The Water Tower

The Water Tower
The Water Tower at Dusk

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Susan Goes On the Offensive

Susan Goes On the Offensive
Well nothing new there some might say. Linda B is you are reading this, you know the form as an innocent bystander in past times with my old boss. Don’t push me without justification or I’ll bite back.
I am from the Borders. Born in Galashiels, dad from Peebles. My great great grandmother on my mum's side lived and died in Cemetery Lodge cottage; her last years must have been spent watching the water tower being built. I have an affinity with my surrounds. Last month I picked up 100’s of beer cans, dog poo bags and discarded garden plants at the bridge in Cemetery Road just off the public footpath. I don’t own the ground, I just wanted to take away the unsightly crap. It was a horrible job. I’m not looking for any pat on the back, just stating a fact. Lots of people pick up litter.
I have joined the Midlothian Paths Team because I wanted to.  I have designs on getting a large grant for SUDS (that’s sustainable underground drainage systems) for the tennis courts to prevent any more damage to the surrounds. If the tennis courts were to be “built” nowadays then SUDS would be part of the process. But these courts are 100 years old and no such requirement was necessary at the time.
And so, what has happened? Well Professor J T M Stevenson of the Esk Valley Trust has written that the appearance of the bank of the river has significantly changed and wants to prevent “multiple repetitions to this type of development, nation-wide”.  Mrs Duthie, also of the Esk Valley Trust, endorses these views and states that comments have been made by professionally qualified people in the disciplines of engineering and geosciences. Interesting.  How much, I wonder, do these professionally qualified people understand and have they taken a balanced view? I think not since my requests to visit the area and listen to my story seems to have fallen on deaf ears. I’ll keep trying in the interests of establishing fact and truth.
Let’s explore the “significant change”, as stated by the prof, to the river bank. I have posted many articles in this blog that show the history and the change to this woodland. The new house called RP9 (for good reason) probably represents the most significant change and any new build would have supporters and objectors no matter what (consider the Scottish Parliament – I actually love it, my sister hates it and we all know about the cost!). So the house represents a change, it has full planning permission and I guess some people will just have to live with it. If it sets precedent for further development on the Esk then I’m sorry – there’s not a lot I can do about that and I know that Mr Ian Johnson answered that Q last year in response to yet another enquiry about developments on the river bank made by the Eskbank Amenity Society.  His answer was
There is no basis to assume that the circumstances at the site to which you refer would have any bearing on the "future protection of the North Esk RiverValleys and their ancient woodlands."
How many times, and in how many ways, can the same Q be asked? I wonder; and let’s just make clear at this stage, this recent query on significant change and the possibility of precedent has not come from a planning application for the house build – No – it has come in as an objection to the fence, steps, path widening and replacement sitting out area, constructed after the house build for which retrospective (not uncommon to have these things retrospective) planning has been applied for. Most local people who are reading the literature on the fence (I am copying all objections for all to read) are having difficulty understanding this because they cannot understand what the fuss is about. They assume it is all about the house which would be understandable perhaps. Interestingly and as an aside, someone from the local area (let’s call him Mr A) is pouring over the house plans and looking for any minor discrepancy and having found one such non-material discrepancy (that’s a planning term non-material which means insignificant) has asked to have this current application withdrawn and be re submitted to include this minor discrepancy. I have my suspicions on the ulterior motive on this one but the principle that this person hopes to get across is to show “creeping development”. This is a pretty self explanatory term but one must abide by the rules and so far, with this retrospective application, that is what I have done. I suggest Mr A you do the same. I will not have this application withdrawn. You will have to use another tack. Imagine spending your time looking at the minutiae of a new house build in the hope of finding something to add weight to an argument for creeping development. You could have done this ages ago but you have waited ‘til now. Oh and it’s especially notable when a sitting out area has been constructed by another local person (without permission) in their garden in a conservation area. Have I raised an objection – yes, but I withdrew it the next day. Childish – yes. Understandable – I hope so. Is this other sitting out area creeping development? I don’t think so. Is mine?- No.
Let’s play a fair field Mr A. I played outside left in hockey for years – what sports did you play? I learned to use skill and camaraderie to win a hockey game – how did you get on?
