Tuesday 20 December 2016

Usability of the A344 Permissive Path Cover-up

Wiltshire Council are not pursuing English Heritage for failing to deliver a useable path on the route of the A344 by the summer of 2016 as the planning permission for the New Visitor Centre requires because the Council have been informed by English Heritage that the grass is still not fit for purpose.

I have been digging into this with some FOI requests and other sources of information because as a farmer and agronomist who has restored and created chalk downland, not least on my Long Barrow, I understand the problems and find it incredible that with the resources of English Heritage they have failed to do so, especially when a cursory inspection suggests the surface is fit for use and any problems could be dealt with fencing around any muddy patches that appear.

My FOI request is online - https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/report_on_the_usability_of_the_s

Wiltshire Council claim that "EH have had an independent ecologist/botanist inspect the site and his opinion is that it would benefit from a further growing season to establish a better root system, to make it more resilient to trampling" - Full document - https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/375989/response/912155/attach/3/Landscape%20ecology%20response%20ENQ05973%20REQ003.pdf

The independent ecologist/botanist report is also online - https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/375989/response/912155/attach/4/Report%20from%20English%20Heritage%20ENQ05973%20REQ003.pdf -

It is noticeable that it is not signed, there is no indication as to who wrote it or what their qualifications are, or how independent they are. I have never seen an expert's report before that has no indication of who the expert is or their qualifications.

The Freedom of Information request doesn't tell you but I happen to know it was written by Chris Bally in an email to Kate Davies (English Heritage's Stonehenge Manager) on the 4th November 2016

Chris is the loveliest bloke alive and knows his stuff but he is the Landscape Manager for the Conservation Maintenance Team of English Heritage. He works full time for English Heritage. I doubt he would describe himself as an independent ecologist/botanist.

For Wiltshire Council to portray his report as being from an "independent ecologist/botanist" and hide the author's credentials as they use it to justify their inaction looks like a cover-up to me.

If a householder failed to deliver on a planning condition and then got his mum to write a note saying he's a good boy really and he will sort it out next year would Wiltshire Planners accept that as an excuse?

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