A blog post by Councillor Ben Andrew of Wandle Valley and Hackbridge
We had another meeting of the Conservation and Access Management Committee (CAMC) on August 17th, two months after our previous meeting. Chaired by Independent Councillor for Beddington North Tim Foster, these meetings exist to oversee Viridor’s restoration of Beddington Farmlands. As well as Councillors Green (Independent, Beddington North) and myself (Lib Dem, Wandle Valley) we were joined by fifteen others, including representatives from Viridor, Thames Water, ProLogis, Sutton Council, MKA Ecology, and representatives from the local community. So this meant that there were many people with varying internet connections squinting into their cameras, as is customary these days with online meetings.
Here are the key points which were discussed in the meeting:
The Council have hired Charlie Owens to help Viridor have a much greater access to ecological knowledge on-site (I believe it is paid for by Viridor). He comes with a lot of transferable experience from working on the impressive Walthamstow Wetlands and his recruitment is very welcome news for the Farmlands.
Paths and public access
Beddington Farmlands will never be completely open to the public, as this would disrupt the habitats which we hope to facilitate there. But the “restoration plan” agreed between the Council and Viridor does ensure that there is some public access to the site.
Viridor are obliged to provide:
● The permissive path along the west of the site. This is already open, starting in Beddington Park, and stretching up towards Mitcham Common.
● A cycleway, originally planned to arc from the southern part of the site, through the “Meadowlands” and end half way up the permissive path.
● “Mown paths” on the meadowland for people to walk along.
Only one path is required to be a “made” path of sustrans-standard.
Viridor made a planning application to alter this plan prior to the last CAMC, and had planned to make the Permissive Path the “made path” rather than the cycleway, the route of which would also have been altered. This triggered a long and detailed discussion between Councillors, Council Officers, resident representatives on the CAMC and others about the pros and cons of this proposal. After many discussions, my view was that, while there were some advantages to these changes, problems with the application process and potential unintended consequences meant that it should be refused. I’m glad that this is what happened.
Many local residents felt strongly about this issue as well, and a petition received 1,200 signatures calling for the application to be refused. I am heartened that so many residents feel such a strong affection for the Farmlands, and want to see the best possible access provided to the site.
We discussed the new way forward with these plans at the CAMC. Viridor emphasised that they are only obliged to provide one “made” path as per the Restoration Management Plan agreed in 2015. I am concerned that residents who are hoping that there will be two “made” paths will be disappointed, much as I would also love to see this.
No one wants Viridor to go back to their original plan, and they seem minded to pursue another application which makes the Permissive Path the “made” path, and the new cycleway the “unmade” path. I asked whether they could guarantee that the surface of the cycleway would be at least of the same quality as the surface of the current Permissive Path, but no assurances could yet be given.
However, it was agreed that a working group would be set up, including community representation, to discuss the two biggest areas of contention:
- The surface of the new cycleway
- The route of the new cycleway
I am keen to be in this group and am grateful to Cllr Foster for recommending that I am a member. I made clear again that my highest priority is to do as much as possible to ensure we can deliver “East/West” access across the site, connecting Hackbridge and Beddington. I will continue to push for this to be secured however I can.
I left the last meeting in June with serious concerns about the “Acid Grassland” habitat that Viridor are obliged to create in Beddington Farmlands. Last meeting, I was told that Viridor would have results from further lab tests in time for our next meeting in mid-July, giving us a better idea of the road ahead. Well here we sat, in a meeting in mid-August rather than mid-July, still being told that we’re awaiting further test results.
I was really unhappy about this and made my views plain. Viridor representatives highlighted that this delay was out of their hands due to COVID, and I have to take their word for it. But I do remain very concerned at how much this is slipping.
When I asked further about whether it was likely that this habitat could ever be created, I was met with many responses along the lines that providing acid grassland seemed to be neither “sensible, viable or sustainable.”
This did make me a little annoyed, though I was glad that they were at least honest in their view this time. But to be clear, Acid Grassland is a very valuable habitat from a biodiversity perspective, and it was Viridor who pledged to create it many, many years ago (I think I was in primary school at the time). So it was a little grating to be informed that it was not only too risky to create this habitat in reality, but that it was difficult to see how any equally valuable alternatives could be provided either.