So let’s move on to the professional competency to judge the appearance. I posted a picture of the view of the river bank taken in the 70’s. It quite clearly shows a scar area on the slope. It is significant. There have been reports of land slippage and I remember one guy at the FOIP event in Nov 2009 telling me that the local authority at one time placed pieces of glass tell tails around the foot bridge as a way of detecting land slip in this area because of concerns. I think this may well have been one of the reasons why the liability of the ground was offloaded when the council sold us the ground as our garden. It is a liability so hey Mr Professional, come and see it yourself and let me tell you more, and you can pass on your knowledge of ground geo physics and architectural understanding.  That might compliment the advice documented in our woodland management plan of year 2000 from Mr Donald McPhilimy - the professional that I paid to assess the woodland at the time.
So how are things now at the area above the bridge? The slope area looks significantly better than a year ago. This is the area where the power line crosses and the works in this area are beginning to bear fruit. The regeneration tree species is Elm and there is a mass of twiggy coppiced tree growing in an area where it has been cut back for years previously. The open area under the line has new planting of the type that is not epicormic and doesn’t need to be cut back. That’s called taking a long term view to woodland management Mr Professional so again, please come on down and see for yourself. Oh and the power cable – its state of the art Ericsson Cabling and I hope it means the width of cut underneath it is reduced from the cable that was there previously (that is what I was told but I have nothing in writing). I made all this happen with Scottish Power and MC for the greater good and with a long term view. It took me 10 years to get this to happen and although the house build was not the reason for the final push to make it happen, the house build certainly spurned action and provided the access opportunity. For some relevant readers - I have no desire to improve my own view by having the power line moved – I already have this view! From lots of places. Remember I own the water tower with a balcony that overlooks the park......
So that’s the first part of the river bank that I made a significant difference to. What next – shall I move on to the fence cladding on top of rusting corrugated iron, at the back under the tennis club that is topped by the tennis club with green netting. Well again – come and see it. There is a new wood fence along a significant length of the old tennis fence. I know what will look better in the long run. Let me see; rusting corrugated metal versus pine wood which will naturally fade to silver-grey. You decide. At the moment of course it looks rather new and no – I won’t be painting it dark green or brown only to have the paint peel and require regular maintenance.
Let’s move on from the outside deck of the house towards the sitting out area. An open area of ground. No trees were ever in there. It looks a bit barren at the moment since the house build has only just finished and this area is ear marked for planting. That will be native woodland plants in an area that never had any tree cover before. That’s correct, I have repeated myself saying that there were no trees in this area before.
The sitting out area and store. It’s made of the same wood as the fence and the house for that matter. The glass is just stunning. It looks a little stark at the moment but it will fade. There were no trees taken down in siting the structure. There was a dead Ash behind it and this was removed previously with permission. What great wood that has made for the fire this year because this Ash was felled about 4 years ago now and it burns really well.  The Ash stump grows a mass of shoots every year which I cut back. What a beautiful sight when the new growth comes on. Just stunning. Some new native planting (to replace the bamboo which I have finally gone-off, and its not native) will be put in this year. I am so looking forward to doing that. The sitting out area though because I digress as usual, is a wooden structure and it is not a building in the sense that a building is understood by the public to be a house or a larger structure. It is development in planning terms though and for those not up to speed, a development in planning terms is anything at all that is fixed to the ground. I would have requested permission for the replacement developments in our garden ground some time ago had it not been for the very upsetting interferences last year that resulted in distraction and application of energy in other directions. It’s all in this blog on the earlier pages. Our lunch club chat usually ended with “you just couldn’t make this up” because I tell you, some people have had their fingers burned in both fire and caustic this last year.
There are other issues with the sitting out area but for the purposes of this blog site this will have to remain off-line for the moment until a legal situation is addressed. I expect to blog the outcome in due course and it should make very interesting reading.
What else. Oh the path broadening and an area of wood placed to hide the triangulated section from public view. Well this is the area of land slip. It is significant and the long term outlook will be the loss of the tennis club corner. That might sound melodramatic but I am on this Earth to make a difference. What about you? If the owners responsible for the runoff are not prepared to address the situation then there is little I can do. The best alternative is to broaden the path. It is of no benefit to the land slip but it does help me stay safe in walking round this corner. To do this we used up old Gazebo “I” sections to create a wider path. It is not long term but it does the job for now. To disguise the rather ugly works the weathered boards from the gazebo were nailed on and left open to allow soil and water to percolate through. It’s not brilliant but it’s a start. Oh and up until 5 years ago there was the ugly grey plastic pipe in this area that fell off and was never replaced. It never carried any water anyway but interesting that the “ugly” appearance of this pipe was never mentioned.
