The Local Government Ombudsman has found Cheshire County Council (and its successor, Cheshire East Council) guilty of "maladministration" in its enforcement of planning conditions intended to protect Lindow Moss.
The Moss, a raised peat bog located on Wilmslow's western fringes, is one of the North West's ecological jewels. Also known as Saltersley Common, it came to worldwide attention in 1984 following the discovery of "Lindow Man". The site is home to diverse flora and fauna and has a rich history.
Despite its fame the Moss has been under continued attack from urban development over the past century – it now covers only a tenth of its former area. The advent of "industrial style" peat extraction in the 1990s has accelerated the damage to this unique and fragile location.
In 2003 Cheshire County Council granted Croghan Peat Industries a license to extract peat until 2042 subject to 51 Planning Conditions stipulated in order to protect the area.
- Completion of a Nature Reserve Protection Scheme
- Sluice Control Structure (to maintain water levels)
- A Hydrological Code of Good Practice
- Measures to protect the (legally protected) Water Vole population.
Saltersley Common Preservation Society (SCPS), a community group, have been fighting to protect the Moss for 14 years – lobbying the Borough and County Councils. Croghan were successfully prosecuted in 2005 by Cheshire County Council, following lobbying from SCPS, and pleaded guilty to altering drainage ditches in the bog.
SCPS has remained concerned that many of the Planning Conditions have not been adhered to by Croghan or enforced by Cheshire County Council (and its successor Cheshire East Council).
A Water Vole report was conducted by Paul Hill of Biota but never seen through. The Group believed that the presence of the Water Vole, one of the UK's rarest mammals, is threatened by the continued peat extraction and associated drop in water levels. Therefore a report was commissioned from Derek Gow Consultancy Ltd into the impact on the water vole habitat. The report concluded that the Water Vole population is on a knife-edge.
On receipt of these worrying findings SCPS entered into lengthy and frustrating correspondence with John Nicholson (Strategic Director for Places and Organisational Capacity at CEC - who departed in the wake of the Lyme Green fiasco) - the report was "mislaid" on at least one occasion. Borough Councillors Menlove and Barton were also alerted to the issues.
This impasse led SCPS to take a case against the Council to the Local Government Ombudsman in 2012. The Inspector, having investigated, concluded that the Council made very little effort to enforce the planning conditions and had been, at the very least, guilty of maladministration.
SCPS welcomes the findings of maladministration, which led to planning conditions not be actively enforced, but feels the the Ombudsman could have gone further with its findings in terms of the resultant harm to the Moss.
The Ombudsman's report can be viewed at www.lindowmoss.org.uk , the website also contains information on the history and ecology of the Moss. An 11-minute YouTube film also describes the current situation (just search for "Lindow Moss" on YouTube website).
Meanwhile peat extraction continues at the site, to the detriment of this beautiful area, impacting on the water table as evidenced by falling land levels at Rossmere lake and Newgate Kennels – clearly visible where land has fallen away from recently constructed buildings.
In the words of Christine Pemberton and Matthew Hyde (Lindow and The Bog Warriors – Rex Publishing 2002):
"What remains of Lindow Moss, the peat bog flora and fauna it has supported for thousands of years is in its death throes. It is dying from desiccation".
If you are concerned about the ongoing destruction of the Moss and the impacts on wildlife habitats and drainage please contact your Councillor. You may also consider joining SCPS via lindowmoss.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an opinion piece by Tony Evans – Hon. Secretary of Saltersley Common Preservation Society.