the meadow

Absolute Power

Tuesday 31st October 2000, West Yorkshire
THE SCARIEST THING that came to the door this hallowe'en; not the Draculas, witches and white-sheet ghosts with their glowing pumpkin lanterns but a simple brown envelope that dropped through the letterbox. I don't think it had been deliberately timed to arrive on Hallowe'en but the contents were pretty scary, and I'm not joking about that; my hands started shaking and I felt myself tense up as I read the letter.

It brought back the prospect of facing a stressful and humiliating ordeal all over again.

Regular readers might remember that I came close to loosing our house and all our savings when I attempted to defend the meadow at the entrance to the woods when it was threatened by a plan for a housing development.

My 'unreasonable behaviour'

My behaviour at the public enquiry was deemed so 'unreasonable' by Wakefield Council that they threatened my neighbours and I with costs should we continue. They asked for our addresses so that they could go about collecting the tens of thousands of pounds that it was suggested the two-day enquiry would cost.

I was faced with not one but two highly motivated legal teams led by men in black and, sitting between them, a Department of the Environment Inspector who repeatedly stressed that he wished to have everything tied up in time for closing submissions and a four o'clock finish. I'd rather face our local witches and vampires any day.

Now Wakefield Council is inviting comments on a new proposed development that will affect the valley. If I object again, will they mete out the same threats to me?

Today I had the definitive answer from Wakefield's Head of Planning;

' . . . the Council has the option of applying for a costs order . . . if an enquiry is held, or is prolonged resulting from unreasonable behaviour.'

Don't get me wrong, I love the valley, I'm passionate about it's wildlife and flora, but what can I do? Obviously if I get up and speak about the need for conservation I'm going to prolong any enquiry; so, almost by definition, I'm 'unreasonable'.

Time for a change

Really there's no longer anything anybody can do to save the beautiful countryside of our crowded county from development. Practically every green field between here and the town hall in Wakefield is up for grabs at the moment; whether it's for minerals, offices, hotels, fishing lakes, sports stadia, housing, roads . . .

But that's not what really galls me. The awful thing is that my correspondent isn't indulging in empty threat; he is just coolly stating the law as it stands.

I'd like to get the law changed. The threat of costs seems to me too arbitrary and powerful a page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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