Singlers Marsh

STOP PRESS: 

 WHBC CABINET MEMBERS IGNORE WARNING THAT THE NEW 10-YEAR PLAN FOR SINGLERS MARSH IS INADEQUATE AND NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE.

 For the past few weeks I have been working very hard on a paper which asked the WHBC Cabinet, to consider deferring adoption of the Draft Singlers Marsh Plan until such time as very important outstanding matters are resolved and can be included therein.

I presented this at the Cabinet Meeting on Tuesday 5th August.  Councillor Helen Bromley, Executive Member for Environment, totally ignored the very important points raised, and proposed the plan for approval.  It was passed unanimously – without a moment’s discussion – by the Cabinet Members, among whom was Mandy Perkins, the Conservative Councillor for Welwyn West, who should hang her head in shame at her lack of support for the genuine concern of residents in her ward.

I am fully in agreement with the statement made by Welwyn Parish Council Chairman, Bill Morris, who said: “The fact is that a ward councillor once again (following village car parks) chose to put a ‘wider responsibility’ in front of the interests of her electorate.  The Draft Plan for Singlers Marsh was prepared by people who don’t live in Welwyn and don’t care about the residents, and was passed by a Cabinet who care even less.”

 Having been clearly advised, in particular about the inevitable future flooding of Singlers Marsh without a comprehensive water management plan being put in place, WHBC must surely be held legally liable.  The legal implications now with regards to flooding, or incidents involving cattle, could be massive.   They were given the opportunity to defer adoption of the Draft Plan so that all outstanding issues concerning future flooding could be addressed and incorporated into the Plan.  The plan itself is now wholly illogical and thus so was their decision.

 For the past 6 months, there have been constant requests to the WHBC officers who have written the Plan, to hold a meeting of interested parties to discuss the very points raised by Cllr Kyriakides.  The groups include The Friends of the Mimram, The Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, and Volunteers who work on Singlers Marsh.  All requests were ignored.  Their “consultation” was to send out an 11th hour copy of the Draft Plan, to which some revisions were made in response to comments, but many issues were not covered.   Cllr Kyriakides stressed that a meeting should include those above, together with the Environment Agency, Affinity Water and appropriate Welwyn Parish Councillors, BEFORE THE PLAN WAS ADOPTED.

 The officer who produced the Draft Plan, was not present at the meeting and “Cllr Helen Bromley was not prepared to consider the importance of the fact that a Plan covering the period 2014- 2019 (in last-minute revision, there will now be a review after 5 years) does not include a management programme for when Affinity officially end the water extraction 2018”, says Cllr Kyriakides.   “So if there is future flooding that could have been prevented, on her head be it!” 

 Another of the several issues raised was the fact that grazing cattle on the North end of Singlers Marsh does not appear to have achieved its objective of keeping nettles under control, as well as restricting access to the area for many residents – especially those who are afraid of cattle.  Petitions against grazing cattle on the marsh have been consistently ignored by WHBC for many years, despite Health and Safety Executive reports of the many injuries caused to members of the public by cattle, regardless of breed and temperament.

 Concerned residents should contact the Press, and write letters to the Editor (Terry Mitchinson terry.mitchinson@archant.co.uk)The more Welwyn residents who do this, the more publicity this total sham of a democracy will receive.

 PLEASE NOTE:  THIS IS NOT AN ATTEMPT TO SCARE RESIDENTS ABOUT FLOODING!

 AFFINITY WATER AND THE ENVIRONMENT AGENCY ARE AWARE OF, AND ARE LOOKING AT, POTENTIAL PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS.  HOWEVER, WHBC NEED TO HAVE A PLAN FOR SINGLERS MARSH THAT INCORPORATES A WATER MANAGEMENT PROGRAMME

– AND THIS ONE DOESN’T!

 Below is what I presented to WHBC Cabinet and which they did not consider worthy of one moment’s discussion!  So much for listening to the people!

  SINGLERS MARSH

Address by Cllr Sandra Kyriakides to the Cabinet on 5th August 2014

There are still vital outstanding matters that need to be resolved.  The Draft Management Plan for Singlers Marsh does not provide adequate provision for issues that are going to arise in the near future and definitive action and specialist management planning are needed now.

This 10-year Draft Plan was written while the Environment Agency and Affinity Water’s plan to close the Fulling Mill pumping stations was awaiting approval from DEFRA and Ofwat.  It was approved in April 2014 and will radically change the nature of Singlers Marsh during the period covered by the Draft Plan.  Therefore, a 10-year plan that doesn’t wait for and take into account this fundamental change to the nature of Singlers Marsh is out of date before it starts.

Despite numerous requests over the past 6 months for a meeting, there has been no consultation by WHBC officers with interested parties.  This fact was raised with Trevor Saunders, who will facilitate a meeting in the near future.  This should include the Environment Agency, Affinity Water, Welwyn Parish Council, together with other interested parties such as the Middlesex and Hertfordshire Wildlife Trust and the Friends of the River Mimram.  There will be important factors arising from this meeting that need to be incorporated into the Draft Plan.

Affinity has 2 pumping stations on the Marsh.  The EA and Affinity are already considering what is to be done to avoid flooding and have met with householders to assure them that they will not allow flood risk.  Currently, one suggestion is that the old water course (known as the Drain) will deal with excess, and a channel and sluice will control levels in the river.  But it is recognised that the watercourse has nowhere to flow to.  The natural outlet has gone, now blocked at two places: the concrete path (conduit blocked), and at the Southern end, possibly when the Waterside development was built.  This needs to be addressed, or flooding is inevitable.