They’ve promised to go away and present a set of possible ways forward if the results do indeed show that Acid Grassland is not deliverable. I look forward to seeing these options.
On a more positive note, we were updated about some good progress on the “Wet Grassland”, a different habitat that Viridor are obliged to create. They have had an operator form the ‘microtypography’
(biodiversity jargon alert) within the grassland, which progressed us from the upper two images shown, to the lower image a week later.
The biodiversity officer at Sutton Council (who I know to be very scrupulous) hailed this as significant progress, so I’m minded to take his praise seriously and congratulate the team who have delivered this effectively.
Serious concerns were raised at the last CAMC about wildlife on the farmlands. There are certain “target species”, such as lapwing, which are becoming locally endangered, and this needs to be addressed urgently.
It was reaffirmed that there were two main problems facing the lapwing population:
1) Predators (a few foxes) have learned to swim across the main lake, and have preyed on lapwing.
2) The “displacement habitat” in the hundred acre and south east corner of the site is supposed to be muddy and sludgy, but it has become dryer and covered in scrub. This is not appropriate for the lapwing population.
There is now a ‘management plan’ for dealing with this issue, and I hope to see progress this coming autumn, which will be a crucial time for lapwing. Viridor are trying to recreate the habitat needed to attract lapwing, though this is taking some time, and are looking at ways of controlling foxes as well. They emphasised that they are exploring all other options before considering having to cull some foxes, but that this could be something which we have to consider if the problem can’t be controlled by other means.
Bird Hides, Graffiti and Litter
There are some bird hides along the permissive path which someone has regrettably graffitied. What would anyone gain from doing that?! Your guess is as good as mine.
Viridor repainted part of it, but residents were concerned that some graffiti remained, and that it hadn’t been covered up very well. I was assured at the meeting that this would be dealt with, and that plans are in place to cover it longer term with some community artwork, such as pictures of birds and wildlife, which I think is a great idea. They also were positive about providing some interpretation boards by the bird hides which would also be a positive addition in my view.
However, problems with litter on the permissive path have persisted. I received certain assurances about this in the meeting (that bins were now being replaced every week, and that Viridor were doing all they could to sensitively resolve the problem of a couple of rough sleepers pitching tents on the permissive path) which I appreciate. However, I was a little concerned when they confirmed that litter is only picked on an “ad-hoc” basis, which sounds to me like Latin for - “whenever someone complains”. They explained that the best way to report a problem with litter on the site is to take a picture of it and send it to BeddingtonFarmlands@viridor.co.uk , which is all well and good, but I had hoped that the process could be a little more robust than that.
I was further concerned when a Viridor representative explained that clearing this kind of litter was not normally part of their responsibility on these sorts of sites, and that they were seeking guidance on what their position was. This was something of a “non-statement statement”, and I wasn’t able to get further clarity, but it seemed to me like a further indication that clearing litter isn’t a priority for them.
To be absolutely clear - the main blame for litter goes to the person who chucked it, not the person who hasn’t cleared it up (I think anyone involved in litter management for a Council would sympathise with this)! However, it is a real problem if the permissive path is covered in litter, and I strongly believe that Viridor has some responsibility here.
Some trees needed to be removed due to works linking new properties to New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge, and concerns have been raised about the replanting of these trees which were lost.
I raised this in “any other business” and was assured by Viridor that, while they acknowledge some fault for the replanting not having been successful so far, the replanting work will “fall together” with progress on the new Cycleway, and we will gain back trees which we have lost.
There are some disagreements about what exactly Viridor have already done in this regard, and I don’t want to hash through all of that in this blog, but it’s safe to say that their efforts so far have left a lot to be desired. It is clearly important that these trees are replaced and that we push Viridor to do this as a priority.
Overall, this meeting was more positive than the last one. There is a new warden, progress has been made on the wet grasslands and a way forward is emerging regarding public access to the Farmlands.
However, huge concerns remain about the welfare of target species such as lapwing, the viability of the acid grassland, and litter management. I look forward to working on these issues ahead of the next meeting, (which is on my 28th birthday, so I expect some positive news as a present from Viridor).
If any residents have questions or concerns about the restoration of Beddington Farmlands, please do email me on email@example.com and I will see what I can do.