A rather boring meeting really, no fisticuffs, nobody carried out on their chair, hardly worth turning turning up. The Police didn’t bother to turn up – perhaps there was no crime to report, perhaps they were detained at Blakeney – who knows. Still, a full blow-by-blow (mmm, probably the wrong metaphor) account can be found in the Minutes of the meeting displayed on the Parish Noticeboard and of course here on the website. All the really interesting stuff happened, or is about to happen, after the meeting.
First up, crime. Yes, we’ve actually had some this month, but only after the meeting. To save the Police from having to not turn up again next month here is my eye-witness account. I was dealing with a customer in the gallery and just happened to glance out of the window as a nondescript little man walked past carrying a large guitar case. A few minutes later he returned, running rather than walking, hotly pursued by a couple of young ladies. He had, allegedly, been shop-lifting and was making his escape tossing part of his loot into gardens as he went. The Police were on the scene within minutes (full marks there) and, to cut a potentially long story short, the miscreant was later arrested on the CoastHopper bus. Now the CoastHopper is a great service, but as a getaway vehicle for robbers it clearly has its limitations.
The long-standing NWT project to provide a footpath all the way from the ‘saltpan’ to their Visitor Centre is nearing fruition. The Parish Council has always supported this scheme as it removes pedestrians from a dangerous stretch of road. The last link is a bridge over the drain more-or-less opposite the Old Hall. This bridge is now pretty much complete, though the access ramp on the north side has yet to be added, but the early stages of construction were met with a chorus of outrage at the sight of naked steelwork. So I am happy to report that the girders are now respectably clothed in a coat of paint (black, I think) and the sides close boarded – all it needs is a roof and it could pass for something from Madison County. Let’s hope everyone can now learn to love, or at least appreciate, this bridge.
Next up the MCZs. Readers of the Eastern Daily Press will have heard of the proposed Marine Conservation Zones that will soon be coming to a coast near you. You may think, and this has been mentioned in this column before, we already have more than enough special designations – AONB, SAC, SSSIs, Ramsar sites, and no doubt others I have forgotten – so why do we need more? The MCZs as such are not the problem; buried within the proposals are the need for ‘reference areas’, selected chunks of various habitat types that are to be protected from any further human interference so they remain in ‘pristine’ condition. In future years they can then be used as a benchmark comparison with unprotected areas so the effect of human activity can be more accurately assessed. A perfectly sensible idea which it is hard to argue against. The problem comes with choosing the location for these ‘reference areas’. The two in Cley parish are not at all controversial: a couple of brackish lagoons near Arnold’s Marsh and a patch of saltmarsh and reedbed just to the north of our flood gate, though given the amount of heavy machinery deployed in building the new flood bank in 1995, that last area may not be as pristine as they hoped. The patch of seagrass in Stanley’s Cockle Bight shouldn’t be a problem either, despite some of the more hysterical comments in the press.
The real bone of contention is the one square kilometre of saltmarsh between the Blakeney and Morston creeks. This large chunk of land is much used, at least round the edges, by tourism and other more traditional aspects of the longshore economy. It is hardly pristine and, besides, its protection would be virtually impossible to enforce, so this selection seems nonsensical. The company set up to make these proposals (Netgain) had looked at some marsh at Brancaster but had had such a hard time dealing with common rights holders there that they dropped the proposal and looked for another site with fewer hassles. Unfortunately they picked on Blakeney/Morston. Not a good choice, either environmentally or economically, and there are good arguments to be advanced for the rejection of this proposal so let’s make those arguments. Wildly exaggerated, and easily refuted, claims of doom and destruction are probably not the answer – at least not yet. The bottom line is that without the community’s consent this scheme is unworkable. Netgain need to be convinced to look elsewhere.