Groups ‘kept in the dark’ over nature site plans

Volunteers are hoping to regenerate a former toll house that has fallen into disrepair. At the Calder and Hebble Canal, Brighouse.Ray Reynolds, Ruth Stephens, Mark Adams and Roger Kaye.
Volunteers are hoping to regenerate a former toll house that has fallen into disrepair. At the Calder and Hebble Canal, Brighouse.Ray Reynolds, Ruth Stephens, Mark Adams and Roger Kaye.

Environmental groups have hit out over Calderdale Council’s proposed development of the Cromwell Bottom nature reserve.

Councillors agreed at a Cabinet meeting for a consultation to begin on the 100 acre site about the possibility of creating recreation facilities and job opportunities.

Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve.

Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve.

However, a volunteer group improving the canal and surrounding areas at Brookfoot have said they have been kept in the dark about the plans with the layout and drawing just being shown to them in the last week.

Ruth Stephens said the group has been looking to regenerate buildings at Brookfoot lock into a cafe and visitor centre.

However, they say the proposed plans for similar facilities on the nature reserve will make their efforts redundant.

“I and seven other volunteers have been working hard to improve the canal corridor from Brighouse to the reserve, putting in garden areas and a picnic area at Brookfoot Lock.

Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve.

Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve.

“We have already started planning for the buildings but we have only just been told about the proposed visitor centre and cafe else where so we feel like why are we bothering.

“We were kept completely in the dark about these plans. The reserve and the canal is full of nature and we have people constantly saying that is what draws them down there. Someone has described the plans as a ’Townies Playground” and if it goes ahead it will not only destroy a vital natural habitat it will impact on the canal as well.

“As a group we just don’t know what to do now.”

Cromwell Bottom Wildlife group has also spoken of their concerns with how the consultation is going.

Calderdale Council and other bodies are proposing a master plan for a 100-acre piece of land in the Calder Valley between Elland and Brighouse.

The area is made up of the former landfill site at North Bank Loop and Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve.

Cycle and walking trails are being proposed along with recreational facilities including geocaching, camping, canoeing; installation of a hydro-generating plant; employment space; training facilities; restoration of Tag Lock and Tag Cut and more.

Drop-in sessions at Cromwell Bottom have been held over the summer of 2015 where people can give their views on the future of the site from 10am to 4pm.

The next sessions are on Sunday August 16 and Saturday September 12 2015.

A stall will also be at the Brighouse Canal and Music festival on August 22 and 23.

The Council say once the consultation is completed the results will be summarised on their website.

A plan for Cromwell Bottom will then be drawn up, and residents will have the chance to comment on this before the final plan is agreed.

The Cromwell Bottom Wildlife Group issued the following response to the proposed plans.

This is the reply from our group only and no other groups who have an interest in the area although we know their feelings on the matter do coincide with a lot of ours.

The first issue we have is the way the plans were announced; as chairman of the group I was contacted by a reporter from the Yorkshire Post by telephone and asked what I felt about the plans for a country park at Cromwell Bottom. Having no idea what he was talking about I felt a little foolish when I could not comment. After almost 5 years of volunteering as a group and probably saving the council thousands of pounds in labour, they did not feel we warranted an explanation before it went to press. Needless to say we feel as though we are being used.

Do we need another park in the area? Brighouse has Wellholme Park, Elland has a park and there is Manor Heath in Halifax. Shibden Park also is a small country park, Peoples Park, Shroggs Park all these are built as recreational parks for people.

Cromwell Bottom is different. It is a designated Nature Reserve - it does what it says in the title i.e. it is a reserve or sanctuary for wildlife away from large scale disturbance. The habitat is unique: it is bordered by a river and canal, it has a sphagnum bog, wet woodland, a reed bed and lagoon, hay meadows, ancient woodland with bluebells, orchid glades, new woodland and hedgerows as well as rare plants,and as a group we have planted over 3000 trees on the reserve to help improve it.

With the works now completed on the other side of the river known as North Loop there is another area that we would like to become part of what we believe is Calderdale’s only conservation area. This has been planned and set out with around 2 acres of gravel with grassland surrounding it with 3 small ponds. The area has been divided with a large earth mound incorporating a stone quarry face wall and a hedgerow has been planted along with another 2000 trees to give us another type of diverse habitat. Even at this early stage we have had Little Ringed Plover, Lapwing,Common Sandpiper, Heron and Oyster catcher. If Calderdale Council’s plans go ahead to turn this area alone into a playground these species will be lost – and who knows what would happen on the reserve itself? All these areas blend into making a reserve that is unique in bio-diversity. Nowhere in Calderdale is like it.

