Help protect our ‘green lungs’
Protecting the Green Belt around north-west London is an increasingly difficult task. Community Editor Mort Smith reports on efforts by the Colne Valley Park community interest company to raise awareness of the threats that face an area once described as
THE Colne Valley Park was first established in 1965 after a meeting involving all the local authorities that covered parts of the 43 square mile area of parkland, forest, farmland and lakes left by old gravel workings.
The park is the first major area of rural land you come to to the west of London and it was felt to be important to protect this land from further ‘urban sprawl’ – in effect, to preserve it as a pleasant area where people could enjoy the countryside and follow a variety of leisure pursuits - walking, horse-riding, fishing, sailing and the like. Or simply enjoying the beauty of nature.
The park stretches from the River Thames in the south, past Heathrow and up through the western fringes of Hillingdon to the east, from Langley, Datchet and Slough in the west up as far north as Rickmansworth and Chalfont St Peter.
But the high ideals expressed by those who founded the park and sought to protect it have come under increasing pressure as London has continued to expand.
The proposal to build the HS2 high speed rail line between London and Birmingham will drive a stake through the heart of the park, blighting the landscape for years and effectively cutting the park in two.
If a third runway at Heathrow gets the go-ahead, it will mean that many of the hotels and businesses currently sited to the north of the airport will be torn down – and all will be looking for new sites on which to rebuild. Many think the Colne Valley Park would be an ideal spot.
There are several other serious threats to this lovely stretch of countryside – the possibility of a new freight terminal at Slough, Project Pinewood which might mean that acres of the park are given over to new sound stages for the film studios and, not least, avaricious developers who are eyeing up – and, in some cases, buying up – tracts of land in the park in the long-term hope that eventually they might be granted planning permission to build.
Set against this profusion of threats we have the Colne Valley Park Community Interest Company (CVPCIC) – a non-profit organisation established in 2012 to fight to preserve as much of the park as possible.
The organisation held its annual forum last week at the Buckinghamshire Golf Club in Denham and attracted an audience of more than 70 people to listen to the latest developments and to learn what the CVPCIC had in mind.
And they heard an impressive list of projects and initiatives that have been put in place.
But the most worrying thing for those who believe that CVPCIC is the best-placed organisation to fight for the park is that the company is running on an incredibly tiny budget – £55,240 for 2014-15 and £59,660 for 2015-16.
Clearly that’s not going to last long if and when, as seems inevitable, it needs to consult lawyers about the best ways of preserving as much of the green space as possible.
Richard Skehens the chairman of CVPCIC, summed it up when he said: “Our objective must be to protect the bio-diversity, the wildlife, the community, the rural economy, the recreational facilities and the landscape of this beautiful area.
“If we can’t actually stop some of these developments going ahead, then we need to make sure the developers contribute money to enhance those parts of the Colne Valley Park that remain. We will do all we can to achieve those objectives but we need more corporate sponsors and businesses to put money into the community interest company.”
The company’s treasurer, local farmer John Whitby, said: “It’s essential that we bring in more money to help maintain this organisation and the park itself. We want this area to be here to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren but that will come at a cost.
“Up to now, local authorities have been our biggest source of revenue, but with continuing cuts in Government funding, we cannot continue to rely on that.
“We have made progress in increasing our income – we have a number of corporate sponsors and we actively campaign for donations and legacies – but there are a large number of big companies in this area and surely they should be prepared to put their hands in their pockets to help out?”
The CVPCIC has made a bid for heritage lottery funding to the tune of £1.7million – a sum that would totally transform its ability to campaign effectively – but if that fails to materialise, then alternative sources of revenue will become even more urgent.
2015 sees the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the park. The question is: How much of it will be left when it approaches its 100th birthday?
Colne Valley Park attracts people for all sorts of reasons including the environment and recreation which Richard Skehens says must be protected