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SAVE THE ROTHERWAS RIBBON / DINEDOR SERPENT
Newsletter 4 - 29 July 2007
Hereford Full Council, Friday 27 July 2007
Before the council meeting commenced we had an orderly and very useful lobby. Cllr Roger Phillips, the Leader of the Council, came to talk to us and, in front of TV and radio, confirmed that no irreversible action would be taken with regard to the Ribbon "for several weeks". He also confirmed that the exposed section of the Ribbon would now be covered with sand and geoflex membrane. The technical advice that the Council have received is that this is the best way to protect the site whether they eventually continue the road or not. If any campaigners have serious technical knowledge that contradicts this, we would like to know urgently. But for the time being we are happy to support this approach which was in fact long overdue. (Indeed, we still want a clear explanation as to why the Council left the Ribbon exposed to severe weather for so long.)
The full council meeting dealt with the Ribbon as two agenda items. Questions from the public and from Councillors, and debate on the Notice of Motion (we are pleased that the Chair ruled that the notice of motion was urgent without anyone having to argue that).
It will be very interesting to study the written answers that are to follow, but we already have some interesting material from the verbal response from Cllr Jarvis, the Cabinet member for Environment. Despite one group leader having been told by the Chief Executive that officers themselves (outside Archaeology) knew nothing of the find until the 4 July Radio 4 programme, we now learn that it was know by 24 April, ie before the recent Election and that "the Department had a dilemma as to when to announce it".
It was also admitted that the survey prior to construction commencing was "only based on samples" and therefore managed to miss the ribbon.
Although a range of archaeologists have been invited to inspect the site, not surprisingly for this time of year, only three managed to take up the invitation. We have yet to be told their names or, in fact, whether their visits have now taken place. Some other answers increased rather than diminished the confusion that already exists. (Hopefully, we will return to these matters once the written answers appear.)
The debate on the notice of motion clearly demonstrated that the council leadership are trying to persuade us all that English Heritage should be the independent experts who have the final word on this matter. We do not accept that. Their conduct up to now how has reduced, rather than enhanced, our faith in them. We have already received a lot of comment from specialist sources implying that English Heritage are far too sympathetic to the construction industry at the expense to their 'duty of care' for our heritage. On the positive side, it is helpful that Cllr Jarvis did indicate that all possibilities are open, including stopping the road, diverting it sideways, bridging the Ribbon or tunnelling under the Ribbon.
Sadly, there is a long way to go before the majority of Councillors understand how important a find this probably is and how, even when protected by sand and grass, it will form a quite unique 'sacred landscape' that should not be crossed by a road in any circumstances.
The level of ignorance is exemplified by one Conservative Councillor who, having announced his credentials as an amateur archaeologist, pronounced that the likelihood is that a pile of broken ceramics got washed down the hillside. (If declarations of complete ignorance and stupidity had to be made, as well as financial interests, that would be one member that would not be speaking or voting from now on.)
In the course of the debate the Conservatives moved and passed their amendment to the motion, which is set out below. (The original notice of motion, which we supported, appears elsewhere on the website.) There was then a valiant attempt by Independent Cllr Mark Hubbard to amend the outcome (text shown below). There were 18 votes for the Hubbard amendment, which probably reflects the current level of support for our cause.
Although we would have preferred the Council to pass the unamended motion or the Hubbard amendment, we should still be reasonably satisfied with the progress being made, without allowing any complacency to creep in. We now have a reasonable period of time to get the case across and to persuade the majority of councillors to take this find far more seriously than they have so far. We have to keep up the pressure on English Heritage and also on the Minister of State, Margaret Hodge.
As an alternative to the independent and external enquiry and evaluation that we wanted the Conservative majority have decided to have a cabinet report based on a recommendation from English Heritage, but have committed themselves to this 'being called in' by the relevant Scrutiny committee and have also committed themselves, in terms, to the matter going to a full council meeting if the Scrutiny committee have any serious concerns about the Cabinet decision.
So be it. This is going to be an extremely interesting test of the effectiveness of this system of local government. The Scrutiny Committee has the right to take on independent advice and to call witnesses. We will be suggesting some.
Over the next few days and weeks we need to achieve a widespread public understanding of the enormous potential significance of this find and to explain the tremendous potential benefits to this locality. But we also need to make clear that even if there was little economic advantage to preserving the ribbon in unbroken entirety, it may still be an act of enormous historic vandalism to continue the road on its present course. A simple example are the footprints discovered by Mary Leaky in the African Rift Valley. If they were not covered for most of the time they would disappear. Specialist researchers from all over the world visit the area from time to time and sometimes the footprints are temporarily exposed. If anyone now suggested constructing a road over that site there would be an international outcry and members of Hereford Council need to understand that unless and until we arrive at the point where there is a serious academic consensus in favour of the road being allowed to continue, they may within their own lifetime if not their children's, be remembered as some of the worst, short sighted and ill informed decision makers of the early 21st century.
CONSERVATIVE AMENDED MOTION (PASSED)
1. "The Council resolves to ensure that no irreversible action be taken that would prejudice the preservation or the potential for access, if appropriate, to what as currently advised is a site of archaeological importance.
2. That Council notes that work on the construction of the Rotherwas Relief Road in that area is currently suspended (NB some works are being undertaken to protect the site) and that Cabinet be asked to address the issue of the appropriate approach to completion of the Rotherwas Relief Road in the context of the advice to be received from English Heritage as to the best method of preserving the archaeological remains.
3. Council requests Cabinet to address the issue of the financial consequences of the delay to date on the Rotherwas Relief Road, as part of the fuller considerations, and to quantify the financial impact of further delays and make recommendations to Council as to how those issues might be addressed within the Council's budget.
4. That Council be invited to note that any decision made by Cabinet on this issue would be a key decision within the Constitution and will therefore be liable to call-in for scrutiny. If Scrutiny express any significant concerns about the action proposed by Cabinet, which action will be taken on the advice of English Heritage, and Cabinet is minded to proceed without addressing those concerns then the Leader gives an undertaking to approach the Chairman to call a special meeting of Council."
AMENDMENT FROM CLLR. MARK HUBBARD
"Council requests Cabinet to commission and independent and external enquiry
to the extent of the archaeological find, to ensure that any future decision
with regard to the development of the Rotherwas Relief Road is taken with
complete knowledge of what we are dealing with."
On Friday night, we had a well attended public meeting in the Town Hall. Several supportive Councillors came along and spoke. We hope that everyone who turned up felt better informed and enthused by the end of the evening. We now have the basis for spreading the campaign and concentrating more resources on the key tasks ahead of us. There will be more about this in the next newsletter.
Money, Money, Money, Money
The collection at the public meeting raised £193.35. This was magnificent. But it did not quite cover the full costs of the meeting. The campaign has incurred other significant expenditure and we need to call further meetings and pay for more media advertising, literature publication and much else.
Please, send generous donations to our treasurer Peter Cox at -
34, St Clare's Court
Hereford HR2 6PY
more info at http://www.rotherwasribbon.com/
road protests (current)
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