Last week, pools of water appeared on Singlers Marsh.  WHBC officers were advised, but had no idea what caused it.  Friends of the River Mimram contacted Affinity and after research it was discovered that Affinity had executed a test stoppage of extraction from 11.30am on 16th July to 10.30am on July 21st.  Another shorter outage was carried out for 48 hours from July 23rd to July 25th.   Following the stop the groundwater levels in borehole 2 rose from 5.6m to 6.4m.  In BH1 it rose by 70cm at the end of the outage.

 Di Hammond of Affinity suggested possibly lengthening Singlers Bridge so that the Drain could then go under it as well, and follow its original course.  Whatever the intention, now is the time to start modelling what will happen and how to deal with it.  The EA and Affinity Water are keen to do this.

The situation has changed since the original draft was written.  A complete water management system is needed for the future and should be incorporated into a new Draft Plan for the next 10 years.

There are several additional points in question on the latest revision of the plan and these, together with the issues I have just spoken about, are circulated for your information.  I would ask you to give particular attention to Item 6. Grazing, and to consider the welfare and safety of the local community.

 As Ward Councillor for Welwyn West, I respectfully request the Cabinet Members to consider deferring approval of the Draft Singlers Marsh Management Plan until such time as the major issues raised have been  resolved and can be written into the Plan.

 Singlers Marsh Draft Plan – Additional points

1.3      The ROW is in the last stages of being established, see also 3.2.4b.  Unless WH are going to object at the last minute, by the time the Plan is approved and published it will be on the definitive map and the text should reflect reality, not the past.

1.4      Does the LNR (local nature reserve) extend over the whole of the area, including compartment 4?  If not, it should be made clear where it and the wildlife site boundaries are.

1.6.2  This should make clear that although FORM were involved in creating the hedge, the majority of the work was done by the Welwyn Parish Plan Group.  After the initial planting of saplings from the Woodland Trust, the WPPG replaced plants and filled gaps at its own expense.

1.6.7  The old water course no longer has a natural outlet; it is blocked in two places.

2.4/3.2.3.e  The recent flooding when extraction was stopped for a couple of days gives an indication of what may happen.  It is not clear from any documentation whether one of the two pumping stations will be closed, or which one, or whether both will be closed.   Action is needed now to provide water management.

3.2.4 e   Provide new interpretation board, if resources allow.  This was actually scheduled to be done in the Plan for Singlers Marsh, April 1994.  Two boards are now being paid for by a large contribution from Affinity Water, the FORM, the Ward Councillors’ Community Chest, and a small contribution from WHBC.

4.0      Management Operations. 

Item 1:  There has been minimal tree management and main action has been after trees have been blown down in storms or branches have fallen.  These have been notified to WHBC in most instances by the FORM volunteers.

 Item 2: Control of nettles:  Monthly cutting at North end during growing season by Landscape Contractor (Maydencroft).  Nettles are currently 4ft high in much of this area.

Item 6: Grazing.  In the last plan 3 to 5 cattle were grazed which increases to 4 to 6 in the Draft Plan.  On 20 Feb 1995, 74 people from Welwyn signed a petition against grazing; presented to WHBC by Dr Reay with no apparent response to that request. The Welwyn Planning and Amenity Group organised a petition of 700 signatures opposing the original grant-led scheme to fence off the northern half of the Marsh and introduce grazing, as it would hamper and deter access to this important public open space.  They supported an alternative proposal to manage the area by selective cutting and raking with the help of local volunteers.
In reference to Item 2 above, cattle are not eating the nettles – they eat the grass, which allows the nettles to spread.  It would appear that, since the imposition of fencing and grazing, the area has deteriorated ecologically and this can be judged against the ecological survey carried out immediately before the grazing commenced.  Grazing has therefore not achieved its stated objective.

However the major drawback is the depletion of accessibility to this Public Open Space, in particular for those frightened by cattle, and there have been several instances of people being charged, including Welwyn’s local postmaster.  In mid-July this year, on Singlers Marsh, a bullock escaped into another field, chased dogs, and frightened dog walkers, until it was returned to the correct pasture.  If an animal causes unreasonable interference (i.e. more than a minor inconvenience) with the use of a right of way it could be classed as a nuisance under common law.

 
 A Health & Safety Executive Report in 2011 states that there were 8 deaths and 56 injuries in 2009-11,  and prior to that, 18 deaths and 481 injuries caused by cattle in the 8 years up to 2009.  There was a report in the Daily Telegraph in July 2013 about a cow throwing and then crushing a dog-walker.  I have been asked: “Whether members of the public are covered by WHBC insurance when walking through the field where there are cattle?”   The question: “Are there any positive benefits to the community from grazing?” should perhaps also be asked.   [It is also worthy of note that, according to The Guardian only 19% of incidents with cattle are officially reported to the HSE.]

 5.2  Plan Review.  It is noted that the intention of a local review will be undertaken with WPC in the autumn of this year.    Action plans and all necessary work should then be put in place in order to be well prepared for the Affinity cut off in 2018.

Above issues raised by Cllr Sandra Kyriakides, Welwyn West Ward, 5th August 2014.

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