WILL ANYTHING REALLY CHANGE ON THE MOSS?
We challenge anyone to get their wellies on and take a walk around the peat extraction sites around Chat Moss in Irlam. You will see the devastation of some of the most precious land in the country - officially designated and covered under the European Habitats Directive Priority Habitat Annex 1.
It's been bled to death so that companies like William Sinclair Horticultural Ltd and landowner Peel Holdings can make a tidy profit. The land is drained to the point where there's not even a weed on it, then the peat is extracted for things like tomato growbags and potting compost.
The process is seriously ecologically barbaric, releasing tonnes of carbon into the environment and destroying the habitats of rare birds, bugs, plants and water voles. The raised peat bogs of Chat Moss are Salford's rain forests.
Four years ago the Salford Star tried to cover the whole history of peat extraction on Chat Moss, and Salford Council's rather pathetic lip service to try and get it stopped.
Peat exploitation began on the Moss in 1963 and from as far back as 1984 there was unauthorised extraction by various companies on the Peel Holdings owned land. As we wrote in the article "It's been a story of the Council resolving to take action, followed by the tame granting of planning permission to extract peat with sloppily worded conditions that have never been fully met".
Only seven years ago Salford Council resolved to take enforcement action against Peel Holdings for `clear breaches of planning permission' on a section of the Moss. Instead, the Council granted Peel permission to extract 50,000 cubic metres of peat every year for the next 13 years. And a license to extract three million tonnes of sand and gravel which lies underneath the peat for the next 18 years.
Ecologists such as the RSPB's Tim Melling were gobsmacked… "In my opinion" he said "they just rolled over and let a big developer ride roughshod all over them."
Indeed, Salford Council was so disinterested in the Moss that it never even bothered to monitor the peat extraction site, telling the Star in February 2007 that "We are not aware of any peat extractions since 2005", when we had photos to prove that peat was being extracted almost as the statement was issued.
All this has been in sharp contrast to what has happened since that original Salford Star article appeared. The Moss has now rightly become a green cause celebre with visits to extraction sites by MPs and councillors, Earth First recently chaining themselves to the peat diggers, and planning officers about-turning in their recommendations to the Council's planning panel.
Indeed, earlier this year, the Council did actually take out an enforcement notice to stop Sinclairs extracting peat when permission had run out last December.
Yesterday, on the recommendation of planning officers, Salford Council's Planning Panel voted unanimously to refuse further permission for William Sinclair Horticultural Ltd to extract peat on a ninety hectare site of the Moss on the grounds of `insufficient information' provided by the applicant, and that "continued extraction of peat will lead to significant carbon dioxide emissions".
In a bold press release issued by the Council in the aftermath of the decision Derek Antrobus, Lead Member for Planning - he who has overseen previous lack of enforcement - said "As far as we know, this is the first time an application for peat extraction has been determined on grounds of principle. Salford has led the way in strengthening policies on peat extraction in the Greater Manchester Minerals Plan which is now being considered by a Government inspector."
Great words but what is the reality? After the Panel Meeting we spoke to David Crawshaw of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and asked whether peat extraction on the Moss would really stop. He had his doubts…
"I really don't know" he said "I sincerely hope that they will stop now and I also hope that if they continue, Salford Council will take further enforcement action. We were obviously very pleased that they did take enforcement action for the first time against breaches of the planning consent. That original enforcement expired on June 6th, so we'll be looking for Sinclairs to stop peat extraction, or we'll be looking to Salford to enforce it if they do continue.
"I expect the next step will be that Sinclair will appeal, in which case there will be a planning hearing in about six months" he added "And if Salford do serve an enforcement order Sinclair can appeal. There are possibly other steps Sinclair can take...We expect they will use every legal manoeuvre that they can to continue but we will do everything we can to oppose that process. Quite a lot of things can happen, and so all eyes are on Salford because this is regarded quite rightly as a national test case."
"Today is a milestone, a landmark decision" he concluded "But we won't be happy until Sinclairs have packed their bags and started the restoration."
While Sinclairs can do all they like legally to try and hold up the process of stopping peat extraction, Peel Holdings, as owners of the land could actually stop it tomorrow for good. Couldn't they?
"Peel could certainly take a view on it" says David "And we'd like them to..."
So would we. This is Peel Holdings, owners of the new MediaCityUK BBC Blue Peter Garden, encouraging kids to be eco friendly. Wonder if those kids know who the BBC is getting into flower beds with…
See the original 2007 Salford Star article - click here
See how Peel Holdings has been allowing unauthorised peat extraction on its land - click here
See Salford Moon Walk - click here
See Earth First protestors on Chat Moss - click here and here