This is the text of a letter Sir George has sent to the Forestry Commission after meeting his constituents in Pen Wood earlier in the week.
Environment & Planning
Bucks Horn Oak
Surrey GU10 4LS 3 June 2004
When we spoke on the afternoon of June 1st, I said I would be writing shortly about the proposed rally on July 18th, after I had met the residents that evening at Great Pen Wood. I have of course had the benefit of reading your letter dated May 5th, which basically set out the case for going ahead.
We had a good meeting of about 50 residents, enlivened by the presence of a handful of supporters of the proposed rally.
As I understand the position, a provisional permit has been issued. Mr Wayne Richards, to whom I also spoke yesterday, believes he has a full permit and that nothing can now prevent the event being held. Indeed, Ian Green’s letter dated March 30th says “Following our own internal consultation, which covers all impacts on the forest, it has been decided to allow this event to go ahead.” No doubt this is why Mr Richards holds this view. However, it sits uneasily with your statement in your letter to me dated May 5th that “the decision to permit the event has not been taken and will not be taken until the motor cycle club submit a route map and satisfy us that they have properly prepared for the event.” I understand that this has not been done, and that you are planning to “walk the route” with them next week before taking a final decision.
I would like to re-iterate a point that has been made before, namely that consultation has not been well handled by the Commission. Neither Highclere Parish Council, nor Wessex Woodland (who own the woodland on the east side of the track) nor a number of commercial interests whose activities will be affected were consulted. While the Commission may not consult widely about day-to day operational activities – as you explained in your letter to Sir Leslie Sharp – such a dramatic change of use as is now proposed should surely warrant consultation with those who will be affected.
My own view is that Great Pen Wood is not a suitable location for this event. The Forestry Commission should stick to tried and tested sites which are appropriate for this activity. I will set out the more detailed reasons in a moment; but I believe there should be some sanctuaries from the noise and hustle and bustle of everyday life – and there should be some places where motor vehicles are not permitted. Woods and forests offer such a sanctuary, and you are proposing that one of them should go. (Forestry Commission byelaws used to prohibit motorbikes in these woods and four years ago the Commission asked residents to telephone if motorcycles were seen in the woods. The wooden boards with the signs are still in place.)
Turning to the more detailed reasons, these can be summarised as follows.
1. Fauna and flora. There will inevitably be considerable disruption and dislocation on the site which is visited by birdwatchers, hikers, and nature enthusiasts. There are rare protected orchids and other flora in Penwood, which is a well-known breeding location for the Nightjar, with four breeding pairs near the Highclere Society’s chosen viewpoint. While I would not put over-emphasis on these points, it should be high up the list of the Commission’s priorities to preserve and conserve wildlife.
2. Access. I understand from Mr Richards that access will be from the north, via Wash Common and using the lane under the new A34. If the event is approved, will there be signs directing competitors and spectators via this route, rather than south down the A343 and through Penwood itself? This road is narrow, with room for only one vehicle. It serves Oakley Caravan Park, which is likely to be busy at that time of year. I do not understand how up to 150 competitors, with all the support vehicles will be able to come and go along this road – or indeed the road to the south if that was also to be used. Indeed, if there are 150 competitors, there may well be a much larger number of total vehicles if spectators are included.
3. Parking. There is a very small car park in Great Pen Wood, with room for about 10 cars. Where is everyone going to park? Will WC, refreshment and First Aid facilities be provided and, if so, where?
4. The site, though relatively secluded, is surrounded by houses. There will inevitably be a lot of noise from the event which, wholly understandably, the residents would prefer to do without. This is proposed to take place in the middle of a weekend in the summer.
5. Illegal use in future. It will be difficult to sustain the argument that this is an unsuitable venue for motorcycles if the Forestry Commission have validated it for this event. I am afraid I wholly reject the argument that one legal event will control illegal activity. The reverse is far more likely.
6. Emergency access. If the roads are blocked, how will any emergency vehicles access the site if there is an injury? And if the weather is dry and there is a fire, how will the fire brigade access the site? (I understand that the Fire Service were called out three times last year.) Highly tuned motor cycle engines close to the forest floor must increase the risk of fire.
7. Police cover. I understand the local police are unable to devote any cover to this event. Is this a satisfactory position for an event that generates the amount of traffic envisaged?
8. Bloodstock, stabling, Penwood Nursery and Oakley Caravan Park are commercial interests that are likely to be affected by the proposed activity.
I believe these issues and unresolved questions constitute a good reason for refusing consent for the proposed rally on July 18th. I am not familiar with the decision-making process within the Commission, but I know you will ensure that this final decision is taken at an appropriate level of seniority in view of the local disquiet.