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

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - LIFE & LEISURE - For more in­for­ma­tion, visit the Colne Val­ley Park web­site at www. col­neval­ley­park.org.

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

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