the college itself) is now also being cleared, which rather disproves that this work is being done "to prevent access to the college's land by children", as a college representative claimed was the reason (see above).
Again, there is little that can be done about this; but we can at least do something about the hedgerow alongside the footpath. Part of the reason for ensuring the footpath would be retained was to potect the wildlife habitats within the hedgerow.
This has been done via the council's Greenspaces Team and one of our local nature and conservation experts, and what they have found and agreed was: