Cambridgeshire County Council calls for more information on plans to have the Fens designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
A proposal for the county council to endorse a bid to have the Fens designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve has been put on hold after the Conservative group called for more information on the project.
The bid by the Fens Biosphere Partnership – which is being coordinated by Cambridgeshire ACRE, which is part of the national charity Action with Communities in Rural England – was officially awarded candidate status by UNESCO around 18 months ago.
For the bid to be successful it will have to demonstrate it has support in the area, including from the local authorities.
A motion was put forward by the Liberal Democrat opposition group to the county council on Tuesday (March 16) calling on the council to support the designation.
But the Liberal Democrats agreed to a Conservative amendment which “recognises the potential value of the Fens Biosphere and requests further investigation of the implications and benefits of designation” prior to considering whether or not to endorse the proposal.
Conservative councillor Steve Count, council leader, called the original Lib Dem motion to support the bid “lazy politics”, saying it was based on information from “glossy brochures” produced by “consultants employed to sell”.
He said: “It’s important that we look under the hood and see what we are going to get," adding “I live in the Fens and I have got to be honest there are problems with what I read [about the biosphere proposal]”.
And he struck a critical tone of a report commissioned by the Fens Biosphere Partnership to “demonstrate the benefits” of a UNESCO Biosphere designation.
He said there is “a real downer” in the report, and he quoted from the document, and said “where it says a biosphere can change the perception of the Fens into being a good place to live, work and relax. Well that means that their perception of the Fens is that it isn’t – and I have got to say, how dare they”.
He said the full implications of the designation have not yet been made clear, adding: “I want to find out a hell of a lot more before I come to a decision, and when I get to that decision it will be based on some facts and not a glossy sales brochure”.
Conservative councillor Steven Tierney, who represents Wisbech West, said: “I can’t understand what responsible councillor for their own area would agree to something without enough information to be sure what they are agreeing to – it just seems utterly crazy and I certainly would never do it”.
Conservative councillor Samantha Hoy, echoed the point, saying she also represents the Fens, and said: “I personally cannot make any decision on whether we want a biosphere or not – I don’t know very much about it at all”.
Liberal Democrat Lorna Dupre, councillor for Sutton, brought the motion, and questioned why some councillors had not sought out more information on the subject.
“It’s time this council recognised, acknowledged and engaged in this project,” she said, adding “lazy politics is being aware that there is a significant application at UNESCO level in your area and not doing anything to bring it to the floor of this council for public debate and public discussion”.
“I’m very sad that this motion of support has had to be watered down today and that we are having to go at the speed of the slowest members here in this council,” she said, adding “nonetheless this is the start of a debate”.
“I really hope that despite what we have heard today this is going to be the start of a positive journey,” she said.
There are currently seven areas in the UK that have been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and there are 714 such sites in the world.
The website for the Fens’ bid says: “A Biosphere is a special status awarded by UNESCO to a unique and valuable landscape. Biospheres connect people, economies and nature to create a secure future we can all look forward to. They are about developing new ways of living, exploring new ideas and working together”.
To find out more about the project visit: https://www.fensbiosphere.org.uk/