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FOE SLAM PLANS TO BUILD ON LONDON'S LARGEST WILDLIFE SITE

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Friends of the Earth has slammed government development quango, English Partnerships, for 'an environmental blitz' ...
Friends of the Earth has slammed government development quango, English Partnerships, for 'an environmental blitz' on Rainham Marshes, greater London's largest wildlife site. The quango plans to destroy the home of wild birds, and a recently discovered population of water voles, in order to build a petrol station, drive-through restaurant and industrial estate. FoE has demanded that deputy prime minister John Prescott halt the English Partnerships plan and save the marshes.

Rainham Marshes is part of Inner Thames Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which, despite being much abused, is recognised as being one of the nation's most important wildlife areas. The government's urban regeneration quango, English Partnerships has applied to Havering LBC to build on 50 hectares of Rainham Marshes for the first part of a development which the council hopes will eventually cover 60 per cent of the SSSI. English Partnerships is understood to be contributing at least£8m of public money to the scheme.

Matt Phillips, wildlife campaigner of FoE, said:

'Putting£8m into Havering is a great idea. Destroying Rainham Marshes is not. This plan will rob London of its largest wildlife haven. It is little more than environmental blitz on a vitally important piece of green space. Of course we need to invest in our cities, but not by destroying the few areas of wildlife they still have left. Such areas should be a central part of any regeneration strategy. They help make cities fit places to live in.

'Labour has promised to improve protection for wildlife and to force its development quangos to promote sustainable projects. The Rainham plan shows the Government's rhetoric is good, but its actions bad. Mr Prescott must improve wildlife law and force English Partnerships to meet its green duties.'

The news on Rainham Marshes comes as the government decides when to introduce new laws to improve protection for wildlife. Some 22 environmental organisations, including Friends of the Earth, have called for the government to meet its manifesto commitment to improve protection for wildlife by changes in the law. Two months ago the Wildlife Charter was published by these organisations detailing the changes needed. These would reduce the chances of success for applications such as Rainham.

The government is also consulting on its proposed new Regional Development Agencies. English Partnerships will be entirely subsumed into the new agencies. Although the government has claimed that these agencies will promote sustainable development, Friends of the Earth is concerned they will behave as English Partnerships has in this case unless given explicit duties at the outset.

NOTES

Inner Thames Marshes SSSI is by far the largest nature area in Greater London and is one of the few remaining remnants of the marshes that once fringed the Thames. A significant population of Water Voles (Arvicola terrestris) has recently been found on site for the first time by local conservationists and it is also visited by highly significant numbers of Teal as well as Short-eared owl, Godwit, Shoveller and Redshank. The site is designated under Section 28 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. It is owned by Havering LBC, but it has been much abused in the past by tipping of waste and motorcycle scrambling with the result that parts of the site have a run down appearance. This in turn has fuelled misplaced opinion that the site is worthless and can only be improved by built 'development'.

Local people including Havering Friends of the Earth have formed Friends of Rainham Marsh to campaign for a brighter future for the site. They have called for it to be positively managed to transform it into a high quality nature reserve for Londoners to visit and enjoy.

The population of Water voles found on the SSSI by Friends of Rainham Marsh may be the largest in Greater London. This species has declined by 74% in the last ten years and is the subject of a government rescue project with its own 'biodiversity action plan'.

English Partnerships is also known as the Urban Regeneration Agency which puts in millions of pounds of Government money to regenerate derelict areas of land. It is one of the organisations behind the Greenwich Millennium dome. Directors of the quango include a former secretary of state for the environment, Lord Walker of Worcester (Peter Walker) and Bill Jordan former president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. The Rainham scheme is intended to be a 'prestige' development. However, as set out in the application, the development will involve building a petrol station, drive through restaurant, hotel and warehouse units as well as roads and associated infrastructure. No private sector developer has yet been interested in taking it on.

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