Eynsham Planning Improvement Campaign (EPIC): A summary of actions taken (2017 – 2020) to ensure West Oxfordshire District Council’s (WODC) Local Plan protects local biodiversity
In the beginning …
In 2017, 450 of us - local people who live in Eynsham – joined EPIC. Our first action was to challenge flaws in WODC’s Expression of Interest to the Government for a Garden Village (GV) on the other side of the A40 from Eynsham. We showed how the remarkable biodiversity on the GV had not been assessed (see Cotswold Garden Village: A Case of Mistaken Identity).
We then prepared Hearing statements and presented them to the Government Inspector in person in the WODC Council Room, e.g, The Local Plan is unaware of the Site of European significance for arable plants and wildlife as a result of non-intensive farming practices over several decades.
Later, we responded to WODC revisions of the Local Plan, for example, pointing out that Eynsham Neighbourhood Plan’s policy on Enhancing Biodiversity will not be met by the revised plan. We also challenged a further Sustainability appraisal claim that the development of the Garden Village would have a neutral effect on biodiversity in the Garden Village site
In 2018, we took up the biodiversity issue again in response to the WODC Consultation on Garden Village Area Action Plan
‘The GV site contains threatened habitats and priority species that Defra’s ’25 Year Plan’ is so keen to protect, conserve and increase. In relation to the Nature Recovery Network the Plan talks of the need to “require more habitat; in better condition; in bigger patches that are more closely connected”. It seems that, where such conditions already exist, as in the GV site, they are not valued by the authorities. It is like a utility company that entices new customers with lower rates, while forgetting its long-term, loyal client base. Instead, the GV site should be regarded as a potential Special Protection Area or Special Area of Conservation, and should therefore, as the NPPF says in paragraph 176, “be given the same protection as European sites”. (p.5)
You can read Alan Larkman’s response to this same consultation. Alan, with others, has surveyed, over a number of years, the remarkable biodiversity on the northern part of the Garden Village site.
In the West Eynsham Strategic Development Plan, EPIC stressed the importance of structuring the site by natural features such as the field, boundary hedgerows, native trees, routes and the Chilbrook valley and pointed out that this proposal (1000 + dwellings) could potentially cause greater damage to Eynsham than the Garden Village ( GV) proposal because it would be part of the village and not separated by the barrier of the A40.
EPIC promoted saving our ‘dog-walking’ field along Chilbridge Road to the south as an amenity place for children to play and learn about Nature. It hosted a picnic in the field and 80+ residents, primarily young families and their children and gave them a sense of the beautiful countryside this development would destroy.
‘Planners and developers should be mindful of … the importance of nature and natural landscapes in the development of children and young people to foster curiosity about, and a love of, the natural world. Along with growing up more healthily and having more fun, being in nature helps them to learn through play to understand and respect nature and become more aware of the need to take care of our planet and avoid its further destruction.’ (p.9)
EPIC was also aware from the Eynsham Neighbourhood plan documents that the disused railway line especially is remarkable for its biodiversity (see p.8) of wild flowers and insects and challenged the WODC plan to build the spine road running across the site to run along the disused railway line. EPIC recommended that this valuable asset should be included in the linear park. It pointed out that retaining this footpath would also connect the park directly with the Fishponds.
Footpath along the disused railway line from Station Road to the “dog-walking”field. Along this stretch there is a remarkable diversity of wild flowers, butterflies and notably the six spot burnet moth. Photo by Sue Chapman
Given the detail and length of EPIC’s responses to both the Garden Village and West Eynsham consultations, we created templates to help residents to respond to the very detailed and technical consultations. This was a successful strategy and, much to WODC’s surprise, residents responded in unprecedented large numbers! The strength of their concern was also shown by the numbers of residents who turned out to our two demonstrations on the A40 (100+ in April and 300+ in July 2018). These events were well covered in the local press, TV and radio. So well done, Eynsham!
In May 2019, EPIC joined up with other Eynsham community groups to ensure that we would have a place at the Garden Village Charette (a workshop organised by Grosvenor, the developer of the site, to start developing ideas for the masterplan. We prepared our six priorities in advance including Supporting biodiversity (p.4). This priority recommended how the following could be achieved.
‘Conserve and wherever possible enhance the existing very rich variety of habitats and their accompanying biodiversity, providing robust protection for rare and endangered species which are a significant feature of the site.’
We played a significant role at the Charette and immediately prepared a group response to the discussions and activities of the areas of consensus about biodiversity protection, keeping wide hedgerows and existing trees, ensuring green fingers/corridors extending into the village and out into the countryside, significant scrub and tree planting in all areas and water attenuation/new ponds/SUDS needed that could become attractive amenity and ecological areas. We also pushed for an independent Design Review Panel which was taken up by Grosvenor.
After the Charette, EPIC was represented at two full day meetings of the Design Review Panel, made up of independent architects/urban designers/masterplanners, a landscape architect, conservation specialist and a transport planner. Most of the other attendees were from the Grosvenor team, with some WODC officers. We were glad that the Eynsham community was represented by an EPIC member who has relevant experience; it is quite unusual to have members of the community present, and the panel said they found it useful.
In November 2019, the Design Review Panel echoed our concerns about the constant claim of biodiversity gain on a site where biodiversity loss will be inevitable. They said:
‘How can there be a net gain in biodiversity when a new arable plant survey has identified 7 fields of national importance in the site, some of which will be built over? How will the gain be demonstrated and monitored? How will you protect precious ground nesting birds from people and their pets? It is not clear how they plan to balance the retention of agricultural land with open space and areas protected for wildlife space. They are also building on the best agricultural land. Interconnected wildlife areas and endangered species need more protection’ (p.2).
Meanwhile in October 2019, EPIC responded to the WODC’s Garden Village Area Action Plan Preferred Options paper with a summary and a 22 page document where we repeatedly pushed forward the importance of biodiversity protection policies being testable and enforceable.
In May 2019, EPIC created draft priorities for the Garden Village (GV) for joint discussion with Grosvenor, Eynsham Parish Council, City Farm Management Company, GreenTEA, Peace Oak and the Eynsham Society. In relation to supporting biodiversity:
Conserve and wherever possible enhance the existing very rich variety of habitats and their accompanying biodiversity, providing robust protection for rare and endangered species which are a significant feature of the site.
In preparation for a second joint meeting in March 2020, EPIC sent questions in advance to Grosvenor, based on the agreed and not agreed key priorities from the May 2019 meeting and the Eynsham groups’ key action points on biodiversity (p.2), Grosvenor’s response (p.5) and subsequent discussion notes (p.14-15.
Recently EPIC and GreenTEA have challenged developer Jansons’ attempted evasion of carrying out an environmental impact assessment for their development site (West Eynsham Consultation).
That’s it, so far! If you would like to join us in local campaigning for protecting biodiversity Nature in Eynsham, you can join us here.
Children playing in the dog-walking field, West Eynsham
The EPIC Team 16/6/20