The work has been done with help of other conservation bodies to plan a habitat for the long term future for wildlife and our thanks go to the Countryside Department and Eric Wright Construction for all the help and effort that went into setting this area out; we could not have afforded this nor did we have the manpower to do it.

The council want to bring in business units to the compound area alongside the present reserve as well as having office space in a visitor centre and cafe, [both to be new build]. The area proposed for these units has a large population of both Smooth and Palmate Newts. What will happen to these when excavating with heavy machinery is unsure. Although both of these species are not protected palmate newts in Calderdale are rare. These will be lost if plans go ahead.

Also in the area proposed there is a gas burner to burn off any of the methane produced by the waste under the reserve and North Loop. With so many extra people expected and it being close to the proposed cafe / office / classroom area how will this be policed and can it be guaranteed safe for the public? What checks will be done for gas migration in the area?

Can Cromwell Bottom sustain the extra footfall of people expected? It is small by comparison to other nature reserves, being only 75 acres with another 22 on north loop; access is not the best and to increase this will need extra parking. Have these factors been looked into? also Cromwell Bottom requires an updated and agreed Management Plan, delivered with funding;and the Countryside Service need to have the funding to continue to manage Cromwell Bottom;

One of the things we have to do as a group before making any changes is an environmental impact assessment. This is to assess what impact any proposed work will have, how will it benefit, what will it alter, how will it impact on bio-diversity? This is before we can do anything. Calderdale surely has the same duty? Have the council done any of this yet? It seems like dual standards to us.

The consultation format that the council are performing seems a little out of balance as well:listening to the first question asked to a young mother with small children - “would you like to see a playground here? (Cromwell)” What is she going to say? NO? That’s highly unlikely. Let us at least have a balance maybe the second question could be would you like an improved Nature reserve hear . We are happy that they are giving away wild flowers as the more that are planted the better for bees.

One of the statements made was that all this will be done at no cost to the ratepayers of Calderdale. 8 days of consultation / 2 people per day plus a model of the area that must have cost thousands, stalls at Brighouse and Halifax Gala is not at no cost, not to mention Council meetings on the matter, someone is paying the wages, that’s us the ratepayers let us at least be honest about it !!

Proposed plans for cycle tracks through the reserve and North Loop is a recipe for disaster, with wheelchairs, elderly people, disabled groups on narrow paths as well as prams and buggies can you imagine what will happen with bikes as well? If you walk on the canal tow path you will understand what I mean where people have the right of way over cycles but you wouldn’t think so at times! We hope the council are well insured.

How the plans will improve bio-diversity has yet to be said - with cycle tracks, playgrounds, camping, canoeing, fenced areas this can only destroy bio-diverse areas not improve them.

Another suggestion was to rename the area. It IS known as Cromwell Bottom - leave it at that. It is what it is called.

Not all the Council’s ideas however are poor ones. For example the proposed fish pass and hydroelectric scheme. We endorse those, of course with the relevant environmental studies in place.Things like the gas generation, environmental training, getting young children involved in nature is at the top of our list, walking trails, art work trails plus our proposal for sand martin walls can all be good things, [unfortunately promised funding for the Sand Martin wall was withdrawn from us when the council plans were released].Visitors may welcome a simple cafe and visitor centre with toilets, but the design needs to be a low impact one and done sympathetically with the area.

A letter in the Halifax Courier by a gentleman said he comes down to Cromwell for a peace and quiet and it’s the same for a lot of people that visit it. The area can be a lot of different things to different people without destroying its essential character.

Our proposal is put the time, effort and funding into making Cromwell Bottom into an even better nature reserve local to Calderdale, to match any of the RSPB ones found further afield. That would provide something special for Calderdale people. You will get the people to come and appreciate the unique habitat and diverse nature that we have.

Please don’t let us end up with just another adventure park that after a few years will be rundown and vandalised and not be able to keep up to because of Council cutbacks.

Leave it for the Birds, Bees, and Bugs and people to enjoy them. PLEASE DON’T RUIN A UNIQUE PLACE.

* What do you think? Email your views to: brighouse.echo@brighouseecho.co.uk