Sunday, 16 May 2010

Peter Gabriel fights to save valley that inspired lyrical creation

Please find below an example of highly effective PR taking place right here where I live in Woolley near Bath. A live example of mustering celebrities and social media to create a cause.

May 15, 2010
Villagers of Woolley on the edge of Bath are protesting against development of land

The view from Solsbury Hill is no longer what it was when it inspired a single by Peter Gabriel, former lead singer of Genesis, in 1977.

To the dismay of residents, it has been scarred by building and excavation, and next week Gabriel joins their fight to save what he calls “one of the most beautiful valleys in the West of England”. Just as appalled is the television presenter Jonathan Dimbleby, who sold the land on which the unapproved construction has taken place.

The Woolley Valley, where Gabriel once lived, is a mile from Bath, a patchwork of steeply sloping fields, winding lanes, farms and stone villages.

On paper the valley is heavily protected. It is green belt land in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is covered by an Article 4 direction, which requires landowners to seek planning permission to do almost anything more than mow the grass.

Residents say that vast sheds for South American alpacas and free-range chickens now fill fields once occupied by sheep and cows. A new track wider than the lane it runs alongside has been built without planning permission and excavators are digging “stock ponds” and land drains in a boggy meadow once filled with wild flowers.

Dimbleby, a former chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, sold 55 acres in 2005. In the past two years agents for the new owners, Golden Valley Paddocks, have made retrospective planning applications, all of which have been refused. They have put a mobile home on the site for two agricultural workers and converted a neighbouring barn into offices. The agents say that the intention is to build a farmhouse, and claim that planners will find it difficult to refuse.

Bath and North East Somerset Council (Banes) has not ordered reversal of the work, just a halt on part of the site while it considers its next move.

Gabriel said from Los Angeles yesterday: “The development is making a mockery of our planning and environmental policies. I can only think that Banes don’t have the resources to fight it.” On Wednesday he will be centre stage at a press conference on the legal fight against the construction.

Dimbleby, who had an organic farm in the valley, said: “It appears that the new owners have repeatedly ignored the planners and that Banes has been remarkably slow to take the tough action required.

“Enough damage has been done. It must be stopped before it is too late.”

The Cotswolds stone farmhouse of Deborah Jones, an illustrator, was damaged when the mobile home was taken along the narrow lane on the back of a lorry. She said: “We are not just worried about what their ultimate intentions are for this land, it is not suitable for the sort of intense agricultural use they claim to want to put it.”

Almost every window and car in the tiny village of Woolley displays a “Save Woolley Valley” poster. Residents have a petition with 650 names and have raised “tens of thousands” of pounds to fight a legal battle.

The local authority says that it is investigating the case and will decide what action to take when the temporary stop notice expires next week.

Mrs Jones said: “Our fear is that at one minute past midnight they will just move the diggers back and carry on wrecking the place.”

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