The last year has been eventful, culminating in the very worrying proposals for a new line of pylons through the Stour Valley to Twinstead; more of this later. I must however start with thanking Michael and Elaine Sharp for hosting our summer party at their lovely home, Gestingthorpe Hall. Their garden was magnificent. A most enjoyable evening was attended by a record number of members and guests. This followed our Annual General Meeting when we had a very amusing talk from Charlie Haylock, a local raconteur, which caused a lot of laughter. A hard act to follow, but we are fortunate to have Andrew Phillips as our speaker this year.
Following Malcolm Jones’s sad death, your committee have asked Jeremy Hill if he would become our next President. Jeremy has agreed, subject, of course, to members’ approval. There is very little I need to say about Jeremy, who has been a tireless supporter of the Association in so many ways. He will continue to serve on the Committee and I hope write for the Magazine, as before. We are very fortunate to have him.
During the year your Association has been involved in dealing with a number of local planning issues affecting different parts of our area, including:- helping to prevent attempts by Travellers to set up sites in Chappel and Ferriers Lane, Bures; to prevent the installation of a golf driving range, with the inevitable lighting, close to Stisted Mill; to try to restrict unnecessary flying of the Air Ambulance over the houses down Nightingale Hall Lane, Greenstead Green; to join in successfully opposing an appeal to build an unsuitable executive styled house in the countryside at Pebmarsh. There were others. I mention these as examples so that members will see that we are always ready to respond to legitimate concerns where our countryside is at risk.
There is nothing further of significance to report on the Buntings application for a theme park at Great Horkesley, which has stalled because of inadequate road transport proposals.
NATS revised flight paths and BAA’s second runway application both continue to be in a state of limbo. NATS revised routes and stacks, published for consultation in 2008, were withdrawn after strong opposition, particularly from those areas which would be affected, for the first time, by the new stacking sites. NATS have said that there will be some “smaller changes” (unspecified) to the earlier proposals and that the next consultation on these will not take place until September 2010, stating as reasons that there is now less urgency due to the substantial downturn in air traffic. Meanwhile aircraft continue to fly over the Dedham Vale AONB and then across our area south of Sudbury, often at insufficient height. As I have said before, we must be alert when the new proposals are published. What may be regarded as “small changes” by some, may have a serious effect on others. Your Association is ready to react, but expects members, who are affected, to write or e-mail me or other Committee members explaining their concerns.
Likewise the public hearing of BAA’s second runway application continues to be postponed, and is increasingly looking pointless. As you may have read, BAA has had partial success in its appeal against the Competition Commission ruling, requiring them to sell Stansted, after the Court of Appeal found that there had been “apparent bias” within the Commission. It has yet to be decided whether the Commission’s decision that BAA has to sell Stansted still stands, or whether this whole issue must go back to be looked at again. Whatever the outcome, Gatwick has already been sold. Air passenger numbers have been consistently falling and are now at levels for which there can be no conceivable need for another runway at Stansted. With the new owners of Gatwick possibly pressing for a second runway if air travel numbers were to pick up, it is difficult to see any commercial sense in BAA going ahead with this application. The picture may be significantly different if the Conservatives win the next election, as they have said that they are opposed to a second runway at Stansted.
I now come to the National Grid’s proposals to increase the capacity of the Bramford to Twinstead link, and possibly install a new substation near Twinstead, depending on which route is selected. Most of you will already be fully aware of the National Grid’s proposals. I don’t propose to repeat them here, or speculate on which is their preferred route. Many will have already gone to one of the National Grid’s presentations as well as signing petitions and attending protest meetings. Stour Valley Underground is leading the case against the proposals. Both we and the Dedham Vale Society are adopting a common cause with SVU. I urge anyone wanting further information to visit SVU’s website at www.stourvalleyunderground.org.uk where you can read some really interesting proposals. I invited David Holland to write a short article for the magazine, from which you will see that they have undertaken a considerable amount of research into undergrounding generally and, more specifically, into taking the additional electricity to be generated from Sizewell and the proposed off shore wind farms, undersea down to Tilbury. The challenge is to try and force the National Grid to reopen the decision to confine the consultation process to the four selected overland corridors. Under the Planning Act 2008 planning applications for major infrastructure projects such as this are to be removed from local authorities and go instead to a new public body, the Infrastructure Planning Commission. Whilst the intention behind this is to streamline such applications to give effect to National Policy Statements, and prevent them getting bogged down in interminable planning hearings, the IPC is supposedly an independent body required to consult widely and capable of preventing damage to local environment in appropriate cases. Although the Conservatives have said they would abolish the IPC, they are likely, if they did, to replace it with another system designed to shortcut the planning procedures for applications such as this.
The National Grid is required to take measures to protect Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where possible laying cables underground, such as those parts of routes 1 or 2 which cross the Dedham Vale AONB. This leads me to the decision taken by the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Project (funded by Natural England and the local authorities to oversee the management of the AONB and Stour valley) to formally approach Natural England to see if the current area of outstanding natural beauty can be extended westwards towards Sudbury. Even if thought promising, the process will, however, take a long time. Were it to happen, it will provide not only landscape protection, but an opportunity to bid for sustainable funding for environmental, social and business projects within the area, together with the ability to further influence local and national policies affecting us. We will be giving whatever support we can to get the AONB extended. Whether, if we could show that it was likely to succeed, this might in the meantime have an influence on underground versus over ground across the proposed extended area is unclear.
I apologise if my letter is somewhat dense, however these issues are important. On a lighter note, may I invite you all to our summer party here this year? An invitation is enclosed.
Finally, although our membership numbers are holding up well, we always need more, especially younger ones, to take the Association forward. Do please think whether there is anyone you know who can be persuaded to join.
Yours, Charles Aldous.