At January’s Court, I asked you to take with a blood pressure threatening portion of salt, the results of last year’s online RMS survey, which by its own terms made no attempt to get “a balanced and representative sample”, and included provably false misreadings of its mere 1500 respondents[*]. A true consultation would present the relative merits, pros and cons of its statements, no attempt was made towards this in the survey.
When I make these complaints to park authority staff, who now erroneously refer to this poll as a “consultation”, they have a tendency to brush these off with the tautological statement that all must be well because the process has been signed off by the Six Organizations on the RMS Steering Group including NE FC HCC NPA NFDC and of course, the Verderers. [This confers a collective infallibility which I would not burden you with.]
Sadly, as another online poll will be used to comment on new RMS proposals, we’re now due to repeat that meaningless exercise this year. There are some good ideas within these proposals[†], but they are incomplete and unfocussed, and very much the result of the messy group think employed.
The review of the RMS should have a broader vision, which acknowledges that the complexity of solutions required may need more than 144 characters to express, should include not just the recreation provisions for neighbouring authorities, but strategic review of new development that puts greater recreation pressure on the Forest. This brings housing targets and mitigation regimen across the entire region into the discussion[‡]. This cannot be done in a format more suited to counting how many people like that photo of a fox cub, or if you think that dress is blue/black or white/gold.
The future of the Forest, and its millions of recreational visitors, should not be at the behest of an insecure online poll whose unverifiable population is half that of Lyndhurst. We want an RMS aimed at Managing Recreation Strategically to fulfill the Statutory Purposes of the Park, and the legal obligations to protect the designated habitats. We want leadership able to defend that Strategy in a public consultation, even the measures which may not be simply explained, or may need defence against interest groups who would put their needs above those of the habitat, commoning’s working farm and forestry. Please use your seat at the table to stop this important document, and the process guiding it from being dumbed down.
[*] One item was interpreted as having “wide public support”, despite only being supported by 22%.
[†] See Addendum below.
[‡] The RMS would need to confront the aspects of the NFNPA and NFDC draft local plans which will pave the way for an inappropriately large development, wholly within the National Park, creating a new population centre of 3500 people (larger than Lyndhurst). Placed 30 minutes down a cul de sac with paltry mitigation for that population which would be dumped entirely on the Forest for Recreation provision, and on the road infrastructure (requiring upgrades that would encroach into the Forest, and greater traffic across animal accident hotspots within the Forest).
The Addendum written for the Verderers referred them to the NFA’s response to last year’s Future Forest survey, then included these additional remarks on the latest RMS proposals under our three main areas for specific, achievable projects.
National Park Infrastructure
The proposals do contain an aspiration to create a map to be used to address infrastructure priorities, but this is given an absurd “quick-win” goal of being produced within a year of the adoption of the RMS update. Rather than specifying key criteria and gathering evidence to base a sound spatial strategy, this will be done with whatever haphazard data is to hand or may be hastily compiled within that timeframe leading to an infrastructure just as damagingly arbitrary as that which we’ve inherited.
Adjacent Authorities and Communities
The proposals limit discussion of influencing adjacent authorities to their recreation provisions, where placement of population increases from new development if often the strongest driver in creating recreation pressure on the Forest. Mitigation regimes use formula developed by Natural England for Thames Basin Heaths, which does not scale appropriately to the Forest because a) the Forest is much richer in features and biodiversity at threat and should cost developers more b) the morphology of the Forest is different: Thames Basin Heaths spatially has greater opportunity for alternative spaces, where the Forest, surrounded, creates more of a siege situation (with only one defence to the West at Moors Valley, and plans to the East eternally pipe dreamed).
Of course there is a useful “Raising awareness and understanding” action point which is front and centre, but it is focussed very much on doing more of the same, but more often in more places with better production values, not shifting the message to significantly highlight the habitats and ways of life under threat. Getting a very simple key notion across that the Forest needs our collective respect and protection could give those education efforts a more useful focus and lead to positive impact.