Lapwing Breeding on Bengeo Field

This article has been submitted by Diana Howarth

I have been monitoring bird species on my regular walks across Bengeo Field and have noted that this year there have been at least two pairs of Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) in the north western part of the field.  Also known as the peewit, this striking bird with a distinctive crest usually appears in large flocks, but has been in recent decline.

Photo of Lapwing

The uncultivated area of stony ground with low covering of vegetation in the highest part of the field is an ideal habitat for these ground nesting birds.  They lay their eggs, looking like stones, in a small scrape on the ground where they are camouflaged from predators.  The fluffy striped chicks run around and learn to sit still when the crows are about making them almost invisible.  At least one pair have bred four chicks successfully and reared them into strongly growing juveniles.  I last saw these juveniles and the breeding pair on Friday 23rd June.

Lapwings are a threatened species and are listed in the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for UK Birds because numbers have declined over 80% since 1960. The Red List is an assessment based on the most up-to-date evidence available and criteria include conservation status at global and European levels and, within the UK: historical decline, trends in population and range, rarity, localised distribution and international importance.

In addition, I am pleased to say that the skylarks have bred successfully and now number more than 12 in all.

We must not lose an important habitat such as Bengeo Field.

Neighbourhood Plan Community Meeting

Hertford Town Council, the Bengeo Neighbourhood Area Plan Steering Group and local Residents’ Associations would like to invite the community of Bengeo to participate in creating a neighbourhood area plan for Bengeo.

Attend this first community meeting to find out how Bengeo Neighbourhood Area Plan can influence where you live and work, and to have your say on: • future residential development • countryside and open spaces • roads, cycleways, and parking • shops, community centres, health provision • heritage and culture • anything else you think is important.

This is an important, long-term community project that will shape the future of Bengeo and local knowledge and expertise provided by the local community will be critical to its success.
Residents, businesses and local organisations – please come along to the meeting to share your views and find out how you can get involved!

Campaign Film

This film documents the Stop Bengeo Quarry campaign from its early days to the refusal of planning permission by the County Council.

Campaign to Protect Rural England Rural Living Awards 2017

The SBQ campaign has been put forward for the CPRE Rural Living Awards 2017 – Community Award. We believe the campaign has met all the main criteria: * give added value to community life * have something innovative about them * used by all areas and ages of the community * bring the community together * vibrant * provide for continuity. We also meet some of the Environment Award criteria: * promote access to the countryside * celebrate Hertfordshire’s landscapes * enhance the countryside for all to enjoy. Further details about the award can be found here.: http://www.cpreherts.org.uk/awards/rural-living-awards/item/2408-2017-rural-living-awards-get-underway

Please find below an extract from the application for the award explaining the reasons for nominating Stop Bengeo Quarry.

Stop Bengeo Quarry campaign group has been very successful in energising people of all ages to fight the application and encouraged use of the field – so successful that HCC’s Development Control Committee voted unanimously to reject a slightly reduced version of the original application, at a packed meeting at County Hall on March22nd 2017.

The field in question – Bengeo Field – has a footpath across it which links Bengeo and the whole of Hertford with the villages of Crouchfields and Chapmore End. For generations it has been used and enjoyed by walkers, joggers, cyclists, dogwalkers, and birdwatchers. lt is home to skylarks, brown hares and badgers and it was our aim, not only to preserve the space for future generations, but to foster in local people a love of this piece of countryside and the wildlife which inhabits it.

Stop Bengeo Quarry worked in various ways to raise awareness of the gravel application and to harness the enthusiasm, energy and expertise of hundreds of people – and to raise money for the campaign. Among other things, we held three public meetings; distributed posters for display in windows; organised a Fun Day on the school fieldj programmed family field walks to musical events at a Chapmore End pub; held photo- and cake-making competitions; adopted “The Lonely Oak”, a single oak tree in the middle of the footpath as a symbol of the campaign and, days before the DCC meeting, we encouraged children, parents and grandparents to spell out “NO” with their bodies in a field over-looking the site. We used a drone to photograph this and it made the front page in the Hertfordshire Mercury.

Crucially, we used social media in the form of the Stop Bengeo quarry Facebook and website to communicate with our supporters, to collect their campaign ideas and to publish photos and short films of our events and of the changing beauty of the field during the year. This site attracted over 3,000 followers, many of them local, but also others who had moved away from Hertford and still had fond memories of the field and the activities they had enjoyed there during childhood. Our website was visited more than 11,000 times before the March decision was made.

We were fortunate to find, within the community of Bengeo, several experts who made an enormous contribution to our campaign. These included a graphics designer, a professional photographer, a retired BBC film maker and a distinguished geologist who understood and explained to local residents, to school children and to the councillors on the Development Control Committee, that the proposed excavation would present a threat to the safety of Hertford’s water supply.

