As you are probably aware, Somerset County Council (SCC) is trying to sell-off thousands of acres of the Quantock Hills that we, the public, currently own. Many people, including the Quantock Land Action Group (QLAG) of which I am a member, have serious misgivings about the proposed sale. We understand that the leadership at SCC are wavering and we need to give them an extra push to get them to shelve the plans for the sale. In order to do this, QLAG is asking local people to email their local County Councillor expressing their concerns and letting them know that their vote at the 2013 elections will be influenced by how the County Councillor approaches this issue. If you feel strongly about this issue, QLAG would be very grateful if you would take a moment to email your County Councillor. It is always more powerful if you use your own words but we know everyone is busy so you may wish to use the following as a basis.
“Dear County Councillor,
I am very concerned about the County Council’s proposed sale of public land in the Quantock Hills for the following reasons: –
Access. Given that the County Council has been unable to tell the public what covenants currently exist on the land, I have no confidence that the covenants now proposed will preserve public access in the future. The fact that the Government is seeking to erode, with new national legislation, protections for public rights of way gives me additional cause for concern that access will be impeded following the sale.
Loss of peace and quiet . Possible ‘noisy’ activities including shooting, paintballing, motor sports etc. could be practised on the land following the sale ruining the tranquillity of the area.
Motivation for sale. How can the Council consider selling the land when it has not undertaken a proper valuation to assess what it may be worth? Given that the County Council can only sell Great Wood to the Forestry Commission, where is the benefit to the public purse in transferring land from one public body to another. The only people to benefit would be conveyancing lawyers.
New Development. The new National Planning Policy Framework seriously erodes the protection for land such as that which you are proposing to sell. It states that “Planning permission should be refused if it leads to the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss.” All that a developer needs to do is demonstrate some economic benefit and the value of the land as landscape or habitat can be overridden. There can be no guarantee at this time that SSSI and AONB designations will continue to provide the protections previously in force.
Increases in Traffic. I am concerned that new owners/uses could bring increases in vehicular traffic damaging the habitat value of the land and its tranquillity.
Lack of openness I am disappointed that without the work done by groups like QLAG, knowledge of these plans would never have come to light. It appears that the Council tried to sneak these plans through with tiny adverts in one newspaper in the run-up to Christmas. I also understand that the Council has refused to release information on its landholdings in the Quantock Hills.
In light of all these concerns I would urge you to listen to your electors and shelve these plans. Almost 50,000 people have now signed petitions opposing this sale. You will be aware that the County Council elections are little more than a year away and your approach to this issue will form a major part of my decision on who I vote for.
Who is your local County Councillor? Click this link http://www1.somerset.gov.uk/council/map.asp and then select the area where you live. This will show the Councillor’s name, address and email address.