The council has resubmitted its planning proposal for an extension to the Wincheap Park and Ride. The scheme is essentially the same, except that the buffer between the car park and the river has been doubled in width to 16 metres. This means that about 50 fewer parking spaces will now be available on the meadow opposite Hambrook, but our objections remain substantially unaltered. The proposal still runs contrary to the council’s own policies on maintaining a green corridor along the Stour valley, not building on a floodplain or developing part of a Local Wildlife Site.
Fewer trees are to be felled, but the plans are vague on the matter of just how many, and do not spell out what exactly the nature of the buffer will be. We do know that not all 16 metres of its width will be dense shrubs and trees that would make a relatively effective screen; it will include a pathway for car users to walk along, and a number of openings to facilitate surveillance of the car park from the Marshes side of the river – the screening will be incomplete.
Additionally, the council is proposing that the retained riverside willows would be pollarded, not because that was a traditional practice providing firewood and basketry material, and therefore in keeping with the habitat, but in order to improve sightlines out of the car park; if car users can see out, that also means that walkers on Hambrook Marshes will be able to see in to admire the glittering ranks of parked cars. The 16-metre buffer strip also leaves unaddressed the fact that the whole car park will be visible from the Marshes viewpoint on top of the old railway embankment, particularly during the winter months.
We do not feel it is our job to work out what other options are available to the council, but would point out that the District Transport Strategy in the Local Plan gives turning the existing park and ride into a multi-storey car park as an alternative to tarmacking the riverside meadow. The other development is that the council is now proposing to compensate for the loss of the wet woodland, allotments, pond and meadow by creating a Local Nature Reserve on the land immediately downriver from the scheme, carrying out management that would make it more biodiverse than the areas that are to be lost (mitigation in planning jargon).
Initially it was said that this would be a public area, but access is no longer being talked about, though there would doubtless be pressure on the council to open it up to the residents of Wincheap. The Hambrook Marshes side of the river is already very heavily used and, while the Love Hambrook Marshes trustees wish to promote public access, the last thing we want is to see yet more disturbance of natural habitats on the other side of the river as well; what is currently a very quiet wildlife haven could become yet another urban park.
The Gazette has given the issue a good airing, kicking off with a half-page article on 15th August. The following week a much shorter article announced the setting up of the new campaign group – Save Wincheap Water Meadows – and it was accompanied by a detailed letter from Rick Norman, a trustee of Love Hambrook Marshes. In its latest issue, in addition to reporting on the campaign’s forthcoming appearance of Mr Toad, Ratty, Mole, Badger and Otter on Thursday (5th), the paper published three excellent letters, two from Love Hambrook Marshes trustees, and one from the Wincheap Society.