Getting back to the woodland itself, at one time the path on this land was available to the public – it was a short cut and it was blocked off by MC. I would like to keep the path. This is what I have done. The sight from Ironmills Park will show change but I’m sorry – for some things to be protected there has to be change. It is not that ugly and it will improve as ivy takes hold. Below this path widening section is the very clear scar evident in the 70’s picture. On Monday I moved significant amounts of loose soil down the slope onto a wildlife wood pile below. I created some “terraced” footholds in the wet soil and cleared any rubbish and dead wood from the slope. I raked it down. The blister on my hand is significant. I then re planted the willows that have not taken in this last year (Wind? Rain? Land movement? I don’t know) and planted 5 larger willows, 3 med size Beech, 1 Ash and I have an Alder tree still to plant. Oh and a few holly still to purchase and plant. A few of these plants have gone in to an area that always had some tree cover but the vast majority are on the slope where no tree cover ever existed before. I’m not even sure of their chances of survival because of the run off issue but I decided to go ahead and plant anyway because it is taking so long to get a solution to the tennis club lack of SUDS problem. So Mr Professional engineer if you know anything about land slip and water and SUDS – I would love to talk to you. And while you were here you could look at the scar from the tennis club septic tank that is no more because it became blocked and took a large chunk of hillside with it when it fell away. That must have had a significant impact at the time.
Staying on this area of the river bank; have you seen the green plastic tubes anyone? I think they look horrible but they are protecting the 100’s of understory planting that was carried out years ago. Some of these were Beech and Rowan which seem to be doing particularly well in this area. In another 5 years the change will indeed be “significant”. I wonder if it will make depressing reading then?
For readers wondering what on earth is Susan doing I would like to highlight the fact that the recent concerns about the river bank were previously raised by the Eskbank Amenity Society last year in an 8 page letter to MC. The issues being raised yet again were addressed by Ian Johnson at MC and I copy from his letter once again.
The site has been visited on a regular basis by the Council's landscape officer who
has discussed the replacement planting arrangements with the owners.
On the final page of your letter you refer to matters under six bullet points, on which I
would offer the following observations. The first two are a matter which were part of
the overall assessment of the planning application. I do not agree with the assertion
in the third point that there is "ongoing destruction". The fourth and fifth points can be
achieved through landowners undertaking woodland management of their land. This
would also be relevant to point six although I do not accept the assertion that the
North Esk River Valley Woodland has been "damaged
I hope everyone is getting the message. Or is there some barrier to comprehension or some bias in some-one’s own agenda or maybe even, a desire to use the house build at Cemetery Road to further one’s own aims? Whatever it is believe me I will not sit back and accept nor keep quiet and hope you all go away. I am too feisty for that.
I am going to be 53 soon. I am feeling old! I reckon I have a good few years of extreme gardening in me yet though and the woodland is my baby. I will leave it in a fit state for the next generation, I will not sit back and accept harmful letters posted in an objection to a planning application and keep quiet. I will fight my corner and my DNA is from a robust stock. I am a Biologist. I am not an engineer. I do wear people down and I will get the SUDS thing fixed one day. I will progress this year with my positive agenda (Yeah I read the 7 habits of successful people as well) and no-one will stop me by using the threats of precedent and National awareness. I welcome National awareness.
Just arrived in the post today – Lothians Local Biodiversity Site Survey request as part of the winter survey programme. We shall agree to the survey (of course we will) and we get a Biodiversity report in return and it is part of a larger survey for this whole area. Now that’s positive.
Hope the next time you see discarded beer cans when you are out walking in the countryside that you pick one or two up and bin them.  And if you are going for a walk in any woods, try for Lord Ancrums’ wood in Newbattle where the Forestry Commission have created new “motor way” paths through the woods to allow better access. Now that’s significant change which the community council fought against. In the knowledge that the EAS supported these concerns as well apparently. But Mr A, when I met you last year and asked you, your response was “what woods Susan? I don’t know about that?” and no letter of objection has ever appeared.
Well that feels better.
Thanks for reading.

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