At the start of September, the Environment Agency (EA) were due to start work stripping trees and bushes along the railway line, adjacent to the old railway bridge, Saltwood. The EA say clearing this land is being done to prevent flooding – but this just doesn’t make sense to local people who say it is the mature trees and saplings which will prevent or reduce flooding.
A number of local people took to social media saying that they were horrified that this work was going ahead – and said that the EA was being obstructive and dismissive when they raised very real concerns about this work.
At last, there may be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel due to the number of people who were so incensed at this work going ahead, with the potential loss of a beautiful natural area that also provides a home to several varieties of bats which inhabit the mature trees – that they have written to local councillors including Saltwood Parish Councillor Chair Frank Boland, Kent County Councillor Rory Love and our local MP Damian Collins too.
Quickly following their involvement a site meeting was held with Cllr Love and MP, Damian Collins attending – Cllr Love reported: “Further to the Environment Agency proposals for stripping trees from the old railway embankment at Mill Leese, I have attended a very useful site meeting convened by our MP, Damian Collins, between the two senior officials from the EA and the landowner. I stressed the value of the site for wildlife, as well as its contribution to the appearance of the AONB”.
Cllr Love went on to state: “Potentially, this could be the start of a more constructive dialogue with the EA, but much will hinge on their position after a further technical inspection of the site that they have now agreed to undertake – crucially, this time, with the landowner present”.
It appeared to onlookers that the two EA representatives who attended the meeting were underprepared and unaware of the contents of some of their own documentation. When asked what difference removing the vegetation would have on the potential to flood – they responded that it would make no difference – leaving little wonder that local people have lost their trust in the EA on this issue!
Cllr Love went on to report: “… they recognise that communication failings have led to distrust of their intentions. There are some bridges they need to rebuild with the local community. The intention is that they will come forward with new proposals for a management plan for their ‘reservoir’”
Local people feel at last they are being heard – but as Cllr Love stated “Time will tell whether such a plan will be acceptable”.