Wednesday, September 16, 2015 and obligation !

Since last writing a blog about the Visitor Centre proposal at Spurn I've taken the opportunity to look at a lot of background material ( not necessarily to do with Spurn ), to cull opinion and to check on a few legal aspects too. Perhaps this is something I should have done earlier, although I confess it's not made the situation any easier. It could be said that, since the breach, the whole situation revolving around Spurn and visitors, is a mess! Why? Because, if one takes an honest appraisal of all that is involved,  a whole raft of necessary obligations now have to be considered in my opinion, set against very limited opportunities to resolve them. So, for the moment, forget about visitor numbers, Visitor Centre design, opening hours and many of the points which have absorbed discussion already and contemplate the following.

In two or three months the actual planning application will be submitted for the proposed new Visitor Centre at Spurn and the process will   "go formal". The details will be judged against a whole series of regulations and requirements. The process, therefore, doesn't rest on emotional reactions to design, location or similar aspects based on knee jerk opinions bereft of any necessary factual details to justify the opposition.  Doubtless many questions and concerns, which had been raised previously, have now been answered and resolved and are now no longer valid. Others will still remain and will form the basis of the opposition within submissions.  In this respect, and taking account of the points made below, may I advise that it's always a good idea to try and provide an alternative suggestion to the aspect being opposed. It's easy to dismiss or condemn something, much harder to suggest a viable alternative !  It's a course of action I've advocated or insisted upon over the years and it still holds firm!!   However, it doesn't make the situation less complicated and sometimes demands a willingness to set best preferences aside and confront the realities of the situation.

It seems to me that the opposition to the proposal can be split into individual sections as follows :

  •  opposition by residents to the (very) presence of a Visitor Centre
  • entrenched opposition to the YWT itself  based on mistrust and failed local relationships with staff
  • opposition to actual precise elements of the proposal
  • opposition to the way Eon has supported the proposal and organized consultation.

The second and fourth of these can be set aside for the purposes of the Blog as the first is unlikely to change and the other should be dealt with separately anyway.

Since the breach of the peninsula a whole set of "new" circumstances has arisen.  As the owner,  the YWT has not only to recognize them but to robustly embrace them. The penninsula is a National  Nature Reserve with anticipated management regimes in place aimed at retaining , if not improving, the natural history interest.  The penninsula is also a very fragile environment with habitat management , and also visitor management, being in place commensurate with its needs. Obligations that are not simply expectations but requirements. The inevitable "honey pot" situation which has now developed immediately north of the breach is a recent problem given cars can no longer progress any further southwards. Simply parking up at random is not an option, and clearly there needs to be a managed solution to avoid the inevitable destruction of habitat over time.  Similarly "foot traffic" needs management too to avoid indiscriminate pressure developing in various areas. I suspect all these aspects have been "drivers" ( forgive the pun) which have persuaded the YWT that a Centre needs to be in close proximity to the problem and caused them to adopt the Triangle Field as the preferred site.  Coupled with all this is the question of safety associated with the breach. This is not a situation I would want to manage as the hazard potential is as necessary to oversee whether six or sixty people have gone southwards. Having helped to fight a scrub fire south of Chalk Bank sometime in the 60's I shudder to think what the proposed management regime might be currently in response to a fire, particularly given the access difficulties !!

So this whole question of obligation, responsibility and management begins to assume a very high level of significance and doubtless will have dominated YWT's thinking as well as being examined shortly, one would imagine, at the planning stage. With the very precise levels of responsibility called for nowadays, and concomitant culpability if things go wrong or are not provided for, these are aspects which cannot be ignored and doubtless will be scrutinized. All of these aspects require to be thought through as they can't simply be ignored or dismissed.

I considered at some length the economic aspects of the Centre's operation which had troubled me and still do. Whilst the construction of a Centre may have promised funding, the running costs will demand an act of faith and, I suspect, will also demand cross funding from other YWT sources to subsidise the operation. In this respect, whilst the YWT might be hoping for a best result situation to emerge, I suspect the "Spurn operation" will need financial support for some considerable time.  So does that suggest that Spurn could simply be left to its own devices ? Well, not really given public access can be achieved via the beach, and the necessary management presence such demands needs to be in place. Plus many of the above responsibilities still apply whether the access had been encouraged or not.

Much has been said (including by me ) about the use of the Blue Bell as an alternative to the Visitor Centre given it's already in YWT ownership. Setting aside the predictions about coastal erosion affecting this area I suspect the question will be asked whether this location could achieve the same control over visitor management compared to that being proposed.  All these elements will be assessed and I don't for one minute envy the Planning Officer who will preside over the case.  Stripping apart all, not some, more personal preferences which can be associated with this proposal, the overall situation can only be judged to be a bloody mess !  Given all the complicated elements at play, facing the reality of what has to be complied with adds layers of difficulty beyond the simple choice of being in favour, or otherwise, of the location being proposed for the Visitor Centre. I almost wish the situation could go away, but the realities have to be faced following the penninsula being breached and I suspect the above comments only address a few of the circumstances involved.

Whatever our respective personal preferences for what should be the outcome of the proposal, there are clearly a lot of aspects that ,which for the benefit of Spurn as a nature reserve,  need to be considered. Not easy, but land management never is !!

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