The past year has been dominated by one thing: the long wait for the outcome of the 2004 Public Inquiry. Firstly, the Secretary of State's decision was to have been taken in the Summer. Then, September. September became October, October became Christmas. Eventually we received the report and Alistair Darling's decision late in February.
To say that the Inspector's Report, and Darling's decision, were disappointments would be true, but at the same time neither was unexpected. What was particularly disappointing was the manner in which the Report lacked objectivity. Protesters were "confused" when my recollection was that the greatest confusion at the Inquiry was amongst the so-called "expert" witnesses who failed to understand their own evidence. The Inspector seemed to understand little about the behaviour of traffic and this showed in his report.
As was outlined in our recent newsletter, the fight must go on. The Inquiry's decision was to give the Borough Council permission to carry out the Compulsory Purchase orders. It has not given the Council the money they need and this money increases inexorably (£11 million and rising). There is still scope to put pressure on the Secretary of State to impress upon him that this road is a complete waste of money.
Meanwhile, two members actually took the fight to Edinburgh to try to foment unrest against Darling himself. Climate Change was the focus of the leaflet delivered and Priory Park got a mention. It was ironic that the overnight stay coincided with the hottest night ever recorded north of the Border, Aviemore beating its previous minimum temperature by 2°C. Unfortunately, Alistair Darling was returned to the Commons, although boundary changes led to a strong challenge from the Tory in Edinburgh South West.
For my part, the acquisition of a dog has increased dramatically the frequency of my own visits to the park. Most days see me take my constitutional there but occasionally I walk around in the opposite direction just to be unconstitutional. I have witnessed green woodpeckers in conflict with starlings; goldcrests in conflict with one another; mallards apparently prepared to murder their rivals' young; in January, the huge flocks of greenfinches which roost overnight chasing off a sparrowhawk; a moorhen swimming dangerously close to a large pike and I have even taken to some unplanned pond-dipping whenever the dog drops his ball in the widest, muddiest parts of the stream.
Kate Hollis, a teacher at Blenheim School, contacted me and in March I cycled up Prittlewell Chase to talk to two Year 3 classes about the Park. I showed them some photographs of the wildlife and the Saxon relics (they already had a replica Sutton Hoo mask on the wall) and the result was that they have written to the Council and the Sec. of State to add their voices to the clamour of protest against the Council's intentions. They are due to visit the Park soon and have requested that I attend.
Even during this past week the disappearance of an apparently healthy birch tree has given me cause to contact the Council. On Wednesday, the birch was there. On Thursday, it was a mere stump. On Friday, even the stump had gone and the grass made good where it had been: airbrushed out like a dissident from the Stalinist era. So far all I have found out is that Tony North is no longer the Leisure Services portfolio holder but have had no news as to the reason for the tree's removal.
The coming year will perhaps see the culmination of this battle. We can be proud of what we have achieved so far: had it not been for our efforts then a slice of park would have gone, there would have been no Compulsory Purchase and therefore no Public Inquiry. It must be remembered, though, that the threat will never go away. There will always be someone who wants to build this road and our job is to be ever-vigilant and make their task as difficult as possible.
24th May 2005