So, we went to the “Truth about the Wetlands” presentation. Held in the foyer of Seaton Town Hall, so rather crushed. Somewhat oddly, the cakes (which we were not offered!) were in the main room of the Town Hall. Surely some mistake there? This is a summary from those of us who went.
We asked numerous questions and will report on them here. No doubt if we have anything wrong, EDDC will put us right quite quickly.
Q: Whose idea was it to purchase the extra 225 acres of marshland?
A: This has been ongoing for about 10 years as an EDDC aspiration. They have been talking to landowners for 5-6 years around the time the SUSTRANS cycle route negotiations started.
Q: So why has the Seaton community never been told about it or consulted about it?
A: We have told people.
Q: Who? One of us was a member of Seaton Development Trust for four years until October last year and had never heard about it. Who did you discuss it with?
A: Er …….
Q: How many discussions have you had with Liatris about this?
A: One presentation similar to the one in the Town Hall last November, one with Liatris and Seaton Town Council about this and other matters and some informal meetings (plural).
Q: How much money has Liatris promised towards this project?
A: None, though it has made suggestions about how its Section 106 money might be used.
(Here we should explain that Liatris owns 25 acres of marshland north of the tramway. It is adjacent to a field owned by a Seaton landowner that cannot be built on as it is where the original salt pans were and close to the church so they are of great archaeological importance. This has the effect of making the Liatris land a “ransom strip” since the only other way on to the marshes from the regeneration area will otherwise be the SUSTRANS cycle route. The deal appears to be that when EDDC sells its land on the regeneration site – currently where the car park and empty Youth Centre are – Liatris will sell EDDC its land north of the tramway. This is classed as agricultural land and will cost EDDC about £75,000 at current prices. We are not yet allowed to know how much EDDC will get for selling its land (with planning permission) if they grant planning permission to Liatris for the Seaton Regeneration Area although we have been told that, as soon as this information is given to the Development Control Committee, it will be released into the public domain).
Q: How advanced are these plans?
A: Currently only some of the current landowners (including Liatris) have indicated that they would be willing to sell their land to EDDC. Negotiations with others could take months or years and there is no guarantee that they will be successful. Compulsory purchase is an option but they hope to do it by negotiation.
Q: Have other organisations or individuals been involved or given any money to this project?
A: £20,000 from the Environment Agency and £15,000 anticipated from Natural England towards start-up of the project (see below).
Q: What will happen if the Liatris planning application does not go ahead?
A: The project will still continue. [So, the Liatris land as essential for access to the marshes, but they still insist that the project will go ahead without it, even though it will mean that access from the Seaton end will be a very difficult problem to overcome. There are no contingency plans for interpretation at this sourthern end if Visitor Centre is NOT built on the regeneration area - yet another link with Liatris].
Q: Who will run the Wetlands Centre?
A: EDDC. Long term the Countryside Team – currently at Honiton Business Centre - will probably re-locate its office to the Wetlands project and will probably employ at least one more member of staff for start up - a Project Manager whose job it will be to get the funds for it. They anticipate at least two-thirds will be derived from lottery funding, the remainder from EDDC and others.
However, a bid cannot be put in until the land issue has been settled.
Q: Will it have its own interpretation and education facilities or will these need to be in the Jurassic Coast Visitor Centre?
A: Both. It will have an education centre and classrooms at the north end but it is anticipated that there will be education, interpretation and sales facilities (for leaflets, etc – entry to the marsh will be free) within the Jurassic Coast Visitor Centre. [As stated above, there is no contingency for if the Visitor Centre is not built].
Q: What happens to any profits from such a venture? What if it makes a loss?
A: The Wetlands Centre is not being run primarily for profit. Other councils (e.g. Teignbridge, Torbay) run national nature reserves as flagship projects of national importance – this will be the flagship nature reserve for East Devon. Some money will come from agri-payments and grazing rights. There will be no shop on the site – sales will be from the Visitor Centre. I then asked why the Exe Estuary wasn’t going to be the flagship nature reserve for East Devon. I may have got confused but I think they said that the Exe Estuary isn’t a managed nature reserve – it is mostly tidal and therefore doesn’t need much management.
Provision has already been made to employ a start-up Project Manager who should be in post soon whose job it will be to acquire further funds.
Q: How will it benefit Seaton?
A: The town can market and promote the site, there will be 3 km of extra access to the marshes, there will be untold benefits for wildlife.
[So, we do the marketing and promoting and in return we provide short-term parking for the tourists, 3 km of walkways and untold benefits for wildlife – which would probably happen anyway, even the project doesn’t happen. What we don’t get, of course, are our replacement and enhanced community facilities if they use Liatris money for this].
Q: How will it connect with the town?
A: (see also above). This is a detailed planning issue.
Q: Where will people park their cars and bicycles? Where will they stay?
A: In the car parks. There was no answer to where they will stay.
Q: What will happen if twitchers descend on the town given that parking is shared with the supermarket?
A: (Frankly, they were so excited about twitchers coming, they didn’t actually answer this one!).
Q: It seems that the Development Control Committee will be put under enormous pressure when deciding the Liatris planning application since it is apparent that Liatris has a ransom strip on the marshes which, if EDDC cannot purchase it, gives major access problems. This gives the impression that the Wetland project cannot advance without the Liatris planning application being granted.
A: That’s your assumption.
Q: Why haven’t the RSPB or Wetlands Trust been asked to run this as a joint venture or themselves?
A: RSPB do not get involved in conservation projects where a local council will do the conservation themselves. The Wildlife and Wetlands Trust is much more interested in global and larger projects – this is too small for them.
Q: Are you considering this exhibition and your presence at it as consultation with residents of Seaton?
SUMMARY: The Liatris money isn’t important, yet it is. Their land isn’t important and yet it is. Classrooms and interpretation for the reserve will be at Colyford. Here in Seaton we get parking and some space in the Jurassic Coast Visitor Centre to be used for interpretation and education – all of it in a building that has no more than 500 sq m per floor. There are no contingency plans for what happens if the Liatris application is refused. And how come, yet again we are not being told that this will count as consultation when it is being publicised as an information event?
OUR VIEW: This is a project that is good for the Countryside Team, good for EDDC and of doubtful benefit for Seaton. Should the Liatris planning application go through we won’t be able to see this Nature Reserve from the (tiny) Visitor Centre yet we will be expected to promote and market it. With only 3 hours maximum in a car park shared with the supermarket most visitors will have to choose between three possible things to visit: the Wetlands OR the Jurassic Coast Visitor Centre OR the Tramway. Then they will get in their cars and leave Seaton as they will have nowhere to stay.
That is if there is car parking space in the first place.
One of the Countryside Team asked me what we would do if the majority of people in Seaton were shown to be in favour of the project.
Our answer: everything depends on how you present the project. If you do it the way you did last November – skirting over the issue of funding and other major concerns – and if you do not present ALL the information available - the disadvantages as well as the advantages, then we will think they will have been hoodwinked and will not believe you.
We will think more highly of you if you keep your integrity and refuse to touch the Liatris money and go it alone.
AND we think the people of Colyford should be asking some questions about parking and access at their end of this reserve as this seems just as wooly as at our end!