We made many new friends and we all learned a lot – not least, how much we loved and valued the beauty of the field.

Minerals Local Plan Review

We understand that potential 23 areas for working quarry have been submitted to Herts County Council. The HCC will now select the cull of preferred areas for public consultation, which is now expected to take place around October. Our ambition is to have the entire Stoney Hills area (i.e. from Bengeo to A602) excluded from MLP. We believe all the arguments against the previous Bengeo quarry proposal (including landscape protection, local amenity of the area, and the risk of water supply pollution) apply against making it a preferred MLP area for extracting gravel. However, if the land goes through to the public consultation, we will respond as strongly as we have done before.

Photo of Rickney's Quarry Rickney’s Quarry in 2016

Local District Plan and HERT4 developments

The East Hertfordshire District Plan consultation has been finalised earlier this year. The Secretary of State has appointed an inspector to carry out the independent examination of the Plan. She will determine whether the Plan has been prepared in accordance with the relevant legal requirements and that it is ‘sound’ i.e. positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy.

At the same time two Statements of Common Ground relating to HERT4 have been made available on the EHDC website:

  1. between EHDC and Kler Group in respect of the Bengeo Nursery site (part of HERT4) for 50 houses.
  2. between EHDC and Gowling WLG Trust in relation to the rest of HERT4 for 100 houses.

Bengeo Neighbourhood Plan has been set up in collaboration with local Residents’ Associations (MRA, LoBRA, WERA) and Town Council representatives. It is going through the approval process and we will share further information as soon as possible.

» Statements Of Common Ground

Potential appeal against the Bengeo quarry decision

The applicant has up to six months to appeal to Inspectorate against the HCC Development Control Committee’s decision about the Bengeo quarry proposal. As far as we know no appeal has been lodged. However the Gowling WLG Trust (also the applicant for the Bengeo quarry) states explicitly in their Statement of Common Ground (section 6.6) that they intend to appeal against the quarry decision: “This application was refused by Hertfordshire County Council on the 22nd March 2017. The Applicants will be submitting an appeal against this decision to the Planning Inspectorate as well as commencing negotiations with HCC on a revised scheme to extract minerals in accordance with its designation as a Preferred Area.

It will be another busy year it seems.

Stop Bengeo Quarry: What Next?

The campaign committee met last week to discuss the likely areas of focus for the coming year.

We agreed on the following priorities:

  • to continue campaigning against quarrying in Bengeo Field, Rickneys and neighbouring areas both through engaging in Minerals Local Plan public consultation (expected in October) or any potential appeal from the applicant whose proposal was recently rejected
  • to continue campaigning for restoration of Rickneys quarry areas
  • to support engagement in responding to development plans in HERT4 (which includes Bengeo Nursery) through Bengeo Neighbourhood Plan.

As always – we are looking for people who are interested to be involved in a specific activity or overall. We are also looking for volunteers happy to help as press officers. Please get in touch also with any ideas and suggestions!

Feedback From Planning Department

The following comments have been received from the County Council’s planning officer, Felicity Hart:

“I’d just like to thank you and everyone else who has got involved for all your hard work. It was really appreciated, you know. In more than 30 years of planning I would say that your group of local people has worked the hardest and produced the best response to any planning application I have ever dealt with! So, well done.”

“We don’t know what the future holds; the applicant may wish to appeal, or may wish to submit a different version of the planning application. Only time will tell. But what has struck me is how well you have all worked together and how all sections of the community have been involved too (including the school children). The planning process may have been uncertain and stressful at times, but it has also had the benefit of bringing the community together, with a shared sense of purpose and a furthered knowledge of planning, which can be applied in future cases. As this excerpt below from the NPPF shows, you have met one of the core planning principles and that can only be of benefit to neighbourhood planning in the future:

… The planning system can play an important role in facilitating social interaction and creating healthy, inclusive communities. Local planning authorities should create a shared vision with communities of the residential environment and facilities they wish to see. To support this, local planning authorities should aim to involve all sections of the community in the development of Local Plans and in planning decisions, and should facilitate neighbourhood planning. Planning policies and decisions, in turn, should aim to achieve places which promote opportunities for meetings between members of the community who might not otherwise come into contact with each other.”

Campaign Feedback

Following the success opposing the planning application for a gravel quarry north of Bengeo, we’ve had some great feedback on the campaign.

“I have so much admiration for you all. [SBQ] have done such a fantastic piece of work. So incredibly proud of you, [SBQ] brought everyone together to fight for what you all believe to be right for the future of not just Bengeo but surrounding villages and hamlets. But maybe more importantly future generations.”

