We recognise the current high level of increase of concern about the action of the conservators.
This is the first open meeting the Conservatives have held with the members of the Joint Advisory Committee. All those organisations, tenants, sports clubs with an interest in the Heath are invited to The Joint Advisory Committee. There they report to the other users of the Heath their activities and their concerns. Tonight for the first time they will also be reporting also to you the members of the public. This is not a decision-making meeting but a Joint Advisory Meeting the key word is advisory, conservators will listen to all concerns and then take those views into account at our normal decision-making conservators meeting.
The Big event has been our deregistration request for the land on Briary Lane. This is the most significant decision by the Conservators since the land was bought by our predecessors from the Church Commissioners. As the Conservators look to the future they can only see more and greater use of the Heath by members of the public. Royston is growing as are the towns and villages around it. What was good practice and sufficient management on the Heath 10 to 15 years ago is no longer so. There is urgent need for education of the all users of the Heath. Our current income and our income for the foreseeable future simply will not cover the costs that this extra use will make on the Heath. We need at least one full time warden to help educate and improve every ones understanding of how the heath works, also explaining where the sheep will be but also why the sheep are there and how necessary they are for improving the grass. To fund this we need a large injection of capital. This will then be invested to provide the endowment income to maintain the Heath for the next generations.
With this in mind the Conservators started the process to apply for planning permission and ultimately deregister the land the corner of Sun Hill on Briary Lane in March 2013. Planning permission was granted on 29th May 2105 and the deregistration application was made on 6th January 2017. The initial decisions taken by the then conservators not to engage in a public debate was flawed. But it is too late to turn back the clock, going forwards the current conservators recognise the need to have a better public image and with this in mind today’s meeting was called and going forwards we will have 6 monthly open meetings.
In April 2016 we were approached by Gladmans under conditions of confidentiality, they told us they were hoping to apply for planning permission to develop land further to the south of Briary Lane. We met with representatives from Gladmans who informed us that their client claimed ownership of the whole of Briary Lane. We had no comment. We reserved our position. We then received an offer of an option agreement with Gladmans.
We rejected this offer. We have no agreement, written, oral, or suggested with Gladmans. We have not met them since that initial meeting.
We can understand why people on social media and in other meetings think there is some form of agreement between the conservators/trustees. I repeat what I said at the annual general meeting, there is no agreement with Gladmans or anyone else.
The Conservators are the managers of the Heath, they are also the trustees of the Therfield Regulation Trust who owned the Heath. As trustees of the charity they must consider the wider need of the whole of the charity. To fail to do so would be a dereliction of duty.
Ongoing maintenance of the Heath has continued. Without continuous work the scrub will slowly envelop the Heath. In 2018 we have concentrated on the area above the rifle range and once the weather becomes drier you will see the benefit in the wide range of wildflowers growing in the area. We are delighted that after very many years a group of conservation volunteers has now been formed. This is not an easy and simple operation. Firstly we need a qualified experienced and enthusiastic person to manage these conservation volunteers. When Cynthia Combe was elected a conservator I recognised that we had the right person to provide the energy and knowledge to get the Heath Volunteers up and running. Last weekend saw their first work party start on Church Hill removing scrub from this very important area.
It has recently been made abundantly clear that a proportion of people still think that we the conservators favour sport over nature. This I can assure everyone is not true. Sport is an important part of our delivery system and the revenue that we receive from the clubs that use the heath is used to fund some of the environmental work that is done on the heath. The most important legacy that the current conservators can do is leave the Heath in a better environmental state and with solid financial footings to help fund its future.
When I became a conservator all the grassland was rated as poor by Natural England over the years through the hard work of many people and in particular the grazier the grass has improved dramatically. Most of the grass is now placed in the second highest tier (improving). Some areas of the heath have up to 16 separate vegetation species. The work that goes into keeping the heath in the way you find it today is enormous, The management of the heath itself would keep two full time employees very busy as it is we have our clerk who is part time and those elected as conservators who are voluntary. With greater funding the more habitat improvement work could be done and greater benefits for all users of the heath.
You heard from Natural England in their written report of the user survey that they had commission on the Heath. This would be discussed at the meeting called by Natural England next week. We hope it will inform us and the main users of the Heath how we can protect the Heath and at the same time encourage people to enjoy the unique and special place that is Therfield Heath. .