Protecting our open spaces: by Ashley Clark

“It is not the critic who counts”

“Our beaches are plagued with litter…”

Across our district the open spaces and beaches that we value are under threat. Our beaches are plagued with litter, broken glass, nitrous oxide canisters and drunks. Our parks and nature reserves have suffered from motorcycle rodeos, ponds and streams polluted, wildlife destroyed, plants and trees ripped out and so on. Existing laws apply on some matters but enforcement often rests only with the police, who in some areas remain an endangered species. In more robust times Whitstable had a proper police station with cells for offenders. In 1957, in addition to regular officers, Whitstable alone could boast some 27 special constables with full police powers.

Against this background, Canterbury City Council is reviewing its public space protection orders (PSPOs). This has to take place every three years. Enforcement remains the key, but these orders are designed to help maintain the quality of life in any particular area. They can be used to close gaps in existing legislation and can be enforced by council officers as well as the police. Contrary to what the cynics think, they do not exist to generate revenue. We seek solutions, and the optimum solution would be a transformation of behaviour and no fines. They do not exist to create blanket bans but to help provide a bespoke solution to specific problems. We need to get things absolutely right and we need evidence to justify our actions – hence the consultation.

PSPOs do provide a tool in the enforcement toolkit that is instant, cost effective and expedient. Legislation alone is never a panacea for all ills. Effective enforcement entails sound judgement and it has always been the case in English law that not every infraction merits sanction. The rules effectively provide a code of conduct as to how people should behave in order to respect our open spaces. They are an education, and for individuals who show no such respect, the fine becomes the education (£100 on the spot or £1,000 before the magistrates).


Autumn on Duncan Down – an oak glade created by the Friends of Duncan Down by cutting out scrub to reveal the oaks and planting underneath with daffodils and cowslips (Picture Ashley Clark)

Two years ago we introduced a requirement for dog walkers to carry with them the means to “pick up”. This has been generally effective and I know that for a fact, given the use of the dog bins on Duncan Down, where quite often in recent months I have changed the bags in the overloaded bins. Canterbury has increased the numbers of environmental enforcement officers and has taken on three new but very experienced officers to boost our efforts. We have also taken out a preventative injunction with the High Court to stop illegal encampments by travellers. This action alone has saved thousands of pounds in clear-up costs and kept our open spaces clean for local people to use without intimidation. Other districts suffered: the police had powers but chose not to use them.

Winter on Duncan Down – oaks on a grass meadow that will burst into wildflower colour in late spring. (Picture Ashley Clark)

Of course, whatever we do there will always be the critics and there will always be people who place their claimed rights before any acceptance of responsibility. Trawling the internet for examples of inappropriate use of PSPOs is an easy game, but keyboard warriors lack credibility when they are never prepared to get their hands dirty on a committed basis. So too are prospective councillors who pose for photos with litter pickers when elections are coming but do nothing thereafter.


A working party – creation of a raised walkway to allow grass to recover and to promote a circular walk avoiding the winter mud. (Picture Suzi Steward)

The credit must go to individuals and groups who steadfastly work to protect and maintain our open spaces. In Whitstable on the coast we have the Friends of Tankerton Bay, the Whitstable Marine Environment Group, Plastic Free Whitstable and the Whitstable Beach Campaign. Elsewhere we have the Friends of Prospect Field, others at Mariners View and my own group the Friends of Duncan Down, where over the last 15 years we have extended the protected area from 30 to 52 acres (soon to be 90) and our skilled workforce has built bridges and benches, planted hundreds of trees, maintained and improved wildlife habitats and picked litter on a daily basis. The council essentially cuts the grass rides and empties the dog bins, but it is the volunteer force that put the icing on the cake with hundreds of hours every year. In Canterbury, Herne Bay and the rural areas similar groups and public-spirited individuals exist.

A working party – creation of a wide footbridge across the Gorrell stream ( Picture Aya Mouri)

I sometimes encounter individuals who are happy to use our open spaces but say: “Why should I pick that up? I pay my council tax.” They remain ignorant of the fact that with a £2,000 council tax bill only £250 goes to Canterbury City Council and on a commercial basis you couldn’t get your domestic bins emptied for that.

Protecting our open spaces is a job for all who benefit, and, on a positive note, I would echo Kennedy’s famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

As for the critics, an earlier US president, Theodore Roosevelt, who initiated the American National Parks, summed it up beautifully:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Ashley Clark July 2020


To complete the public space protection order survey, please go to: https://wh1.snapsurveys.com/s.asp?k=159420266190


About:

Born in Whitstable and educated at Simon Langton Grammar School  in Canterbury, Ashley retired from Kent County Constabulary in 2004 as head of its frontier operations department following some 30 years’ service, much of which was spent working alongside French counterparts. He holds the Final Diploma of the Institute of Linguists in the French language. Since retirement he has led the voluntary group that manages the award-winning Duncan Down nature reserve at Whitstable, having successfully increased it in size with three successful village green applications. For the last 15 years he has worked as a schools’ history guide specialising in the two world wars and the medieval period and every year has taken hundreds of schoolchildren to the battlefields of France and Belgium. In addition he is actively involved as a school governor at St Alphege Infants School. In  2007 he received a Home Office award for promoting respect in the local community. In 2009 he received the Lord Mayor’s award for service to the community. He is a member at the Seasalter Christian Centre. Ashley is widely travelled, a keen swimmer and diver, and likes to swim off Seasalter with his labradors.

Ashley was elected to the Council in 2011. He currently chairs the licensing committee and oversees enforcement and open spaces for the district at a strategic level. Previously he challenged his own Party to help save Kingsmead Field at Canterbury. He helped spirited locals in their campaign to prevent tree felling by Network Rail and negotiated a ‘peace deal’ in that area. He has actively encouraged developers to protect land by the creation of village greens as part of new developments and more recently has helped residents of Westbere with a village green application.

Email:  ashley.clark@councillor.canterbury.gov.uk


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