Cllr Patricia Moore, East Herts District Council

“Well done everyone with the result today – well deserved and befitting of a great campaign.

With the withdrawal of the application in 1997 and the rejection of this one I suspect we all hope this is now a dead subject.”

Tom McMullen, Joint Managing Director. McMullens & Sons Ltd, Hertford Brewery

“Bengeo owes you much. [..] Critically important was the relationships [SBQ] developed with a range of people in widely differing professional and personal situations. [..] But this is really to thank [SBQ] for doing so much to ensure that the cases were made intelligently, and responsibly. No mean achievement.”

Cllr Peter Ruffles

“What a tremendous result. You must be all so very proud with this outcome. I have been so impressed with [SBQ] team.

With the combined speeches there really was no other decision to be made. Not only that, but the possibility that Bengeo field could come off the plan is a testament to the considered and thoughtful approach that you have all taken.”

Julie Starkiss, Headteacher Bengeo Primary School

“On behalf of all the residents of Molewood – congratulations on a great result and take great pride in what you’ve achieved through grit and determination.

I’m sure we’ll have new challenges ahead of us and here’s hoping we can harness this community energy to delivering more success in the future. Well done.”

Ben Penrose, Molewood Residents’ Association

“Congratulations for organising such a successful campaign.”

Cllr Andrew Stevenson

“Congratulations on such a positive outcome yesterday and on harnessing the most amazing team of people! [..] Just incredible to get every Councillor to vote the same way! [..] You can now take a very well deserved rest and just enjoy Bengeo!”

Terry Mansfield, Chapmore End Residents’ Association

“A brief email to congratulate [SBQ] pressure group on the amazingly successful outcome of your representations against the granting of planning permission for the quarry. A well-deserved success following a thoughtful and extremely well informed campaign with the objections convincingly presented. My thanks to all concerned for their hard work; [..] much relieved at the outcome and grateful for all the hard work that made it possible.”

Russell Norris, Chapmore End Residents’ Association

“I’d just like to say thank you for all you’ve done keeping Bengeo the way it should be. It was a terrific effort.”

Hani Abdellatif, Hertford & Ware Labour

“I wanted to send a heartfelt congratulations to the whole SBQ team on a community triumph. The campaign was very professional and focused and both Andrew and I have been delighted to be able to support you through it all. Please extend my very best wishes to everyone.

Of course, the applicant may come back in the future, though the unanimous decision will be difficult to overcome.”

Mark Prisk, MP

“It was a great pleasure to be part of your highly organised, and informed campaign. I look forward to working with your group on a Neighbourhood Plan for Bengeo to use all the knowledge gained to provide a healthy and successful future for Bengeo and the surrounding area.”

Cllr Steve Counsins

“[SBQ] led this community to a great collective achievement. I’m still celebrating.”

Bryan Lovell

Campaign Invited To School

Following the success of the Stop Bengeo Quarry team’s campaigning last week, the Headteacher Mrs Starkiss invited Libby Mountford and Aska Pickering to talk to KS2 pupils at Bengeo Primary School.

Libby talked about why the residents and campaigners opposed the application for a quarry in such close proximity to the school and houses, and why she, as the Governor of the School, was keen to be involved in the campaign.

Aska told the pupils about how she believed the success of the campaign depended on the combined effort of many residents, experts, and children living in Bengeo and the Hertford area. She also talked about the beginning of the campaign and the importance of not giving up when things don’t look too easy.

At the end children watched one of the short films from Bengeo Field Fun Day in the school grounds last summer. When asked to vote for the preferred event to celebrate the community getting together to protect the Bengeo Field, the pupils overwhelmingly voted for the Bengeo Field Fun Day, although the Bengeo Field Challenge/Treasure Hunt also received some votes.

Thank you to the pupils of Bengeo Primary School for being such wonderful hosts and thanks to Mrs Starkiss and all the school staff for being so supportive throughout the last year of campaigning.

Is It Really Over?

A number of people have been asking, “does this mean the threat of the quarry has gone forever?”.

Sadly, no.  It’s possible that the applicant may submit an amended proposal intended to address the reasons for this application’s rejection.  They have 12 months to do that.  Alternatively they might appeal against the Council’s decision.  The time limit is 6 months.

Also, for as long as the Bengeo field is part of the County Council’s “Preferred Area 2” for gravel extraction there is a risk that a new application will be made that could succeed.  For example, Hanson might apply for an extension to Rickneys Quarry that includes the field. If that happened some of the grounds that led the committee to reject the application on Wednesday may not apply.

There’s more work to be done and we will keep you updated.<